I don’t believe in magic / I don’t believe in I-ching / I don’t believe in Bible / I don’t believe in Tarot / I don’t believe in Hitler / I don’t believe in Jesus / I don’t believe in Kennedy / I don’t believe in Buddha / I don’t believe in Mantra / I don’t believe in Gita / I don’t believe in Yoga / I don’t believe in Kings / I don’t believe in Elvis / I don’t believe in Zimmerman / I don’t believe in Beatles…
– taken from “God,” by John Lennon
I don’t believe in hip hop. No, I believe in music, and I believe in great artists, but, I don’t believe that “hip hop,” as people define it, really exists anymore as music. I argue hip hop has become metaphysical, as in the Merriam-Webster definition that it is “transcendent or to a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses.” Hip hop is so much more. I argue it IS music. I argue it IS culture. I argue it IS relevance, and that all other which is ultimately of importance flows from it. It’s being redefined every second, every hour, every day, as it’s now the realm of everyone, a telephone game gone blissfully out of control.
Let’s take a look at this argument musically across the board. Lykke Li, the world’s hottest pop songstress, is at her core a failed avant garde MC who tucked tail, went back to Sweden, and reinvented herself, lugging hip hop along all the way. She performs “A Milli” and “Can I Kick It” live in concert this tour, and performs with grace, beauty, and, yes, that most important catch all term to unrepentant hip hop orientated cool, “swagger.” The hottest rock band of this exact moment, Chester French, isn’t signed to Epic, or Arista, or Atlantic, but to Star Trak, a label owned and operated by Pharrell Williams, a rapper who has produced beats for a band that often raps about selling voluminous quantities of cocaine. And let’s look at the Grammys. The “hip hop nominee” for Record of the Year isn’t a young American in baggy jeans from a core urban center goin’ hard, but no. “Paper Planes” is a song by the daughter of a Sri-Lankan revolutionary who had a white superproducer and DJ from Florida sample The Clash. Even further, go load up your iTunes. Somewhere in the top 5 last week was Lil’ Wayne. Not with a track about makin’ whoopee with a female cop, but, instead, a plaintive rock ballad about wanting to hook up with the prom queen. Fall Out Heroes of Cobra Panic anyone? In 2009, THIS, I argue is the cutting edge of hip hop.
To make a non musical point, hell, even those hipsters you hate? At worst, they’re nerds just trying to grab onto any fleeting bit of the coolest swag in the world to shine. How can you hate on that? Sad but true.
How many “dope (read lyrically superior) emcees” in the last ten years do you know who have achieved mainstream or even genre specific relevance in comparison to the last 20, or even the last 30. It’s so much deeper than what hip hop says. It’s how hip hop says it, why hip hop says it, and what they’re wearing while they say it more than the words themselves. Hip hop has permeated the mainstream to the point that artists that most “true” hip hop folks would be embarassed to have in the fold 20 years ago are now million and billionaires. Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, by sheer force of charisma and accessible dance alone is more engrained in American history than Joe Budden. Fat Joe simply “leaned back” and became so much more richer and important than the days when he just “flowed.” Hip hop artsits no longer release songs. They release statements that move world culture. Just “putting out a track” isn’t enough anymore to become a star. Not to incite an argument or anything, but the most culturally relevant rapper in the world at present has a mullet, wears bespoke suits, pink polos, and his pants are so tight that if you so chose, you could see his pulse pounding in his crotch. Somewhere, there’s a guy steadfastly clutching his copy of BDPs “My Philosophy” and wondering what the hell happened?!?!?!
Hip hop is no longer the realm of credibility, ability and “blackness.” And there’s something wonderful about that. I can only imagine that somewhere, Busy Bee (who still performs!) and other hip hop originals have so sit back and marvel at the iconic, culture defining ascenscion of something they did for fun, and out of love. Hip hop had to grow. It deserved to grow, it needed to grow. And in it’s growth, I think society is better for it.
Hip hop is art. Hip hop is even sports. Lil Wayne has a fairly intelligent blog at ESPN. And speaking of him, the world’s greatest athlete IMO, Michael Phelps, swears by his off kilter, nasal and staccato flow prior to setting records and gaining gold medals that are the envy of little American boys and girls. Think that while standing on the gold medal platform, he had such lyrics as: “When I Lick My Top Lip, I Culd Still Smell U / When I Swallow My Spit, I Could Still Taste U / Put Dat Pussy In My Face Every Time I Face U” floating in his head. Ad don’t get me started. He even climbs trees to relax. Crazy.
I could keep going, but I think my point is abundantly clear.
Hip hop isn’t dead. It’s life. Everybody’s life. Culturally unavaoidable. And it’s about time we embrace that.
My name is Marcus Dowling and I’m new to The Couch Sessions family. I can be followed on Twitter @ /marcuskdowling. I also blogs about the DC and Baltimore house/electro/hip hop party scene and a lot of other music and whatever detritus comes to mind @ TGRIOonline.com, and I can be contacted @ dowling(dot)marcus(dot)k@gmail(dot)com. Thanks, Stone.