Shawn Kane - "Like Whitney Loves Bobby" (mp3)
Looking back, it really was a mess.
Echoing Mr. Chang's displeasure, the mere use of the term "conscious" to classify a segment of hip hop invoked a classist and racist odor. What, only certain "types" of hip hop were thoughtful and thought-provoking? Only Cosby generation hip hop could be validated critically and intellectually? Does "PSK" and "6 in the Morning" deserve to be lost in the miasma of "pre-gangsta," while "Ms. Fat Booty" and "Simon Says" win neo-soul Heismans? Even when covered up in "undie" or "backpacker," the candy ain't ever sweet when it's fecal.
Now, the inevitable backlash furthers the divide. Times change and kids today yap about trap and shout "skeet, skeet, skeet!" Hell, it's even kosher to crap on conscious. Granted, the diversified portfolio is welcome. Breihan takes some admittedly hilarious jabs in the aforementioned piece -- "Mos Def is now basically rap's Mars Volta." And the critique is welcome, as he articulates with more grace in this piece: "...like [Danger Doom and Common and Edan] deserve placement every time they shit something out, slight/boring or no." Both writers and listeners are responsible for being critical. It's the least you can do (besides saving up and shelling out cash).
Granted, the aforementioned articles are minor in my league and perhaps aren't the greatest examples. But I do smell a divide with a particular danger. It is a lacking quality that makes the above conversations (and most conversations I have with music critics) fairly uninspiring: the lack of love. Why talk about hip hop when you only want a certain perspective? You want the "realness," but not his/her "realness?" How much sense is that making?
Here's a little story: most of my childhood, I passively listened to music. I was obviously interested because from an early age I wanted to be a musician. However, I never really showed an interest in listening to, collecting or writing about music. Mostly because my brother did it for me. We shared a room and through him and his radio, hip hop (and countless other sounds, mostly of the metallic sort; please don't ask me for Beatles trivia) came on my radar. The knowledge helped, especially when I decided in my late teens that I couldn't hack it as a pro and went that familiar route of... yes, the musician's bread and butter: education and writing.
The key thing about this background was that I came into listening, collecting and writing from a musician's perspective, a jazz and classical music background principally. I appreciated the musician's craft, so the first distinction I made was between music that was complex (=interesting, =critically-acclaimed, =didn't sell) and simple (=uninteresting, =commercially-successful, =pop). And guess what kind of hip hop was poppin' by the time I hit the U? Yup, you guessed it. And you can also guess how I felt about it.
Fast forward a couple years and place me in the booth with my hero, Matthew Africa (yes, that is his real name). The conversation inevitably turns to favorite MCs and I yarn about Native, Mos, blah blah and MA hits me with one simple one: Jay. Jigga, what? He elaborates on not just Hova's flow, but his beat selection, his personality, his career, etc. Really, he summed up all this in a few words: "He's a smart guy."
The conversation was wonderful because it not only opened me up to a) my biases; and b) other ways to discuss music, but it also reminded me of why I really flipped for music and hip hop specifically: c) you gotta love it. It's like family: you got that uncle you mad respect, that aunt that's always buggin', the grandpa who's kinda racist, a sister you love, a sister you hate... etc. But they're family, right? So, you take them all in your arms and figure out how to deal with them as individuals.
Looking back, it's funny to me how puberty can skew priorities and throw you off course for a minute. In addition to growing up (just a hair), I have also been fortunate to have my post-legal mind blown a few more times, each incident realigning my course on what it means to love this hip hop isht. Want a piece that gets critical and loves? Grab a straw and get to sniffin'.
Which finally brings me to today's selection. I came across Shawn Kane via C&D a minute back. The rest of the record is different in tone, but I think you'll get the message from the song title alone. Without taking itself too seriously, it manages to capture both the unconditional intensity and insider's perspective of one of America's most maligned couples. Look, if even Naomi Watts can detail the fashions of her skeletons, I think we can all afford to be a little more open-hearted about music and why we're in this in the first place.
By the way, I still stand by listing Black Jack Johnson as 2004's heat to watch for.