I’ve been listening to a lot of popular music from the late 1980s and (especially) early 1990s lately and have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Back then, a lot of rap was greatly concerned with putting out positive (stay in school, don’t start violence, you have potential, <I>etc.</i>) messages, but nowadays that’s pretty much nonexistent. In the world of 2003, you’ll have a much easier time finding rap about, say, shooting hookers while your BMW-ed entourage looks on.
Positive anything is pretty boring if it’s preachy. If it’s social commentary you’re looking for, though, then Jurassic 5 has some of that as well as just plain AMAZING rhyme skills. The commentary is mostly interwoven as a matter-of-fact thing.
It’s not dead. Check out any of the artists at conductivemusic.com and anticon.com. Slug/Atmosphere, Sole, Alias, lots of really, really great hiphop/rap with a contemplative, poetic approach.
Buy anything by Slug, aka Atmosphere, and anything by Sole (the guy on Anticon, not the female rapper who goes by the same name). And find a used copy of Lucas’s “Lucacentric”–a shamefully overlooked album that paved the way (IMO) for “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
I was thinking about this the other day. A lot of the socially conscious things that were the style in the 90s were just another passing phase. It’s not just rap. From the mid eighties til, what? the mid nineties, it was popular to care and be concerned with things like anti-racism, anti-sexism, the environment, anti-violence, etc etc, and sometime around 1999 it was like a breath of fresh air to see people rebel against it by being openly dumb, horny, greedy and intolerant.
It’s not like current popular rock music is imbued with great positivity. Have a look at charts, and you see Nickelback hating their parents and Chris Martin from Coldplay being generally mopey. And that White Stripes single I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself isn’t so upbeat and positive.
People notice negativity in rap, that’s all. You only hear complaints about objectification of women in rap videos, while Fountains of Wayne have a twelve year old kid ogling his friends mother and imagining her as a stripper.
Then again, the Black Eyed Peas’ Where Is The Love? is pretty positive, and its been one of the biggest hits of the year.
Also, don’t know why I forgot to mention: one of the best RB/hiphop artists working today is Michael Franti, aka Spearhead. His stuff is extremely positive, and very political. And there’s **GURU, Sage Francis, **and Bitch and Animal, a really exciting–get this–Lesbian Folk Hiphop duo, with great lyrics like “Back in the day/People used to get dressed up/to play croquet,” in a song which includes snippets of hilarious croquet-game trash talk. They do a couple really moving songs about 9/11 too.
I’ve always been more a fan of positive hiphop than negative (my number one favorite album of all time is Jane Siberry’s When I Was a Boy), so I kind of collect the stuff. I’m sure I’ll think of some more and will post again if I do.
Blackeyed Peas, Jurrasic 5, Blackalicious, KRS-One, the Beastie Boys all come to mind. There is more. Alot of hip-hop albums go back and forth, they’ll have the dance/party tracks and then some philosophical/political songs as well. Alot of gangsta rap talks about how shitty the life is, and about constantly struggling to overcome the fucked-upness of the system. It’s out there. It has been since the beginning and it will until the end. Hell, even Eminem makes some really good positive points from time to time on subjects ranging from fans behaivior to governmental politics and hypocrisy.
That’s the difference–un-positive rock (although, aren’t we all forgetting the beating heavy metal took from parents’ groups back in the day?) is usually SELF-destructive, suicidal, mopey, etc., while un-positive rap is usually more extroverted–homicide rather than suicide, crime, etc., not simple, quiet, self-destruction.
No one’s afraid of somebody else committing suicide. Lots of people are afraid of gang violence and drive-by-shootings.
Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of…” was a positive hip-hop CD that received critical acclaim. I think it even won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
Coincidentally, that same year, Speech’s CD “Hoopla” was released. It is an AMAZING and positive hip-hop CD. Basically, it was the male version of Lauryn Hill’s CD… and in my opinion, it was better than Lauryn Hill’s.