* “It has never ceased to amaze and infuriate me that in the ’40’s a European critic could be arrogant and unthinking enough to inform serious young Americans that what they were feeling (a consideration that exists before, and without, the music) was false… The music was already in danger of being forced into that junk pile of admirable objects and data the West knows as culture.”
– From “Jazz and the White Critic”, Amiri Baraka
Ok, now I believe that hip-hop is dead. And it’s so sad, because I was just thinking about how it started, how people have said that others did things similar, like Frank Zappa in the ’70’s in “Trouble Every Day” (which is obviously not really rap), but the hardest to learn being the least complicated. And how FRESH it once sounded, Grandmaster Flash, The Go! Team (yes), Blondie (no). And not because I find any flaws whatsoever in albums like Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury, Doom – Born Like This, Black Milk – No Poison No Paradise, most stuff by Shabazz Palaces.
No, the reason why I think hip-hop is dead is that I see now what it was — invincible, and now I see what it is — classic radio, nostalgia.
I really have no stance to comment on what Amiri Baraka mentions as “culture,” but I have a feeling that when Nas in 2006 declares that “hip-hop is dead,” he means that it’s become something like this — it’s become more like a frail pomeranian with arthritis that people pet and shake their heads to, juxtaposed with the wolverine it once was. I mean, Baraka, talking about jazz, really makes me realize what hip-hop once was: everything. And it’s the ARTISTS who had the need to read, to listen to Brahms, to practice yoga — everybody else in the ghetto could just listen to hip-hop, and maybe they were good at something else, or maybe they could be happy doing something else.
“Keys Open Doors” on Clipse’ Hell Hath No Fury is an incisively original hip-hop song (2006), all the more commendable for the fact that lyrically, it’s a banal walkthrough of the materialistic advantages of crack dealing. So maybe just as rock maybe has a death knell in Nevermind (Pearl Jam certainly plays as classic radio nostalgia, Queens of the Stone Age as a cute, enjoyable pomeranian with arthritis who can maybe knit its own sweaters, or something), hip-hop has one in Hell Hath No Fury. The album is perfect for the fact that it actually mocks its own form. But Pharell deserves credit for climbing to the top of the world in the way of production, because, different from every other rap beat out there, though there are kicks and snares on the cut, they’re occluded by the fuzz — it’s THE FUZZ that’s the first thing you hear, and it grabs you, ethereally, steadies your hand into lighting a candle. But nothing has duly followed it — Doom plays like classic radio, self-mocking, and Black Milk, though listenable, is self-caricature and bombastic. Kanye is now dance music, whereas at the start of his career he was arguably gospel, primarily. Drake is of minimal emceeing talent and exceptional record production, at the hands of whoever, bravo to that dude. Many artists mock Drake. And what it really is, is sh**-talking. It’s saying, I have all these things together, I can do all these things that maybe you can’t. and it’s things that our culture says you have to have.
I’m thinking about what Sasha Frere-Jones said, too, that “dance” and “pop” have replaced hip-hop, and at the time when I read his 2009 article that stated this, I despised him for it, though at the time I wasn’t really sure why. Now I get it: these forms are utterly disposable; even Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma, and the work of Autechre and Chris Clark now sound dated — they have a lower shelf life. If there’s any continuing statement to have been made by electronica regarding America’s ability to wield a visceral, timeless, unifying brand of music, that serves both sides of the brain and steadies societies into cooperation, it’s probably the very title of the albeit gripping Actress album: R.I.P.