Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Is Hip Hop Dead?

I'm listening to "Hip Hop is Dead", Nas' latest album. It seems like it was just yesterday, it was late 1993 and I was in Stedeford's Record Store and The Funkster put on "It Aint Hard to Tell". I remember saying, "That is what Hip Hop is supposed to sound like!" This experience came soon after hearing Super Rapper Nasty Nas incrementally change the game on "Live at the BBQ", "Halftime" & "Back to the Grill".

By the spring of 1994 came "Illmatic", Nas' solo debut, one of the greatest records of all-time. Also in the running, Raekwon's "Only Built for Cuban Linx", Slick Rick's "The Great Adventures of Slick Rick", Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full" and Ice Cube's "Death Certificate". Nonetheless, my whole hip hop universe was reborn and Nas has been the standard bearer for the modern lyricist ever since. When I was rhyming I wanted to make people feel like how I felt when I first heard Nas say:
" Word to Christ, a disciple of streets, trifle on beats I decifer prophecies through a mic and say peace.", on "Memory Lane".

13 years later is Hip Hop dead? I don't know but he forces us to address the question. I'm just as frustrated with state of Hip Hop as any 80's kid, but I do nod my head to the Lil' Weezy's and Young Jeezy's of the world. Thug Motivation 101 was tight! I thought it was ironic that Jeezy "The Snowman" took the most offense to Nas' assertion saying, "You got Nas coming back saying hip-hop is dead. Who is he to say hip-hop is dead?", and also said, "I might as well make a comment like Lil' Wayne dead. Ya'll gon tell me I ain't doing hip-hop? Has Nas did anything he talk about? Has Nas been on the block? Do Nas have street credibility? " on Philadelphia's 100.3 The Beat radio station to promote his new album, The Inspiration.

The important thing is that Nas is making the masses think and talk for the first time in 10 years about the state of Hip Hop, without coming off as a hatin' mad rapper. He comes of as nostalgic without being revisionist, purist without being dogmatic, experienced without being cynical. OK, ok on to the record.

"Hip Hop is Dead", is a solid record, it's not a 5-mic classic.
It doesn't have to be, ironically it just had to prove that Hip Hop was still alive. To add more irony, the first track that really stood out was a tune called "Black Republicans", featuring Jay-Z. The Godfather beat is sick and lyrics are iller. Jay-Z kills it BK style, "
I feel like a Black Republican money I got comin' in, can't turn my back on the hood, I got love for them." I bet Lynn Swann, Ken Blackwell and Michael Steele wished this came out a couple months ago. Nas brings it back to QB, "I feel like a Black Militant taking over the government, can't turn my back on the hood took much love for them."

Other standouts are the title track, "Hustlers" f/ The Game, "Let There Be Light" (produced by Kanye West), "Still Dreaming" f/ Kanye West and "Where Are They Now", an ode to noteworthy rappers from the 80's and 90's. In “Carry On Tradition,” he says, “I got an exam, let’s see if y’all pass it/Let’s see who can quote a Daddy Kane line the fastest.” I will let the NY Times have the parting shot, “Hip Hop Is Dead” flirts with a big, unanswerable question: Has Nas saved old-fashioned hip-hop? Who knows? Who even knows what that means? But this grumpy, lovable album definitively answers a much smaller question. Has old-fashioned hip-hop saved Nas? Definitely. And not for the first time. Maybe not the last either."

Also check out this
dope interview with Funkmaster Flex on NYC’s Hot 97

Pt. 1

Pt. 2

NEXT BLOG: Slots come to Pittsburgh & Philly

Monday, December 18, 2006

Edwards-Obama: The People's Ticket?

As we enter into 2007, Presidential politics will slowly begin to creep in the into minds of America's voters, sparking a 23-month marathon until election day on November 4th, 2008. As the latest round of Presidential contenders and pretenders gear up, I am becoming convinced that the Democrats dream ticket for 2008 is former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and the junior Senator from Illinois Barack Obama.

Both Edwards, the son of a North Carolina mill-worker and Obama, the son of a Kenyan college student, have life stories that re-enforce the feel good ideals of "America the Land of Opportunity". I believe it will help them relate to working class and poor voters who have felt disconnected from the Democratic Party's middle-class mainstream messaging over the last 10 to 15 years. "He's (John Edwards) low-key, down-to-earth, a nice guy." says David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register

Edwards-Obama or Obama-Edwards can excite the base of the party (unions, people of color, the working poor, young people and students) that have given unenthusiastic support for the last two Democratic nominees. Instead of campaigning against Bush, they'll have someone to campaign for. Their progressive populist positive message of hope is grounded by a down home, common sense perspective that eludes many of the Democrats elite. Vision, innovation and reform in plain talk for the people, with a dose of charisma, poetry and theater.

I know it's real early and Hilary is still the one to beat, I still think she's too 90's. This month John Edwards will announce his candidacy from the Lower 9th ward of New Orleans, the community hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. A recent poll in Iowa had John Edwards in a commanding 36% - 16% lead over Hilary in the Iowa Caucus and 40% - 8% lead among Iowa's democratic party county chairs, it appears Edwards grassroots efforts since 2004 are paying dividends as 2008 approaches.

To quote Joe Klein from TIME, "And that 8% among county leaders — i.e., the people who really take this stuff seriously and drag people out to the precinct caucuses — sure seems dire. It may just be that Clinton hasn't been out to Iowa recently, hasn't yet given the solipsistic cornheads the full-frontal embrace they demand of contenders. Or it may be something a bit more chronic: "You hear a lot of 'I like Hillary, but...' talk out here,", says David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register"

I expect Barack Obama to make his announcement in early 2007 after receiving "Rock Star Treatment" in Iowa and New Hampshire. Grassroots groups like Run Obama and Draft Obama have popped up all over, put this commercial on you tube.

His recent appearance in NH has been compared to a Rolling Stone concert, "In all my history, nobody's ever had a crowd this big, this early," said Charles Campion, a veteran party strategist based in Boston, as he watched Democrats assemble Sunday afternoon in Manchester.

"He had the true spirit we're looking for," said Kathryn Frieden, a physician from Manchester. "I do hope he runs. I haven't been so excited by someone since JFK, when he was campaigning when I was 10 years old."

Some say we haven't seen this type of enthusiasm for a political candidate in years, I think it's something the Dems shouldn't ignore in the disconnected circle of Washington's inside players.

In the next edition: Nas, and is Hip Hop really dead?