Friday, November 03, 2006

The Friday Rant: Why Rap Was Better 15 Years Ago (…and Beware the Claymates)

Editor's Note: This post was written by Vince. Joe's name appears at the bottom, because we had some technical issues that caused us to repost it.

What do our modest blog writer Vince and the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten have in common? Both have under come siege this year by fundamentalist religious radicals outraged by journalistic criticism of their deities. Claymates (Clay Aiken fans call themselves this - and I am not making it up, I swear!) responded in droves to my using their man as an example of all that is wrong with pop music, like so many Islamic protesters firebombing embassies. Claymates are not to be trifled with! I am sorry for calling down a Clayslamic jihad upon myself. Always one to put my money where my mouth is, I listed to A Thousand Days (from Aiken’s A Thousand Different Ways) and I, um, kind of liked it. A little. Damn you Clay Aiken!!!


I guess I should be happy that the Claymates do not respond to criticism of their idol more violently, you know, like members of rap artist entourages. I don’t know how much a bulletproof vest costs, but I probably can't afford one. Plus, I would look pretty silly walking into the office everyday sporting khakis, a button down and the Kevlar. “Good morning Vince. I see you made it in without some Claymate busting a cap in your ass. We have a sales meeting at 9”.

Come to any party that I host and you are bound to hear all kinds of music being played. Reggae, ska, 80s new wave, punk rock, hardcore, stuff from the 50s and 60s…I have been accused of having “schizophrenic” musical taste. The players at my home poker game constantly needle me for my all-over-the-map music selections. However, none of the stuff that I play makes me as happy as some of the “old school” rap tracks that I like to break out on unsuspecting houseguests. I love old school rap. Many of my all-time favorite songs are rap tracks from the 80s and early 90s. The first time I heard Run DMC, it was like being struck by a bolt of lightning. During my adolescence, I listened to mostly Top 40 and rap. The music of the 80s was awesome, and I listened to the radio religiously. After finishing my homework every night, I would don the headphones and wait eagerly for the Philadelphia radio stations of the era to play my favorite songs, so I could tape and listen to them over and over (kids today do not realize how good they have it!). One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me, ranking just after the breath of life, was my first dual-cassette boom-box radio. It allowed me to make mix tapes with controlled content. I believe this represented the onset of whatever OCD is coursing through my body.


As a skinny white kid living in a white neighborhood, I took my share of slaps from the older metal head guys in the neighborhood for bringing my music with me to the schoolyard to play stickball and such. There were racist overtones to their opinions on what I was listening to, but I soldiered on undaunted. I went to mostly black schools growing up, and I never let their taunts or opinions on this issue change how I thought. Plus, it wouldn’t be long until I was standing 6’4 and it was amazing how people keep quiet about what I chose to listen to at that point…

Rap, like the world as a whole, has changed a lot since I was a teen. The formula for most rap songs of my youth, were fairly simple and mostly harmless. It went something like this: This is my rap name. These are some things that rhyme with my rap name. This is my hometown and or neighborhood. These are some things that rhyme with the name of my hometown and/or neighborhood. This is why I feel I am the best rapper alive. Here are some things that rhyme with why I feel I am the best rapper alive. Here are some places that I feel are inferior to where I make my home. Here are some things that rhyme with the names of places that I find inferior to where I make my home. Here are the names of some of my best friends and relatives that hang out with me. Here are some things that rhyme with the names of my best friends and other important acquaintances.


See? It was fairly simple, and wholly enjoyable. Sure there were some classic rap “battles” that got personal. Who could forget MC Shan versus Boogie Down Productions, Roxanne Shante versus UTFO and then The Real Roxanne or LL Cool J versus Kool Moe Dee? Back then, rappers used verses as weapons, for the most part anyway. These battles may have been somewhat personal, but the overall goal was to establish lyrical “superiority” and to sell records.

Maybe I am getting old. How else to explain my crotchety complaining about the state of music today? Rap and hip-hop today, are a completely different animal from my childhood. I have to admit that I struggle mightily to even bring myself to listen to most of the stuff being put out by today’s rap “artists”. I understand that musical forms evolve over time, but if what we are hearing today is evolution – then feel free to send me back a couple rungs on the ladder to the days of Big Daddy Kane, Eric B and Rakim and Heavy D.


The following is what seems to be the new formula for putting together a rap track in today’s climate: This is my rap name. Here are some words that may or may not quite rhyme with my rap name. This is the slang name for my hometown. Here are some things may or may not rhyme with the slang name of my hometown. Here are some of the clothing brands I endorse, and alcohol that I imbibe with my entourage, that most of my listeners cannot afford. Here are some things that may or may not rhyme with my favored clothing brands and alcohol most people cannot afford. Here are the body parts that I appreciate on a woman. Here are some words that may or may not rhyme with said womanly parts – which I might add ought to be in a constant state of flux. Here is a laundry list of my favorite personal jewelry. Here are some things that may or may not rhyme with my list of personal jewelry. Here is the type of ultra-expensive car I am driving today, followed by the sizes of the tires and types of rims I have outfitted the vehicle with. Here are some things that may or may not rhyme with my vehicle du jour and/or said vehicular accessories. And lastly (and most importantly) this is the weapon I will use to kill you should you try to come near me, any of my jiggling preferred womanly body parts, my jewelry, my alcohol, my vehicle or if you insult me, spill your drink near my feet or merely cast a disparaging glance in my direction. Here are some things that may or may not rhyme with my weapon of choice that I will use to kill you if you…ok, you get the picture.

I slammed country music for being all about image and posturing. Most of today’s rap is no better. I say “most” because there are some fantastic artists putting out some truly great work, such as Talib Kweli, Kanye West, Common and Ludacris to name a few. There are a ton of recent singles that I enjoy a great deal, such as Rick Ross's Hustlin’, Da Backwudz' I Don’t Like the Look of It, and T.I.'s What You Know, but unless you are listening to the clean versions (I don’t) of a lot of today’s rap, one has to pick their spots for when one listens. And while I used to enjoy rap for the beats and the sounds of MC’s voices, most of what I listen to today is strictly for the beats. I have a 14-month-old son, and I would have no problem with his listening to rap. But I can’t listen to Hustlin’ with a clear conscience when Ross drops the f-bomb 4 times in the song’s first two lines. I’m no prude, but come on. Do any of these artists have anything meaningful to say? Not all music has to be socially relevant, and I am happy about that. However, when the mantra for an entire genre’s artist base is “keeping it real”, is there anything going on in their communities besides jewelry, misogyny, tricked-out cars and guns?


Turn on MTV Jams and watch for 30 minutes and tell me what you see. Every video feels the same. Rapper with lots of friends, bouncing in unison while looking menacing, holding expensive alcohol while scantily-clad women defy gravity with prominent posteriors shaking like Rush Limbaugh after 12 hours without an Oxycontin. Does this not ever get boring? Sure, most of us like to fantasize about having lots of money, cars, women, Kristal and the like – and rap videos show us all of the “finery”. But how long will society allow the waving of all this in the faces of our youth, without demanding some substance? True voices of the community, those that are truly “keeping it real” are engulfed by the non-stop hammering of the bling-and-bitches rap formula that dominates the airwaves – and the charts.

What is scary about today’s rap culture is that the artists are in many cases NOT posturing. As the rap sheets (pun fully intended) and list of dead rappers continue to grow in size, it is obvious that when a rapper claims he is willing to shoot a perceived enemy, he is more than willing to do so. Keeping it real doesn’t necessarily mean to convey what is happening in real life, it merely means that they will back up their musical threats. Shouldn’t being rich and famous be enough to relax a lot of these guys? Rap has a corner on the intra-music world violence market. Other musical genres have drama, but nothing like what happens in rap feuds. Off the top of my head, the closest thing I can recall to the nigh-comical level of hostility in rap music is the famous tête-à-tête between Motley Crue and Guns N Roses lead singers Vince Neil and Axl Rose. As far as I can remember, no one got shot, and the worst thing that happened was Rose calling Neil out…for a boxing match. Now THAT would have been Celebrity Boxing. Speaking of celebrities, I sampled the Kevin Federline album earlier this week to gauge its unintentional comedic value. It seems anyone can make an album these days. K Fed makes Vanilla Ice sound like KRS One. Yet another example of the recording industry gone hopelessly awry.


Anyways, my days of being seen happily blasting current rap music are just about over. I’ll still pump up the volume for certain newer tracks, but in the vein of trying to be a decent citizen I’ll have to turn it down whenever I pull up next to a carload of kids or old ladies. Decent people shouldn’t be subjected to the sewer-mouth garbage that gets passed off as music these days. I am very anti-censorship, but I also have a choice as to what I listen to and what I share with others. That being said, I’m not quite ready to give up the beats.

Big Daddy Kane - Ain't No Half Steppin'
Boogie Down Productions - My Philosophy
Eric B & Rakim - My Melody
Heavy D and the Boyz - Gyrlz, They Love Me
Kool Moe Dee - How Ya Like Me Now?
Run DMC - It's Like That

Labels:

16 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baby, I don't blame you for not wanting to admit how huge a fan you are of Clay's. I don't like to admit it publically either because those fucking Claymates are not quite right. Now let's break out a 40 and listen to A Thousand Different Ways like we did last night.

Friday, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now let's break out a 40 and listen to A Thousand Different Ways like we did last night.

That's probably the only way you will catch me listening to Clay Aiken, drunk after breaking out SEVERAL 40's.

Friday, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

awww, come on you guys be nice, you know you like it( Clay can wail better than anyone and you know it).
Aside from Kanye West( Whose ego is so huge it's got it's own gravity pull) I agree with your blog. I am a casual listener of hip hop/rap I agree it seems as formula driven as any miusic today. I miss the 70's, 60's and 50's music. to be honst it's the only stuff i've had interest in in years. no wonder music is in such a sad state.

Friday, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It takes titanium balls to admit you like ATDW. I like you!

Friday, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pure and simple. Rap is Crap!

Friday, November 03, 2006  
Blogger rosie said...

Vince, I've got to tell you, I REALLY loved your rap post, best thing I've read today. You made a lot of good points about how and why rap is so crappy today. I like your writing style,like your humor too.

Friday, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vince,someone just said you have titanium balls to admit you kind of liked A 1000 Days. My husband likes Clay Aiken's voice, but it would take Chinese water torture for him to admit it. When we first listened to LOVER ALL ALONE (lyrics by Aiken, music by David Foster) all he said was: WOW, that's real good. Find it on YouTube as the background to a montage of (don't laugh) the Gilmore Girls. I promise it's worth it. I'm interested in your opinion. post it,ok?

Friday, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, J! I agree totally and didn't realize how much I missed Heavy D until I downloaded these mp3s. I then went trolling and found Hammer's In Your Face..don't laugh, folks; its frickin' awesome!..and ODB and Macy Gray shrieking Don't Go Breaking My Heart. Good times! And to think I got here through my Clay Aiken google alert.

Saturday, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said as well. I just don't get the "caly Hate" thing. What's wrong with someone being an individual who is different from "the norm?"
I see him as an awesome vocalist and ther eis certainly a call for it...Buble, Groban, for examples. What is the problem? It isn't as if he wants to be on the top 40 charts, in your face all the time and forcing his style on you. His label may have wanted different from him, but BRAVO to him for being himself!
His work seems artistic and extremely ear pleasing. Peopple don't HAVE to listen, but what is the deal????

Saturday, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From a Claymate who also loves the old rap.....you're gaining a fan here.

Saturday, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen! on the rap post. why even waste typing time on clay...

Saturday, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey man, check out Murs.

Albums to note are:

End of the Beginning
Murs 3:16 The 9th Edition
Murray's Revenge

Saturday, November 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vince, I love you man.

Thank you for your nice take on Clay Aiken's song "A Thousand Days."

Yes, I am a card carrying CLAYMATE and I am dang proud of it.

Thank you also for your thoughts on Old School Rap vs the Rap of today. Good Points.

One final thought, try being an African American Claymate. Talk about getting confused looks from friends and family.

Trust me on this one, once I saw Clay perform live, that was IT for me. Three years and close to 25 concerts later, I am still crazy in love with that guy!!

Saturday, November 04, 2006  
Blogger Urban Gypsy said...

That was hilarious. And too too true. Thanks ;)

Saturday, November 04, 2006  
Blogger Vince said...

Wow. I want to thank everyone who posted. Thanks!

I wouldn't call myself a Clay fan, but I feel (especially with the elections in a few days) that there isn't enough truth in the world today, and I am man enough to admit that it is a very good track.

I have to thank Joe and Mike for allowing me to write for the site. I am no poet laureate by any means, but I'm having a lot of fun.

Also, Joe pointed out to me that VH1 "Best Week Ever" featured a link to this article on their site. I know it's not that big a deal but it still felt pretty darned good, like going to a rap show and not getting shot good. :)

Rosie, Gyspy thanks for the kind words! Hope you'll keep reading.

I am bumming right now, after just getting home after getting bounced in a 25-person poker tourney in 10th place...

Saturday, November 04, 2006  
Blogger Vince said...

Joe, thanks for posting the clarification on who wrote the Rant this week. Probably a good thing that you clarify that it wasn't you writing about admiring Clay Aiken. Thanks for the "credit".

Monday, November 06, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home