Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fight The Swagger!

Some real hip-hop heads fighting the swagger.

This is sorta sad. Sticky Fingaz is or at least was a great and influential rapper who's kinda been forgotten about by rap historians who forget that Bacdafucup preceded Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers by nine months. All That We Got Iz Us compares favorably to many of the classics of 94-95. Echos of his style can be heard in rappers as different as Pastor Troy and DMX. He's easily as important a figure as Raekwon or Buckshot or other lesser legends in that general tier. So it's a pity to hear dude wheezing in the booth about the evils of swag and Phantoms and girls at your video dancing. Although it isn't even as clear-cut as that, because the weedcarriers on the hook can't quite seem to figure out whether to be mocking swag or just claiming that "yall" don't have swag like their boss does, and therefore need said Phantoms, girls at yall's video dancing, etc. As I said before, the problem with swag isn't that it's a stupid idea, it's just that it's been left so undefined that guys like Sticky get the mistaken impression (perhaps from reading Jim Jones's Complex interviews) that rap's been overrun by a bunch of idiots who think draping designer scarves over their heads = swag = rapping greatness. Or as The Realest Rapper Alive, Styles said, "ain't nothing wrong with having style and swag and all that but I think all the guys are starting to be focused so much on the look and the way they are so much, that it almost make them like girls." Yes, perhaps rappers are way more fashion-conscious these days (although I don't see that at all, it's just that the styles have changed) , but that's not what swag means, or at least it's not what I mean by swag. Swag is when Sticky said in "Walk In New York" that "for what it's worth, we the triflest motherfuckers on the face of the earth" and for a moment makes you believe that it's literally true in a way that only a few rappers could. (For instance, Jay in his prime couldn't pull that line off; Havoc, on the other hand, probably could, but not quite as well.) Now swag, as I didn't clearly explain before, comes in all shapes and sizes and by all sorts of names; what's trill to you might sound country to me, what's grimy to me might sound spastic and cartoonish to you. (Basically I'm stealing this whole take on swag from FreeDarko.) But all types of swag have this in common, that they're one or another sort of charisma/conviction in what the rapper's saying. Swag doesn't have to be tough or gangsta; Talib has a nerdy sort of swag on 'Definition,' especially when he dismisses rappers who spit the epitome of stupidity. Large Professor has an indignant purist's swag on 'Fakin The Funk.' Chubb Rock had a magisterial, brassy baritone swag on 'Return of The Crooklyn Dodgers,' talking about postwar American history and the origins of crack. MF Doom has all kinds of swag.

Now, some rappers lack swag; Lupe, for instance, comes off to me on most of his songs as an annoying, pretentious, obnoxious individual. Luda's swag has mostly evaporated. Kanye tries very hard to pull off a defiant, arrogant sort of swag on 'Can't Tell Me Nothin,' but miserably fails, especially when he encourages haters to eschew fixing their lips like collagen and then say something when they gon' end up apologin. And not because that's a horrible line, although it is, but because when he says it he sounds like some pissed-off gay guy who's just been told that his jeans are too tight. You give that line to Diddy, it'd still be a stupid line but he'd make it funny at least; that's because Diddy's only mildly annoyed by the people he sees as his haters, not, like Kanye, obsessed with them. Again, swag's a horribly vague concept in need of a ton of clarification, and in the cases of guys like Jim Jones and Rocko and Shawty Lo and at times Gucci Mane, rappers who think they can get over just by finding a crappy ad-lib to repeat, that is, doing bad imitations of Jeezy circa 2005-6, it's led to some atrocious music. But it's not a bad thing.


Badmon3333 said...

Wow. Well, I mean, Sticky had to do SOMEthing after Kern Little took two in the chest on 'The Shield.' But this probably isn't it.

I tend to view 'Bacdafucup' as more of a grimy-based novelty record, and 'All We Got Iz Us' as Onyx's best album. It's definitely superior musically speaking, and took that grimy sound down a dark alley.

tray said...

You mean his acting career's over too? And yeah, I agree, All We Got Iz Us is definitely their best album. But Bacdafucup is an important milestone in New York's turn away from the Native Tongues and towards the golden age of reality rap, whereas the really crappy pop rap histories will say that New York was dead or something until Wu-Tang revived it, and then everyone went and followed their blueprint, etc.

Badmon3333 said...

"... an important milestone in New York's turn away from the Native Tongues and towards the golden age of reality rap..."

I agree. In fact, I'd say it was a record-a-year combo leading UP to '36 Chambers':

1992: 'Stunts, Blunts & Hop'
1993: 'Enta Da Stage'
1994: 'Bacdafucup'... Gangstarr's 'Hard to Earn' that year, too.

Badmon3333 said...

Whoops, well, '36 Chambers' came out after 'Bacdafucup'

tray said...

How was Stunts and Blunts a milestone in the turn towards reality rap?