Saturday, February 12, 2005

Hip-Hoptopia

Another poorly-realized, but noteworthy unseen piece from the archives.


Hip-Hoptopia


During various periods of my life, I have wished and fantasized that certain life-altering events would occur that would forever change my as yet unremarkable existence. Daydreams. When I was a wee lad, it used to be that my ideal fantasies would involve either discovering or being endowed with a large cache of toys and video games. As a teenager, I would fantasize about girls and material possessions like cars and clothes. Then, in college, I sorted out my priorities and started fantasizing about a world in which I was infinitely successful, universally famous and ruthlessly powerful. I would play out these little fantasies in my head and hope against hope that these fantasies would come to pass. Well, I have found a somewhat imaginary amalgamation of all of these fantasies and now aspire to permanently reside in this Utopian Nirvana-Heaven. What is it? Is it a porno? No. Is it Kansas City? No. Is it religion? God, no.

Rap videos.

From now on, when I daydream, I will daydream that I am trapped in a never-ending rap video. Rap videos are places where bad taste, bank repossession and venereal disease do not exist. Clothes come only in two sizes: large and extra large – same with breasts. Currency is distributed indiscriminately and strictly in the sums of 20’s and 100s. Champagne is the life-blood and success is measured not in dollars, but in SUVs.

It used to be that the world depicted in rap video was filled with guns and brutality. One never knew when someone was going to pop a cap. Now, half of the fun is wondering when some chick is going to pop her top. Once upon a time, the depiction of selling crack was usually as a deplorable occupation. But, in the new rap world it’s commonly seen as an honorable way of gaining financial stability. The lifestyles represented in these videos were not ripe with comfort and vanity, but of harsh hyper-reality. Violence reigned supreme. Appallingly, masturbation fodder was virtually nonexistent.

But with the so-called “Bling-Bling –era” masturbation enthusiasts (or masterbateurs) have endless material with which to “work.” Savvy capitalists and clothing companies who deal strictly in primarily colors can rest easy: mass marketing has finally found its way into hip-hop. Harsh cityscapes have given way to golden glitz, suburbia and Chevy Suburbans. Hey, what better place to expound hardcore street poetics than out by the pool, or, ooh, better yet, in the Bahamas? Strippers have also become legitimate company with which to hold court. Rap stars are not really associated with gangs so much anymore as they are with sports franchises, fashion designers and automobile manufacturers.

Back in the day, you would sit down and watch a rap video and be confronted with hundreds of distracting blurs on the clothing of the artists. Instead of listening to the music and enjoying the aesthetics of ghetto America, you would sit there fuming and wondering aloud, “Come on! What’s behind the fucking blurs?! Logos, guns, inappropriate gestures and nipples – that’s what. Sometime in the mid-nineties, though, corporations got wise. Blurs on logos in rap videos slowly gave way to what could be the best form of free advertising ever – simply letting the artist ‘do they thang.’ Rap videos are fast becoming the best commercials no-money can buy.

Nowadays, the minimum criteria a person needs to start a rap career is a nickname stolen directly from a character in a comic book/gangster film, an affiliation with a cheesy, sleazy mob-boss-wannabe record label exec, a guest spot on an equally mediocre peers’ supremely annoying ghetto anthem, about fifty confusing and unrelated aliases and a complete and utter willingness to suckle at the teat of middle America (while vehemently defending any challenge to the street credentials that they have fought so hard to preserve and probably never had in the first place.) The most depressing thing is, as a former avid hip-hop fan, I’ve been waiting for this embarrassing fad to slowly fade out and give way to the hip-hop renaissance that’s been threatening for years. But, why fuck with a winning formula? After all, modern rap is just an updated manifestation of the American dream: to gather endless amounts of meaningless expendable goods by any means necessary, including crime. It fits right in with the American Dream maxim of the fifties: every American kid should have a roof over their head, a dog, and a Lexus with an in-dash Playstation 2. Never mind the shrewd political analyses of groups like The Coup and Public Enemy, the snazzy, jazzy loops of A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde or the hardcore originality of EPMD and BDP. Social awareness essentially died out of mainstream hip-hop in the early 90s.

At this point it would be wise to point out that I am differentiating between rap and hip-hop because there are some very important fundamental differences. If you don’t know, ya betta ask somebody.

Still, many rappers argue that the depiction of crime in music videos is just an accurate portrayal of everyday street life. Some claim they had to turn to crime in order to make ends meet. I’m not buying that bullshit, not across the board at least. Sure, some rappers may have had to turn to crime to make rent or buy diapers, but chances are, those people are either behind bars or dead. The Notorious B.I.G. (I hate typing that name) was and still is, posthumously, widely considered one of the most prolific rappers, ever. Yet, for the most part, he pontificates about acquiring material possessions and inconsequential social status due to such acquisitions. In one of his first singles, “Juicy” Biggie raps about owning a Super-Nintendo and a Sega Genesis - things that he apparently didn’t have growing up; bare necessities. It is widely known, however, that he turned to street crime because he wasn’t satisfied with the presumably adequate lifestyle his mother provided him, nor was he interested in getting a legitimate job. He was simply looking for a fast way to get the latest trends in fashion, entertainment and military weaponry.

Is this the picture we want to be painting for today’s impoverished youth: the importance of staying real? The three R’s have been replaced by “the four M’s”: materialism, misogyny, marketing and multiple convictions. I don’t necessarily blame rap so much as I do certain individuals’ lack of ability to distinguish real from fantasy or smart from ignorant or even empty from fulfilled. The fact that some people consider material wealth not only a God-given inalienable right that they have been so cruelly deprived of, but also as a symbol of unquestionable status worries me.

The notion of materialistic entitlement is only perpetuated by the current trend of fantasy depicted in rap videos. It is this sad state of affairs that often confuses the fan and could potentially lead to a life spent in pursuit of such empty promises. It is up to the fans to take a stand and buck the trend, to bring hip hop back full circle to a socially viable and credible voice to urban youth. Until then, I will continue to dismiss rap as just empty noise.

Bonus:

Track listing from average hip-hop album (2004)

1. Intro
2. Intro outro
3. Anthemic radio-friendly single featuring P. Diddy/Ja Rule
4. Shout out to the ladies featuring up-and-coming R&B singer
5. Patronizing “girl you’re all I need/black women must be respected” song featuring up and coming female R&B singer
6. Nasty, “doin’ it” song featuring R. Kelly
7. Sketch of the ghetto SNL variety
8. Song lamenting how hard it is growing up in the ghetto/overly dramatic song about the pratfalls of the drug game and a tribute to the homies it done took with it (usually serves as a thinly-veiled and presumably unintentional endorsement of selling drugs as a legitimate form of income)
9. Anthemic Shout-out song to the homies featuring the militantly-named splinter group to which the artist claims affiliation
10. Sketch ripping off Pacino film
11. Second radio single infinitely inferior to the first, but somehow more popular and, consequently, more annoying (usually an obligatory Southern-crunk style bling-bling rip-off attempt at introducing the artist into the mainstream)
12. Poorly placed musical interlude/Unnecessary intro reprise
13. Shameless attempt at gaining/re-gaining credibility with a guest appearance by Jay-Z, who undoubtedly is responsible for the bulk of the lyrics
14. Reading of 5 Percent Nation rhetoric by the resident ‘knowledge disciple’ who decries the state of the plight of the urban black male, thereby furthering the conspiratorial paranoia about the plot against the black race and simultaneously alienating the suburban white kids who are the demographic who bought the most albums
15. Bizarre , sometimes intimidating, but usually comical rant-song promising to indiscriminately murder any turncoats/rivals that may be construed as plotting against the artist and the aforementioned clique to which he claims allegiance
16. Ironic peace anthem (considering the previous song) with a positive, if insincere, social message about unity between races
17. Remix of radio-friendly hit featuring a horribly mismatched guest artist
18. Outro intro
19. Outro, in remembrance of the loss of hip hop greats such as Tupac and Biggie and giving a shout-out to whomever random person/cultural phenomenon/material possession the artist deems appropriate
20. Outro outro
21. *Bonus Track
22. *Bonus Track (European - only Version)
23. *Bonus Track (Japanese – only Version)

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