Friday, December 19, 2008

My Theses


Before Jeezy was stuntin on Martin Luther, Martin Luther was stuntin on dem popes.


I think there's a lack of clarity as to my general aims, intent, and beliefs about this rap shit, so I thought I'd clarify. Martin Luther style.

1. The canon's about right.

1.1. DJ Premier, not Timbaland, Mannie Fresh or even Dr. Dre, is the greatest rap producer. Ever.

1.2. Something like The Infamous or Illmatic is probably the greatest rap album ever, though admittedly it's pretty nonsensical to speak of the greatest rapper or rap album of all time.

1.3. Though canon revisionism is helpful in that there is some truly classic material that's traditionally been underrated from overlooked regions like the South and Midwest, and hated on labels like Cash Money, post-Biggie Bad Boy, and yes, No Limit Records, the canon's the canon for a reason, and there really is a difference in quality between something like 400 Degreez and Ready To Die, as great as 400 Degreez is.

2. Rap ain't what it used to be.

2.1. So for instance, though Wayne probably is the best rapper alive (or Z-Ro if you prefer - I'd throw Ghostface in here too but it's tough to argue for him after the exercise in comfortable mediocrity that was Big Doe Rehab), it's the height of folly to argue that Wayne is in any way comparable to the great rappers of the past. The situation we're in now is like if, five years ago, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe, Iverson, McGrady, LeBron, Webber, Dirk, and about 20 other guys died in a plane crash, leaving Steve Francis as the best basketball player alive. Or, take a real-life example. For those of you who are serious about movies, do you think there's a single director in America, currently doing good work and not just resting on his 70s laurels, who people will really care about 50 years from now? It's the same with rap.

2.1.1. The dumbest shit is when certain famous bloggers, in their attempts to defend Wayne and the like, go rewrite history and say that in their opinion, the best rappers of the early-mid 90s weren't Nas or Prodigy, but rather guys like Kool Keith and Grand Puba and Snoop and ODB, and Wayne's just carrying on that tradition. He is, yes (though they were substantially better), but Grand Puba simply wasn't as good as some of his peers. If you just listen to rap for the goofy post-lyrical types with kooky flows, you're really missing out on the bigger picture.

2.2. On the other hand, it's also the height of folly when people, in their attempts to prove that real hip-hop is still alive and well, say that Wayne or guys of his ilk are not the best rappers alive, but rather Immortal Technique or Aesop Rock or Lupe or even someone a little more mainstream like post-Stillmatic Nas or post-retirement Jay is. (There are people over on Nah Right who do the latter. Crazy, I know.) You've got to be insane to think that someone rapping for an audience of 200,000 white nerds is the best rapper out, or that there isn't a huge, obscene, qualitative dropoff between old Nas or old Jay and today's Nas or today's Jay. It's like loyal fans of some aging athlete who refuse to admit he's on the downswing and insist on pointing to his occasional great games, which increasingly become fewer and farther between.

3. It's probably not coming back either.

4. History, in the short term at least, is a one way street.

5. Though many, if not most, of the truly great works of rap fall squarely within the Purist East Coast Sample Based Boom-Bappy Goodness Tradition, it is paradoxically this tradition that today bears the least fruit. The worst rap is the rap that tries to bring the Golden Age (whichever Age that was for you) back, musically (this includes the kind of flow you use, flow's ultimately a musical element), lyrically, or thematically.

5.1. Like any rule, there are exceptions. Black Milk really isn't one (sorry); Ghostface, though, definitely is. (So are Styles's horribly slept-on mixtapes, on which a post is forthcoming.) Of course, this doesn't show you that the Boom-Bappy Moment hasn't passed so much as just that Ghostface is still living and capable of doing good work. We made the switchover from Impressionism to Modern Art around 1900, but there were still some very accomplished Impressionists who kept doing great stuff past that point. Monet himself lived and worked up to 1926. Didn't mean the movement hadn't moved on.

5.2. It is not just a freak coincidence or a sign of what dicks A&R's are these days that the self-appointed saviors of East Coast rap have been getting their albums pushed back for the past four years, but rather, a sign of how exhausted the style they represent is. Consider how bad the first singles off these eternally pushed-back projects were. "Fitted Hat Low," "Bang It Out," "Gettin Gwap," "Gangsta Party" (feat. Nate Dogg), "Pain In My Life"... "C'mon Baby" was alright, but more because of the beat than anything else. And think about how bad the excuses for these crappy songs were. "Oh, the label made me do a song with Nate Dogg. About partying. It couldn't help but suck." Gee, Snoop seemed to do alright given those constraints. Guru made party records. Show and AG made party records. KRS made party records. What kind of emcee are you if you're incapable of making a single or getting spins in the club?

6. Even though rap's a shadow of what it used to be and doesn't promise to improve much, it's still worth listening to. However limited a Wayne, Jeezy, Z-Ro, Beans, or whoever may be, it still beats the emasculating shit that passes for rock these days. Or Kanye.

7 comments:

Beezer B said...

Nice. I don't think I'm as on-canon as you but this is a really nice manifesto. Everyone should write one.

The stuff about the rappers complaining they couldn't have possibly made a good song with Nat Dogg is spot on. If "lesser" rapper can do it without breaking a sweat then they ought to be knocking it out of the park. Unfortunately most (like Nas) of them really don't understand what they ought to be doing with music.

Trey Stone said...

nice post even though i don't share your cynicism about 99% of current rap. on-point especially with the whole label conspiracy vs. shitty music thing.

Badmon3333 said...

"... but rather guys like Kool Keith and Grand Puba and Snoop and ODB..."

Kool Keith doesn't belong in that group. I would put Keith, Ghostface and Sadat X into that "abstract nonsense but good" rap [begin the 'Wild Cowboys' hating here, but there are a solid five tracks on that album, mostly thanks to Minnisota, who promptly disappeared into the ether of the universe].

I'm with on Puba... boo.

The canon is pretty dead-on, though you could come up with a lot of stuff to take its place if you went with one Tribe album instead of two (in a row, no less).

tray said...

Oh, I don't think that list is by any means the best list in the world, but there's no doubt that Tribe has two classic albums - whether you have them in your top ten or twenty or whatever's debatable. Personally I'm not a Tribe guy. And I like Puba a lot, even his solo work, but when Breihan was like, "so yeah, Brand Nubian's first album, Luda's first album, Ridin Dirty, that's the canon to me," or when he announced that he wasn't interested in "post-Illmatic rap," I thought, clearly here's a guy who doesn't take rap very seriously. Though he works given our very unserious rap landscape, but as far as telling you where Wayne stacks up in the pantheon, he's deeply mistaken.

Badmon3333 said...

Two classic Tribe albums, no question. But if we're talking a panacea-style canon, there's always one more you could add to the list.

I'd actually take the much-maligned 'Everything is Everything' over Brand Nubian's first album. Not for the canon, just in general

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

you forgot about RZA in your greatest producer list, and a few others for that matter, i assume they were just examples.

if i never hear from papoose again, i will be so happy.

tray said...

Oh yeah, RZA's top five for sure, I was just saying those two aren't even GOAT Rap Producer contenders.