et hop! the gangsta as the real whore

i mentioned in the “et hop! fight the power” post that one of the first two hip hop-records i bought was public enemy’s yo! bum rush the show. the other one was n.w.a.‘s 100 miles and running. yeah, another record with a lot of wumms. musically less screeching and more forward then public enemy, i was intrigued how hard and at the same time funky these beats were. and to a degree the whole vulgarity was quite , hmmm, exciting (there is a track teaching how to suck)? to give you an idea how that sounded at the time, here nwa‘s track 100 miles and running (and there is, odd enough, some trash-drag in it):

i never liked fuck tha police, though, that “hymn” n.w.a. is most known for. i actually hated it – less because of the song, but of the effects. suddenly you had in europe all these little kids moaning about “police brutality” and how unfairly society treated them – this all between having the mos luxurious brackets for their teeth, spenfing a vulgar amount of money on video games, getting higher education and spending their winter holidays skiing in switzerland. silly – and annoying. little did i know that they were somehow right – just read by what the song fuck that police was inspired by – here. so that was how gangsta hip hop for me was starting…

to mention, while we are writing about n.w.a., is that one member, dr. dre, became one of the most influental hip hop producers. all the other members made also successfull records as solo artists – and ice cube even made the transition to actor and played successfully in quite a number of movies. on a sadder note there is also a link to the post “aids and music”. eazy-e was the first (and to my knowledge the last – at least officially) hip hop musician that died of the consequences of aids.

so slowly hip hop not only was party and social commentary, but produced a subgenre which got extremly sucessfull – gangsta hip hop. the celebration of gangster life, of drugs, whores, and guns. luxury and living on the fast lane. while the early stuff like n.w.a. was somewhat juvenile, this style got more and more refined – and i got really into the so-called west coast sound. large music, very fat produced, ideal for the car. i did like ice cube (and saw a really good show of his), and was of course really impressed by the notorious big – hey, this was really over the top with a big budget – the video to his song hypnotize was really introducing a new level of slickness into music-videos.

and then there was, and very much still is, my favourite gangsta, snoop doggy dog. you have to adore him only for his hair. yes, i do have a very soft spot for men with plaits. and his song juice ‘n’ gin was a big favourite of mine at the time.

and well, snoop doggy dog has humour. something i started to miss more and more in the harder hip hop productions. i still believe that most gangsta hip hop is less inspired by what happens on the streets, but rather by all the mafia movies of the seventies and eighties – catholic glitz and that rather tribal understanding of your “family”, or gang, respectively. well, snoop doggy dog seemed to be rather inspired by blaxploitation – but not taking it too seriously. others took it very seriously – to the point where “eastcoast” and “westcoast” actually started to kill each other. somehow fantasy became brutal reality. for all you intellectuals: the symbolic had to appear in the real. the attempts to be “authentic” became deadly. yep, that became in my eyes one of the major problems of the gangsta’s: authenticity. and authenticity took on the function, “normal” is used in wider society (see the “virtually normal” post). gangsta hiphop suddenly became this extremly controlled space, where what was accepted and what not got rigorously controlled. all that made it less…fun.

it took all the humour, every ambiguity out of it and made innovation a rather difficult task. innovation on the lyrical level, that is. and well, bragging is fun – but also quickly tiring…

musically, it is interesting to observe that hip hop actually went the way of many mainstream genres: innovation is produced by a handfull of big name producers – the most important ones i guess are dr. dre, timbaland and the neptunes, i.e. chad hugo and pharrell williams. so we can get back to snoop dog – here together with pharell. i still find it a really great track. this radically stripped down aesthetic – musically as well as visually – love it. so here their hit drop it like its hot:

so for me one problem of gangsta hip hop is this fixation on authenticity. but then this is for me not only a problem in hip hop – folk for example constructs its authenticity also very often rather rigid – and it is sometimes driving me mad. if i hear another girl / boy with an acoustic guitar singing with “real honesty” totally silly, “personal” lines, i’m gonna, to cite björk “tickle them to death” or so… (n, you know what i’m talking about: if you were a sailboat!). the same is true for indie rock, heavy metal etc. etc.. i’m aware that authenticity always gets constructed according to certain rules – and sometimes i disagree with these rules, sometimes i do not understand them and sometimes i even suffer directly under them.

and here we are on the touchy subject of hip hop’s mysoginy, anitsemitism and homophobia. allright, it is a crass generalisation to say that this holds true for all hip hop – and as most gemeralisations also very untrue (which we already saw and will see in the coming posts). and hip hop is not the only musical genre where this occurs – but then i am not too much into heavy metal, redneck country or dancehall – so there it disturbs me less…by not listening to it i am not confronted with it. by listening to hip hop i am confronted with it, sometimes. and the other problem of insisting on authenticity is that criticism is not possible – if these lyrics are about ones “real self”, how can i criticize them? there are no grounds for it – except by attacking that person personally. so discussion about lyrics is suddenly not possible. yep, authenticity as a defence mechanism.

so i do not want to judge prematurely and also not judge a whole musical genre. but a lot what now seems to be taken today as “hip hop culture” seems to foster growth of this aggressivity towards certain social groups – it seems even to need it. music very often takes also the function to generate social groups. giving a sense of community. the problem comes when this construction of a community is based on excluding. yeah, we’ve come a long way since the zulu-nation.

and this is for me a rather important point. compared to the early techno-scene in europe, which (at least in theory) welcomed anyone that liked the music, gangsta hip hop is quick to exclude you if you don’t seem to fit as a person – by the looks, by your background, age, gender, sexual orientation. yeah, music can not only cross borders, it can also create borders…

well, gangsta hip hop had a certain downfall sometime in the mid, late nineties – but it came back with a vengeance and established itself as one of the bestselling genres in hip hop. that has certainly a lot to do with eminem (produced by dr. dre). and with the commercial rise of the gangsta, its cricism also became stronger. interesting with eminem i find that his line of defence against criticism accusing him of mysoginy and homophobia was that not he was saying this, but his evil alter ego slim shady. what i find funny is that by doing that, he should actually have stated (and somehwo did) that he is doing art – but i think that the demands for authenticity, for keeping it real, do not allow him to talk of his lyrics as art. as art it would loose its specific, individual authenticity.

the other most mentioned point in a critique of gangsta hip hop is its glorification of violence and its vulgarity. to a degree i find this somewhat naïve – sex and violence have always been topics in (popular) music culture. from francois villon to opera to johnny cash. the whole talk about the bad influence of this music on the youth of today seems somehow a little bit moldy. this kind of criticism has benn uttered so often in the course of history, it seems to me a little bit worn.

so i think most critique of gangsta hip hop falls short – be it by not fully analyzing it, be it because it is rather easy to scapegoat a musical genre for whatever malaise in society there is.don’t get me wrong – i do share the disgust of the rather stupid identity construction of many a hip hopper via a rather ridiculous masculinity. and i agree that it should not be accepted. but another point disturbs me at least as much. ft summed it up rather nicely: “although they talk all the time about their ho’s and whores and talk about / show females generally in degrading ways, for me the gangstas are the real whores.” so while there is this image of “public enemy number one” and the real thug, pretending to be anti-society, all these attitudes seem to be very well compatible with society. and these musicians drive also a development to see music purely as product. marketed to a target group. so i only have a tired smile left for anybody pretending that mainstream hip hop is “youth culture”. all it is is having youth as target audience. and as a rather telling symptom for me there were this year the mtv video awards: both (the american, as well as the european) looked not like an award show, but like the meeting of successful entrepreneurs in slick suits (what it actually is). so i guess the un-easyness of a lot of people with gangsta hip hop is its radical commercialisation – and not even (like other forms of popular (popular in the sense of mass-marketed) music) trying to mask it, but actually insisting on it. all while cynically making the product more appealling through violence and sex. nothing really new (we are back at the mafia and blaxploitation movies – or at tarantino, if you want) – but new in its forcefulness.

so for me hip hop is just the most obvious genre glorifiing a ruthless, competitive capitalism where everything and everybody is product, all the while exploiting the possibility of music to produce emotion and identification to make more bucks. and only that. well, i guess i am really a moralist. but then isn’t everybody who is a lover, be it only a music lover?

and then there is one point we might better think about: do we not get the music we deserve?

and this is the moment to send you over to the inspiring and excellent article in praise of assholes by greg tate, analysing the success of the two mega-selling artist 50 cent and kanye west.

to finish that post on a lighter note – all while showing how clear-sighted sometimes even a product can be one song by one of the few tough ladies, lil’ kim’s how many licks. you have to love it for this very postmodern idea of presenting herself as a kind of barbie doll (for adults, of course) in different editions, and having at the same time this extremly confident lyrics, well they just seem to be so…gay (and i know a really likes that one, too):

“How Many Licks”

[Sisqo]
Hold up
So what you’re saying is, oh
(Niggaz got me pissed like Lil’ Kim)
You want to get freaky again, aight
A-ooh-ah-ooh
Oh, oh, oh, oh

[Lil’ Kim]
I’ve been a lot of places, seen a lot of faces
Ah hell I even fuck with different races
A white dude – his name was John
He had a Queen Bee Rules tattoo on his arm, uh
He asked me if I’d be his date for the prom
and he’d buy me a horse, a Porsche and a farm
Dan my nigga from Down South
Used to like me to spank him and cum in his mouth
And Tony he was Italian (Uh-huh)
And he didn’t give a fuck (Uh-huh)
That’s what I liked about him
He ate my pussy from dark till the mornin
Called his girl up and told her we was bonin
Puerto Rican papi, used to be a Deacon
But now he be sucking me off on the weekend
And this black dude I called King Kong
He had a big ass dick and a hurricane tongue

[Sisqo]
So, how many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Cause I’ve got to know)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Tell me)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh)

[Lil’ Kim]
This verse goes out to my niggaz in jail
Beatin they dicks to the double-X-L; Magazine (uhh)
You like how I look in the aqua green? Get your Vaseline
Roll some weed with some tissue and close your eyes
Then imagine your tongue in between my thighs
[*Moans*] Baby.. ohh.. yes ohh!
Jailer.. open up.. cell, block, eight
[*sexual sounds*]
Alright nigga, that’s enough
Stop, look and listen; get back to your position
Kim got your dick hard, startin fights in the yard
Hotter than a Pop Tart fresh out of the toaster
Niggaz do anything for a Lil’ Kim poster
Eses, Bloods, Crips, all the thugs
Up North in the hole, they all wanna know

[Sisqo]
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Tell me, ha)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Tell me, oh yeah)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh, oh, oh)

[Lil’ Kim]
If you drivin in the street, hold on to your seat
Niggaz, grab your meat while I ride the beat
And if you see a shiny black Lamborghini fly by ya
(Shoom!) That’s me the Knight Rider
Dressed in all black with the gat in the lap
Lunatics in the street – gotta keep the heat
Sixty on the bezel, a hundred on the rings
Sittin pretty baby with a Cash Money bling
12 A.M. I’m on the way to club
After three bottles I’ll be ready to fuck
Some niggaz even put me on their grocery lists
Right next to the whip cream and box of chocolates
Designer pussy, my shit come in flavors
High-class taste niggaz got to spend paper
Lick it right the first time or you gotta do it over
Like it’s rehearsal for a Tootsie commercial

[Sisqo]
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Tell me, ha)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Tell me, oh yeah)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh, oh, oh)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Tell me)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Let me know, let me know)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh yeah)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Yeah)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Baby tell me)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?
(Oh, oh, oh)
How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?


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