Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Some Relatively New Conscious Raps That Are Actually Real Good

DJ Green Lantern f. Styles and Cassidy - "Make It Out"

Since I bash political raps all the time, I thought it was my duty to highlight a couple that don't suck so as to prove that I'm not some guy who hates all political rap because rappers, generally speaking, aren't the most well-informed bunch so usually when a rapper speaks on politics he's not going to get every detail right. I'm not like that at all, I'm just not into (a) really vague shit that proposes a golden age of equality and warm fuzzy feelings without saying anything about how we get there, (b) muddled bullshit like Untitled, (c) shit that seeks to get credit just because 'Bush' and 'Iraq' get name-dropped, usually in some thoughtless accusatory fashion, (d) conspiracy theories (unless they're entertaining), or (e) rappers who tell you it's only right to get yours and sell crack because CVS is slinging dope on every block.

With that said, this fine Obama endorsement from October falls into none of those five categories. Over an excellent beat from Green Lantern, which I wish I could say more about other than that it employs the same sample that Havoc used on his beats for the skits on Big Noyd's slept on first album, sort of a 70s horn and strings movie soundtrack affair, Styles and Cassidy - well let's say something about Styles and Cass first. Both are really capable rappers who, partly through their own fault, partly due to the demands of their labels, in Styles's case partly due to the cheap beats he can afford, have put out albums way beneath their abilities, but really shine in guest work, mixtapes, and battles with Freeway. Cass isn't the most reflective rapper, he put out an album after coming out of prison that promised to be about his prison experience and barely dealt with it at all, instead mostly focusing on inanities like snitching-bashing and autotuned musings on his drink and 2-step, but he has his thoughtful moments. And Styles is the kind of guy who puts Talib on his shit because he doesn't know any better and raps conscious rap circles around him.*

So back to the song, look at all the things that Styles and Cass do right. Styles first. He starts with detail. Middle class families in foreclosure (Styles has a great Yonkers accent and really enunciates the fuck out of his consonants, making even him just saying the word 'foreclosure' sound really incisive somehow). Poor exchange rates for the dollar vis-a-vis the Euro. Kids overseas in Iraq. No crazy conspiracy theories about how these foreclosures are part of some devious plan for Bush to get rich off our misery. Then he makes a reasonable case for voting for Obama. Not just the fact that he's black, which Nas thought was enough reason to vote for the guy, the fact that "a President my color, that'll be living hope." Also, as he correctly notes, "we need a little change bro." And, Obama's a charismatic leader:

If the land can be reached through speech,
then the man givin' the speech ought to lead all the peeps

Look at how elegantly put that is. And there's even a little narrative of lost hope and redemption: "At first I lost hope, now I'm given hope." And it's all very sincere and deeply felt (just thinking about the foreclosures got SP so upset he put down his liquor and threw his weed in his sock). Even if you're not an Obama fan, you can't help but come away from the song moved by Styles's conversion experience, as it were, to the Obama cause.

Then take Cass. Compassion, empathy: "It don't look good in my hood, there's a lot of violence, a lot of drama." Great detail: "some people's bank accounts ain't never have a comma." Honesty:

I'm not a preacher, I'm not a teacher, I'm not your father
I'm not Bush, I'm not Clinton, I'm not Obama

That is, he's not going to bullshit and pretend to be some know-it-all. Then, a shot at folks who some rappers, unfortunately, brag about being like or mistakenly see as allies against the Bush Conspiracy To Impoverish Hoods and A-rabs Worldwide: "I'm not Al Qaeda, I'm not Saddam, I'm not Osama." Then, Cass mentions slavery (while noting, contra Scarface, that legal discrimination is a thing of the past), offers an endearingly stupid punchline on Obama's behalf - "don't let them Khan you like Chaka, vote for Barack-a" - and employs a strong folksy metaphor - "the country sick and he the only thing close to a doctor." Note that he isn't actually a doctor, he's just the only thing close. Cass is a realist.

So if you're a rapper out there reading this, that's how to do a good conscious rap song.

* Although Talib gets hated on a little too much. But Styles is still nicer, these days anyway.


Berto said...

Listen to Shapeshifters by a rapper called Invincible (incidentally from Detroit), and you'll be listening to the finest political rap record dropped in a minute.

tray said...

He sounds nerdy. And possibly boom-bappy. And I just googled him and she's a white... girl? Besides that, I do really hate political rap, though I pretend to just be choosy. I mean, I can take the occasional good song, or something that's genius like Public Enemy, but I never really got the point in listening to someone rap about issues that I could hear discussed way more intelligently in class, or on Like, this song works because they're just expressing their personal anxieties and need for Obama, when you start getting all programmatic and faux-historical like Ras Kass, I tune you out.