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Hip Hop, Bloggers, and The Voice of a Generation (Remix)
2006-01-21 13:15
by Will Carroll

I find myself hitting button four on my XM a lot lately. That's the present for The Rhyme. I seem to go in phases with rap, alternately enjoying it and ignoring it, depending on mood and when an artist strikes some chord with me. I'm a white guy from the suburbs, so my chords are hardly the target market.

Listening to rap from the 80's and 90's reminds me of when I was more of the target demo and how a group of guys over the better part of a decade and a half took their low-fi, street-level brand of communication and art and turned it into something that a suburban white kid would turn up in his Fiero.

At least some of it. Two white kids in the 90's lamented "the day hip-hop became hit-pop" in "Pop Goes The Weasel," the classic 3rd Bass song. Hip Hop branched out, became mainstream, absorbed the money and soul-crushing commerce of popular music and ceased in many places to be the vital voice of their generation. Ice Cube called rap the "CNN of the ghetto." There's still some of that, especially when rap finds a new genre or niche within itself or even expands and escapes as it seems to do once every couple of years. (Outkast's last album was three years ago; we're due.)

For every KRS-One, there was a Run-DMC. For every Beastie Boys, there was a Marky Mark. For every Jay-Z, there's a Ludacris. The accessible art form gave young black men a voice, a say, a chance, and many used the opening to move not only out of the ghetto, but into the mainstream. I'm not sure who the first rapper-actor was -- and "Krush Groove" doesn't count -- but I'm willing to bet few saw The Fresh Prince and thought "box office gold." (Whatever happened to Jazzy Jeff, btw?)

As rap expanded, what it left behind was the social contract it had with the street. NWA took the bragging from gold chains to guns, from rhymes to drugs, and rap never recovered. There are still isolated pockets, but there's no room for Public Enemy in today's rap world. Chuck D's now on talk radio.

Then what we see is a new medium and a chance for those who had to voice to have one, not rapping or scratching, but writing and linking. It's hard to wrap your head around Andrew Sullivan having something in common with Eazy E, but the comparison is right there. Sullivan's actually a bad example. To keep it in the baseball world, let's use the example of Aaron Gleeman. He's gone from a kid in a dorm room to someone read by hundreds, written a book, and developing a following. Is Gleeman the blog to rap equivalent of LL Cool J? (Solid, not groundbreaking, but mass appeal.)

Is Baseball Toaster the Wu-Tang? Is someone ready to be MC Hammer, the first complete sell-out? Will corporations co-opt blogging and render it mostly safe, the way the did with hip-hop?

If you don't see Alex Belth and Jay-Z and see similarities, you won't be able to dance to the remix.

2006-01-21 14:03:36
1.   RyanM
"It's hard to wrap your head around Andrew Sullivan having something in common with Eazy E, but the comparison is right there. Sullivan's actually a bad example."

Yeah, Magic Johnson or Rock Hudson would have been better. What the hell is wrong with you?

2006-01-21 14:24:52
2.   TFD
How does one even begin to follow such commenting genius?

Belth = Jay-Z; absolutely.
Gleeman = LL; no way. Was LL ever on a public weight loss campaign? (;-))
As to MCHammer....Bill Simmons anyone?

2006-01-21 15:03:30
3.   Simon Oliver Lockwood
Are you comparing Sullivan and Easy-E because no one had ever heard of them before their "medium" (blogging / rap) had been discovered? Then, it's a stupid example because Sullivan had been the editor of a national opinion magazine and a published author (read by very influential people) long before anyone had ever heard of a blog.
2006-01-21 16:25:06
4.   kylepetterson
I'm more concerned about who gets to be Falco. German, white, irritating, kind of fruity, but still, for some reason, popular for a time. Hey, that kind of sounds like me....all except for the German and popular stuff. Und alles rief: Come on and rock me Amadeus!
2006-01-21 16:35:09
5.   Voxter
Can I be Ryuichi Sakamoto?
2006-01-21 21:17:57
7.   Oh Word
You're botching both the text and the source of the CNN quote.

It was Chuck D who said rap music was like "CNN for black people"

By the way this post is weak and it made me scratch my head a few times. And not in a good way like when I eat spicy food and my scalp gets all sweaty.

2006-01-22 17:59:56
8.   Marc Normandin
I want to have a rapper assigned to me damnit.
2006-01-23 07:12:29
9.   jgpyke
Apparently, this blog has become NWA (where n= navel-gazers).
2006-01-23 07:18:48
10.   Knuckles
I think blogs are like rap in that we're nearing the point where the bloggers stop commenting on actual events, and simply start linking to each other's noncontent, and tossing insults around like battle-rap mixtapes.
2006-01-23 07:45:37
11.   bigjonempire
There is plenty of room for Chuck D in today's rap world. In fact Hip-Hop needs Chuck D in a bad way.

As Rap became more and more popular the record exexcutives became whiter and whiter. That isn't an insult but just fact. What I mean is the people who started to take over the marketing and selling of rap music ignored what made it great, mostly because they never understood it. In the early 80's when things were just starting to blow up, most people heard about the best rap records from other people. There were no ads in Rolling Stone or USA Today. Your only hope of hearing rap on the radio was college radio at 3am if you were lucky.

Even then Chuck D was way ahead of his time. The Bomb Squad was making complex music and Chuck D was saying things that blew people's minds. These old record execs wanted to sell rap the same way they sold Michael Jackson but it didn't work. It couldn't work. So instead they changed Rap into something they could market. They grabbed up the cute guys with silly lyrics and pushed them to the pop music crowd. They took Public Enemy and marketed the hell out of singles like 911 is a Joke. Made a funny video. They ignored the tracks that would have been huge in the old word of mouth market. Those tracks were hard to sell so they didn't bother.

But if you look really hard you can still find the old rap market. Its labeled with terms like underground nowadays. What Underground Hip-Hop needs is a Chuck D. Someone who has something to say that must get out by any means necessary.

2006-01-23 08:01:27
12.   onetimer
Wow. That was profound. Obviously, Belth will make millions and marry the white Beyonce within a year. It's right there on the surface, people.

Bill Simmons rocks!

2006-01-23 14:50:50
13.   onetimer
By the way, how do the Beastie Boys make it on Will's "good" side of the ledger when they deserted their hard core punkish roots to make millions rapping frat-party anthems like "You gotta fight for your right to party"? Licensed to Ill was all about making money. That doesn't mean it wasn't good music, but it was in no way subversive.
2006-01-23 15:05:39
14.   murphy
cliff corcoran = prince paul?
2006-01-23 20:17:21
15.   das411
I think Dodger Thoughts' Jon W. may have just pulled off the Run-DMC/Aerosmith crossover with "Score :)"
2006-01-24 08:30:10
16.   jgpyke
I think a better analogy is "garage band," rather than pretending what's done on these blogs is akin to what was done by signed, nationally-known hip-hop artists.

Garage bands and their fans are almost always all-white, middle class, etc.

Garage bands are't even blip on the national radar, toiling in relative anonymity except within the local scene.

Garage bands work together a little, promoting e/o's stuff.

Garage bands are convinced that what they're doing is the coolest thing ever.

Garage bands are seeking national recognition or a contract etc., yet very few actually achieve this.


I know you want to so badly be "street," but that can lead to one becoming Vanilla Ice.

2006-01-26 20:39:55
17.   Will Carroll
GREAT point JG. My point in using rap/hip-hop was that it got turned on its head by commerce. Garage bands with their shifting tastes have avoided that, despite their best efforts.
2006-01-27 10:27:33
18.   jgpyke
Sorry about my last post--it was too snarky (which was uncalled for). But I do think that blogging will likely stay garage band with a few breakouts. You charted the rap/hip-hop evolution from street to mainstream. I don't see blogging (or garage bands, as a group) doing that. A few will break out, but the scene will always be local, so to speak.

Another interesting thing about garage bands is that the sense of shared onwership that the fans feel, to a certain extent. The fans are friendly with the band and vice versa. And in such a small, intimate circle of influence, it ampliflies the extent to which the fans and band rely on each other.

I imagine that the regular posters here feel like they're part of the blog. And they would be right. From a reader's standpoint, I look forward to seeing what the usual posters will comment about.

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