My torrid love affair with hop hop has been chronicled here. My peers and I are the lucky ones who have never known a world without hip hop. When an emcee clutched the mic, even if he wasn’t telling our story, we felt he was told a valid story. Hip hop was our rebel music; how little black and brown kids raged against the machine. The thing our parents could neither own, nor comprehend.
But now, we are the parents. Though I still have a bit of rebel in me, molding two preteen minds forces me to be more “establishment” than I care to admit. There’s a car advertisement with hamsters dancing to Black Sheep, so hip hop has become representative of the establishment. My heart will always have a special place for it. But I often feel like Chris Rock did when he said, “I LOVE hip hop. I’m tired of defending it.”
As a parent, a woman, and a former black girl who cringed at the idea of selling out, I get weary. I don’t need Mary Poppins rhyming over a Dilla beat, nor do I always need it to always have a “message.” But I do still need to feel that thump in my stomach that makes me believe what I’m hearing. I need to believe that you believe in your product, even if you’re just rhyming about a party. This “trendy for a check” music is not for me.
When discussing hip hop, the “old school vs. new school” argument is inevitable. It is just a very silly argument. One night earlier in the summer, I sat next to a friend at a bar as a sacred cow of hip hop began to play. “Scenario.” Yes yes ya’ll. We bobbed our heads, then cringed when Dinco D rhymed. “Scooby doo! Whoopdie doo?! The HELL?!” Objectively walking down memory lane revealed a garbage verse in a song that I loved. The saying (the source of which I can never remember – maaaaaaybe Quincy Jones?) goes, “There’s no such thing as old school or new school. Either you went to school, or you didn’t.” Nothing exemplifies that like Dinco’s verse.
So what are my options? Do I wait for the stray, albeit lackluster LL party track? Do I dance to “Racks on Racks?” (Sometimes I do. Don’t judge.) Or do I cherish my Public Enemy and UTFO cassettes, Gollum-style.
I’ve seen a lot of rappers age out, either by riding out their fame, or creating beef with new artists, the majority whither away. Then there are rappers like Jay Z, who still command crowds, but for those of us who knew him when, realize he doesn’t pack his “Reasonable Doubt” punch. And, quite frankly, should he? Why would a 40 year-old married executive with an expectant wife carry the same message as a 26 year-old kid fresh out the dope game? Hip hop no longer belongs to the street kids just trying to be heard, being underpaid and undervalued by their labels. It is a haven of savvy artists who have ascended the ranks as power players and attorneys, who can be just as predatory as execs in the early days of hip hop, if not more so. Quick, name a consistently successful Bad Boy artist who is not named Sean. I’ll wait. *hears the clock strike infinity* Where is the happy medium in hip hop’s evolution?
More specifically, in Phonte’s latest release, “Charity Starts at Home.” I’m sure you’ve read a million reviews of this album. I doubt I can praise it any more eloquently than his blogging fans already have. But as a 30-something B-man or B-woman, I can’t stress how much you need a LEGALLY procured copy of this joint in your collection. This is the CD that our parents wish they could have had, to help them understand hip hop. There’s an “I’m grown, and I still don’t have all the answers” quality about it, that appeals to everything I’m currently experiencing as a 30-something. CSAH is unique because it doesn’t try to be old school, create new converts, or convince the whipper snappers this is what they invented. It simply is, in a way that transcends any “school.” Phonte gave us art, stripped of bravado. In fact, it is stripped of everything but expression. It speaks the artist’s thoughts in with raw, flawless honesty.
And it makes me remember why I still love H.I.M.