Thursday, October 06, 2005

Represent What?

I'm Spa~ce Ghost!

Ultramagnetic MCs - "Travelling at the Speed of Thought"
(Purchase here)
Kool Keith - "Kiss My Ass" (mp3)
(Purchase here)

"...[O]ne fundamental feature of all the postmodernisms...: namely, the effacement in them of the older... frontier between high culture and so-called mass or commercial culture...." ~ Frederic Jameson

"Cultural aura belongs to whoever pays the most to promote and exploit the product or song its attached to." ~ Jace

"People don't want my reality. That's the reality. I have to make up a word. I can't ‘phontize' myself to be safe. If you don't talk about guns and blunts, its (singing) I need you, I want you, I care about you, I want to be there for you. Of course, we have all that in the world. Then we have real issues. Like a rapper in your face and his breath stinks. You like nigga stop rappin', your breath stinks. That's real. People don't want me to rap about, you didn't chip in for the pizza nigga, you get one slice. I can't ‘phonotize' [sic.] myself." ~ Kool Keith

"They need a reality TV show on finding the rappers who say they are in the streets, in buildings and on the blocks they say they’re at. Rap has got too competitive with all the houses, cars, clothes. I want to know how much you rap, I want to know how good you rap. You could be a wack rapper and have expensive s**t lying around your house." ~ Kool Keith


In considering Jameson's comment from The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, I have been thinking of hip hop as a timely convergence of art and commerce (Inevitable? I'll save that discussion for another time). What began as four (or five) 'elements' has become an extensive periodic chart of varying compounds and variations: commercials to threads, slogans to attitudes.

As hip hop's influence has grown, some of its producers have maintained a sphere of control. An exception in American pop history, hip hop has subsequently enjoyed a heretofore unseen (albeit imperfect) relationship between producer and consumer; as Charnas alluded, it is not the "same old song" of White taking Black. Funny, because hip hop has always been obsessed with that quintessential existential question of the arts, Realness. "Keepin' it real" is both a mantra and stigma of hip hop; subsequently, Realness can mean thuggin' in the pee jays or mean muggin' on Wall Street.

Jace reminds us of the pyramid effect of capitalism, that a few oversee the bottom line, the primary shareholder dictates the terms of Realness. Hip hop is no exception. The trifecta of Carter-Rush-Combs has guided much of the rewrite of Realness in the media. However, I would like to point our attention to the seeming opposite end of the spectrum: Keith.

With a certain craftiness, Kool Keith has shaped his post-Ultramagnetic MC's career around flaunting realness in the face of commercial success, a preemptive attack on irrelevance and fade out. However, Keith's vision has always remained out of (or ahead of, depending on your perspective) step. What Keith only hinted at nearly twenty years ago on Critical Beatdown ("I'ma pull out your ears cos I'm sick"), has now reached that-which-should-not-be-spoken extremity on his current effort, Lost Masters, Vol. 2 ("Tie rappers up in the basement like Preacher / Scrub your f*kin' forehead with Brillo pads"). His realness is as fantastic as anything up pop, yet skewed by our standards.

The dominant interchatter about Keith Thornton -- crazy genius from the past who's too crazy for the industry of today -- seemingly exempts him as a perenially and justifiably marginalized character. Meanwhile, Keith sits lovely, churning out records. And that is his brilliance. He spotted his demographic, understood its fascination with the 'hyperreal,' and has made a living off his life and art. Keith spiels against being left behind amid the pop detritus bottom line, when in fact he has lasted as a career MC (and producer and dancer). It is hardly a coup then when this friend of both E-40 and Dave Matthews scores a commercial with Dodge. He's not going to wait for his inevitable induction into the Hip Hop Honors; that's for the rest of Ultramagnetic.

From stoopid funk master spittin' over drunken fratboy breaks to stoopid funk master screwin' lyrics over stutters and thumps, Kool Keith is proof of how hip hop can make you a semi (or, in his case, a hemi)-paid artist.


Blogger The Humanity Critic said...

Just passing through, cool blog by the way.

7:06 PM  

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