The Iced Tea Theory

by Marcus K. Dowling

So I really like food and drink analogies. I love food and drink, and know a fair amount about them, so, when I need a handy resource with which to make something analagous, I often opt toward them.

I’ve done a fair amount of thinking as of late about hip hop. And, after a fantastic Grammy awards on Sunday for the genre, as the “Swag Pack” of TI, Jay-Z, Kanye and Weezy ripped it with the help of 9+ month pregnant M.I.A., and Lil’ Wayne also had a most inspired solo performance as NARAS attempted to contort our favorite codeine sipping Martian into a N’Awlins cause celebre, hip hop has been all over my mind. It continued into Tuesday, as during my sluggish 60 minute cardio workout, I saw Asher Paul Roth of the suburb of Morrisville, PA, on MTV Jams and MTV Hits expounding upon his love of the collegiate lifestyle FIVE times. With the video being approximately four minutes long, that’s a solid third of an hour that MTV, a channel who could focus on four or five separate artists, decided to give one individual, a fresh scrubbed white guy with a tongue in cheek demeanor. Hip hop is everywhere, much like my favorite drink of all time, a cool, tall, refreshing glass of iced tea.

Imagine a time before iced tea. Imagine the day that someone made tea, and then served it to a friend, and they found it amazing. Then imagine as the concept of brewing leaves and herbs and cooling them expanded, as five, ten, fifteen and twenty people brewed it. They all had the same recipe, and it all tasted good. Maybe there were three guys who weren’t so good at it, maybe brewed the wrong combination of herbs, maybe let it steep too long, and they were considered to have the worst tea in town. Let’s say that through attrition, those guys stopped making tea for good, and eventually, through survival of the fittest and a lot of hard work at tea making, people from other areas, other lands, other places in general started to wonder about this iced tea concoction.

Iced tea then spreads to these other locales. Somebody learns to add honey, somebody else learns to add sugar, somebody else learns to add lemon, somebody else learns to add a lot of general and basic additives, and, in general it’s the same, but, across the board, tea’s expanding and is widely lauded as amazing. Then, someone decides, wait. We should mass produce this tea, and sell it worldwide. It’s widely agreed that it’s great, and if it’s bottled, canned and made for public consumption, it might be worth it. So, corporations come along and add additives, most of which the average fan of water, leaves, brewing and maybe turbinado sugar just can’t believe. But, the mainstream person just can’t get enough of the syrups, additives and sugars, and, once again, the definition of what exactly tea is inclusive of, changes.

Hip hop, if you haven’t figured, is a lot like iced tea. You can replace tea with hamburgers, hot dogs, beer, wine, or whatever, but, the analogy is still the same. The music started basic:  interpolations of James Brown breaks, reggae tastemaking, popular music breaks and samples, gospel call and response, and pithy rhymes from quick witted rhymers. As it’s grown, it’s gone in so many different and ultimately wonderful directions. As with any artistic form, in its victories, as well as its accidents and losses, answers and developments have been found, and added to the canon. Snow’s “Informer” and Gerardo’s “Rico Suave” may be two of the worst tracks or unfortunate accidents in hip hop’s history, but they’re still there, as either tracks to be played for amusement, or, accidents you, as an artist want to avoid. French by way of Miami rapper Uffie occupies the same collection of “rappers from Europe” as Neneh Cherry and Monie Love.  People that think that this isn’t fair need to understand that expression, as an art, is not fair. It’s individualized, and on some level, heartfelt and fully within the reality of the creator, which, as individuality is not something that can be judged under some sort of all encompassing law, is neither fair nor unfair, it merely exists and is what it is. There’s a lot of hate right now as people question authenticity and definitions in the genre. This is difficult, divisive, and really needs to stop, as in our growing global atmosphere, having a million choices, and watching the amazing sounds and artists that can develop, like say, the Debbie Harry by way of Devo, Grace Jones, James Brown and all of the great female MCs before her Santogold, or the straight out of 1988 production standards Cool Kids, and so on and so forth, pleasingly ad infinitum. It’s a lot more fun to just watch things grow organically, then it is to pester with vitriol as evolution will occur, and the wheat will separate from the chaff.

But back to iced tea. My buddy, and the owner of this site, Stone, this week, in the midst of a hip hop universe seemingly owned and operated by vapid ringtone rappers, emo thugs and hipster hellions went to a night this week honoring James “J Dilla” Yancey, one of the most “real,” hip hop and R & B inspired producers ever in the eyes of so many who love and appreciate the genre. It was apparently well attended, well recieved and truly appreciated by all there, which, to me proves in an aisle seemingly overrun these days by green teas, orange teas, sweet teas, black teas, granulated in small packages for our consumption teas, regular, simple, basic, “true” tea, the tea you remember, the tea that started it all, with three cubes of ice, four teaspoons of sugar, and brewed from a Lipton bag, is still there, still sold, and while maybe not number one on the list, it’s the backbone upon which the list was built. It’s still important, and you can reflect on the fact that at the end of the day, if it wasn’t for that glass, and that tea, everything else wouldn’t exist. Love it, or hate it, it’s all still family, and, at the end of the day, while it may not require love, it does deserve respect.

As Speech would say, “I am still thirsty.”