Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Heard a Few Heads Say that Hip-Hop Is Dead

“No it’s not. It’s just malnourished and underfed.”

This Saturday, I will be interviewing the gentlemen who wrote the song in which the above lyrics appear. Yes, I am sitting down and chilling with the one and only Blue Scholars. They are headlining at LollaPLUza which is an annual concert here at my school in Tacoma. I’m doing a feature article for The Mast, the student newspaper I work for, and I will post a link here sometime in a week or so. I’m really excited because the Blue Scholars transformed my outlook on hip-hop, and made quite an impact on my understanding of music in general. I probably won’t be interviewing Radiohead any time soon, but this is opportunity is close to being that thrilling for me.

Growing up as a white, middle class nerd, I believed I wasn’t supposed to like hip hop. From the snippets I heard on the radio or in stores I happened to be shopping in, I had no natural inclination towards the rapping but occasionally thought the grooves were pretty cool. But instead of believing it might be decent music, I felt like a married man eying other women; it just seemed wrong. It was my problem and I clearly needed to refine my taste to the point where I didn’t enjoy any part of this poor excuse for music. The "melody" wasn't even a tune and the background was all simple synthetic crap. Not to mention the common themes of sexism and violence. How could it be of any quality? Answer: it couldn’t.

By 2007, I’d read and learned enough about popular music to understand that a lot of hip hop was genuinely respected by the music community. I caved and bought The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest to give it a try. To the contrary of what I had previously imagined, the album was pretty good! Their words were highly entertaining (“Yo, microphone check one two what is this?/The five foot assassin with the ruffneck business/I float like gravity, never had a cavity/Got more rhymes than the Winans got family”) and their beats were jazzy and unlike what I’d previously heard in this genre of music. I dug it but I didn’t love it. It basically proved to me that some hip hop could be okay, not that it was a completely legit musical school. Enter the Blue Scholars.

Listening to them for the first time back in the summer of 2007, everything seemed to click. Their lyrics were profound and eloquent yet simple and direct and often about the northwest! Equally impressive was the musicality. The beats were not the same one measure repeated eight hundred times. The sounds were genuinely well-written music clearly made by a musician and not an exclusive mix-and-masher. They were perfect to complement and not distract from the message provided by the vocals. It's hard to describe but from the moment I heard "Solstice: Introduction," I knew this was something I wanted to listen to many times.

I now have seventeen hip-hop albums on my computer by thirteen artists (Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Cunninlynguists, Jurassic 5 etc.). Still the Blue Scholars take the cake. And it’s because of them that I acquired the other hip-hop that I did. The Blue Scholars represent the best of hip-hop in my mind; they bring poetry to life and inspire the listener to get up and do something! Hip hop is all about the rebel mentality, but so much of it has warped into the “I am a rebel because I commit crimes because it’s cool.” The Blue Scholars look at real problems in our society and use their urban sound to get the message home. And they don't glorify the pimpin' lifestyle in the least. When was the last time you heard a rapper say “Wanna be somebody? Better get yourself some discipline”? Tell that to freakin’ Fifty Cent.

Hip-hop, like any genre, has its share of rotten apples. Just like Good Charlotte doesn’t represent rock, Soulja Boy Tellem doesn’t represent hip-hop. But the very best hip-hoppers can stand up with the cream of any musical crop. When I interview Sabzi and Geologic (the members of the Blue Scholars for you poor ignorant souls who are unfamiliar), I hope to get their perspective on popular music today and some of the other questions I’ve pondered on this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Ben, your line "I felt like a married man eying other women; it just seemed wrong," is pretty much exactly how I felt! Growing up in the same place, we went through similar cultural movements. I have to say that once I left BHS I discovered a passion for hip hop by living in an urban environment. I started liking Kanye, Nas, Jay-Z, the Roots, and kept up with the Scholars.