Monday, January 19, 2009

An Instance Where Blogs Can Be Proven (Almost) To Have (Very Slightly) Damaged Hip-Hop

A molehill.

Bloggers often argue over whether other bloggers are responsible for the crappy state of affairs in hip-hop. Brandon took on Eskay for blowing up Asher Roth (though it's far from clear to me that Asher Roth getting blown up is such a bad thing), Dukes hyperbolically claimed that blogging has destroyed hip-hop in 2009, saddling us with such mediocrities as Charles Hamilton, B.O.B., and Ace Hood (again, all rappers with whom I can live - well, maybe not Ace Hood but every age has its bad rappers, and it's not like he's terribly popular or anything), and I'm sure there are countless other examples I could come up with if I cared to. Of course, it's impossible to prove that blogs are to blame for these rappers "blowing up," or for, say, Wayne's overratedness, and as Brandon wisely pointed out in his infamous Eskay-baiting post, before we had Nah Right, we had magazines that mattered, and radio DJ's that really mattered, and way more powerful record labels, and mountain-climbing A&R's, and they made their mistakes too, so why can't we just accept that at any moment in time you're going to have one sort of medium or another that from time to time exerts a negative influence on what gets listened to and what doesn't. A great point indeed, and one that would save compulsive rap blog readers like me from sifting through a lot of tiresome twaddle. But I did want to point out one instance where bloggers and blog commenters were responsible for a bad song that never needed to happen.

You will recall Peter Rosenberg's interview with DJ Premier. Far from the best Premo interview I've heard (that would be the time when he went on Westwood and talked about how he got his start in Texas as a computer geek), but it got a ton of buzz. The only real news out of it, of course, was when Premo announced that he'd given 50 a beat and 50 rejected it. Well after this announcement, there was a lot of "how could 50 reject a Premo beat" on some of the, sorry, dumber blogs out there, even though no one had ever heard the track, and Premo fanned the flames when he commented on the non-situation some more with XXL, claiming that the beat was really great and could've helped 50 "bring it back to the pure essence" and get him "on the right track for a street record." Occasioning more "see, this is the problem with hip-hop these days, 50 Cent turning down washed-up-Premo tracks" bullshit. So after weeks of the Internets complaining, 50 puts out a song over a Premo track, the eminently forgettable 'Shut Your Bloodclot Mouth,' and though at first some thought Premo had given 50 a new, slightly less mediocre track over which to bore us to death, it turns out it was the same track that 50 turned down. As Premo kindly explained on his radio show, 50 backed down once he saw all the blog flak he was getting. Of course, 50 was right in the first place; the beat's horribly dry paint-by-numbers Premo.

Now, this little episode is troubling and worth talking about for a few reasons. First of all, you just don't want fans telling rappers which beats to take. For example, we now know that before Nas recorded the versions of 'Represent' and 'Memory Lane' we know and love, Premo gave him inferior beats for both that Nas rejected. Of course, they're 1993 Premo so they're still pretty great beats, but imagine if word had gotten around that Nas turned down Premo's beats and fans pressured him to take the originals. (In particular, the original 'Memory Lane' would easily be the worst song on the album if Nas had taken it.) Rappers make their own mistakes too and some could probably stand to improve if they listened a little more to what blogs had to say about their beat selection (like today's Nas), but they definitely know what they're doing better than a fan who's never even heard the track about which he's bloviating. More importantly, though, it's the conservative tenor of the fans' criticisms that bothers me. 50's a pretty bad rapper nowadays (though Curtis has a compelling moment or two), and I'm not sure who could possibly shake him out of his stupor. But the last thing he needs to do is hire legendary producers off the strength of the work they did 10-15 years ago (by the same token, he shouldn't be working with Dre) and put out some back to the 90s record. Not that a good back to the 90s record would necessarily be a terrible move from him, but more that it's really tough to make a good one, and absolutely impossible if you just call the producers who were hot in 1995 and rap over their awful imitations of how they used to sound. There's a very good reason that Jay, Nas, and up till now 50 stopped taking Premo's calls after 2001. (Seriously, think about the millions of times in the past 7 years that Jay or Nas were supposed to do a track or entire album with Premo and then things "fell through.") What 50 needs is to be cutting-edge again, and to realize that you can be grimy and "take things back to the pure essence," or streets, without relying on past generations' ideas of what the pure essence or streets were supposed to sound like. A great rapper should challenge listeners, not be moved by listeners' antiquarian demands - which their demands will inevitably be, because as listeners and non-artists, we don't have any idea of what the future sounds like. We just know the past, and clamor for it. Finally, as much as we hear about how blogs push rappers away from whatever the pure essence is and towards doing songs with Asher Roth or Santogold, it's interesting to me that in this one instance where we know, as a matter of fact, that bloggers pushed a rapper to make a certain musical choice, that choice was actually a very conservative one - even though it's 2009, when Premo gives you a beat, no matter how bad, you must take it.


Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

there is also the problem that, even in their respective primes, 50 and Premo have completely different aesthetics and good lyrics from 50 and a nice beat from Preem would just feel weird. but yes, this song is pretty awful. more importantly (to me), it's boring.

tray said...

Hmm, I think in 50's prime, which I'd say were the pre-GRODT days, of course, 50/Premo could've worked. "Fuck You," to me, is one of his best songs and that sounds like it could be Premo, though it's really Clark Kent. At this point, yeah, the aesthetics are too far apart. More importantly, though, I want to emphasize that, though everybody's always saying that blogs are pushing us in the direction of trendiness, here the pressure was to go backwards, and I think if you really look at the thousands of rap blogs out there instead of the ten or so good ones you or I read, that kind of sentiment is actually what predominates. You go to Nah Right, most of the commenters are buzzed about Budden/Saigon and eagerly anticipating Jay's next album.

ghengis blond said...

cool essay, geek louch. no; i'm really glad i read this. keep working good, dude.