The most interesting figures in hip-hop for me over the past two years have been the Streets, Northern State, Dizzee Rascal, Bubba Sparxxx, and Slug. Not an African-American among them. Can it be that each artist's otherness relative to hip-hop proper is bringing new styles, new impulses, and new concerns to a genre that's 25 years old?
I've been trying to figure out why crunk has caught on. It's nothing more than Miami booty bass wed to '80s synthpop, right? With a healthy dose of dancehall thrown in, with house-music chants and sea-shanty growling. And it's smarter than anyone notices, and its artists are all work- aholic freakniks who pump out two or six albums a year and guest all over. So yeah, some big mystery here. Holy hell I love this stuff.
Who put that crunk in my trunk? Well I'll be dipped and dunked like a deep-fried skunk. Hey, does New York even make rap music anymore? Ha ha, just kidding. Don't shoot. But it is kinda hard to remember. Come to think of it, I'll listen to just about anything that takes my mind off that mumblemouth Fiddy Cent and his soggy bottom boyz.
"Get Low" gets me going for the first few seconds, but then the boyz ruin the fun by telling all the women to crawl. Party poopers!
Woodside, New York
Lil Jon says bend over! Lil Jon says touch your toes! Now shake ya tailfeather! Ho, Lil Jon didn't say to shake no tailfeather!
Ying Yang producer Beat-In-Azz has found a way to use large sounds without driving everything else out: spooky whoo-whoos, Ennio Morricone whistles and horn blasts, and Euro-operatic synth-orchestra accompaniments all at once, along with whatever the rhythms and rappers are doing.
From a rapping perspective, the exciting thing about grime is that it reveals the MC is in a process of becoming, transforming before our eyes from a message-free dancefloor showman/ shaman into a fully fleshed character. I'm not sure if I actually want the MC to reach the point where lyrical content assumes primacy: it's the instability and undecidability of the incomplete totalisation process that makes it thrilling; the way MCs seem to teeter between pure aural effect and discernible meaning.
Jay-Z's retirement makes perfect sense: hip-hop has entered a post-MC phase. Rhymes are passé. Turn on Hot 97: it's all about Diwali, the new Jus' Blaze beat, the latest Neptunes songlet. The world's biggest MC is 50 Cent, a rapper who can't be bothered to open his mouth. Dancehall is blowing up, even though American listeners don't understand a single word.
Brooklyn, New York
The Love Below confounds the pundits by being more personal, psychedelic, confessional, whimsical, eclectic (not to mention more ungangsta, unblinging to boot) than anybody thought the nation's young conservatives would accept. Everything critics thought would be a problemDre's voice, his hit-or-miss songcraft, his Prince knockoffshas proven a non-issue with the consumer. This is a good thing for the public and for music criticism. Because anytime some brilliant oddball shit hits for which there is no answer, music that matters starts coming out of the woodwork again.
We may be "black and ugly," but we still here: covering books from The Faceto The New York Times Magazine, all over cable (not just BET), hijacking Beatlemania for ourselves (see "Hey Ya!"), losing our status as Number One Minority, putting out shitty records that still blindly sway millions, and having our own valiant, Frodo-like Son of Africa in Kofi Annan to save the Earth from the Forces of Evil.
KANDIA CRAZY HORSE