@Lord Chillingsworth I am critical of the predominant culture of "modern hip hop." There have always been and are also currently artist and work that is progressive and affirming but by design those artists are not given the same platform as other artists who perpetuate the same cliched images and themes. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic!
I am not about to spend any long time droning on about Straight Outta Compton.
The worlds socio-political, economic even climatological dilemmas have probably a facet or two too many to be solve in the 2 1/2 hours it took this movie to be screened before largely approving audiences. Perhaps and hour more than is usual for the target audience even. But hey..
SOCs Directors and producers I am sure wanted a riveting story, some true-to-life depictions and other embellishings for visual appeal . But more than anything they wanted raw cinematic attendance numbers. That gets them a shot at another film. I think they hit pay dirt. What reasonably more can one ask if the film offers a decent storyline, commendable acting and millennial generation accepting soundtrack?
Compton that was then for this generation just as well been included on a CBS Newsreel of the 30’s era depression. Yeah old heads will sit and look and nod and think they have uncovered the linchpin that connects the polar words of what was hip hop then with now. But chalk that too to the cinematic byproduct that
filmmaking does not mind audiences mythologizing along the way.
We are not living in a time when art is expected to be an extension of social, racial and even ethnical awareness, certainly not that it was a generation ago. I do not know if it should. It certainly is not the way to build four-fold superhero or Fast and Furious franchises. It simply isn’t.
Sure there are and were national and institutional forces that had stakes in minimalizing national urban movements of all types include hip hop’s. But too many in the genre were quite willing then and too willing now to be objectified in exchange for the bling that adoring fans wanted and want to believe are the spoils of in-your-face-rhyming, Midtown PR-firm generated beefs, and good ol American opportunity.
To cut to chase Compton gave the West Coast a Bronx –like Olympus from which they could reign down their hood stories for all that would hear. How long was hip hop gonna be the conscious-just-for-summer-fun outlet when so much more could be idealized if artists were seen as super heroes on a mission to expose “the man”, who doubled ironically as the record company and management deals, had to worry. Neither coast can lay claim to creating verse, beats, MCs, flow, rhythm, dance or art. That preceded our forced stay here.
So called Blaxploitation had a lockdown on thug culture, misogyny and violence way before anybody in hip hop had it or thought they did.
Same kind of analysis can be done of the pop audience received Selma, indie relished What Happened, Miss Simone or television’s iconic Empire-- all with some socially relevant and good entertainment thematic value-- but at the expense of some other social realities for which they all but dwarf.
The Straight Outta Compton’s of the world give entertainment value fairly easily. Preempted pertinent truths should be no over-arching criterion for pulling up.
Oh… and I think I have the visual of the intergenerational exchange between the romanticisation professor and his commendably indulging young audience that has us here scribing away. Clearly the latter did not glean the coding for “the good old days” and bolted like thieves when they had the chance. Good to know some folk still know some good entertainment value when they see it….ol
I really appreciate your willingness to take on this topic, however, like most critics of "modern day hip hop", you speak of the culture as monolithic in its negativity. You then offer no alternatives and show no knowledge of artists currently making great music with a message right now (including KRS One-check out Metahistorical in 2010, one of his best). I mention this because it is so very important to shine light on the good, along with lamenting the bad. Peace, and keep up the great work.
@bubba b those artist do not want to mess with their revenue stream by offering themes that are counter productive to a system that is focused on keeping young black minds unconscious. thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts on this subject!
@Jonnell You are right and I am not debating the authenticity of growing up in such urban environments as I grew up in the inner city and know first hand of the sometimes desperate conditions. I also get their accomplishments given where they started out but I also very aware that folks put a lot of energy, marketing and resources to make sure such themes would dominate the hip hop culture thus making it harder for other artist who were talking about maybe more progressive themes to flounder in ambiguity. thank you for giving us an alternative view point...smile
I must say Mr. E, that was one of the best articles that I have ever read. Parts of article made me say wow!! I cut the article out so that my girlfriend could read it because we talk about the brainwashing that rap does to our people and they have no idea. We also talk about why is it none of our so called music heroes never come out and tell kids to pull their pants up and rap about what is going to help them long term. It seems that they have all sold theirselves to the devil to be quiet and have no opinion on anything really important which you covered. We live in a era where we use the N- word all the time as everyday language and yet holla about taking down the confederate flag, when both are symbols of hate. Great article!!! Thanks
Great Article Mr. E (as usual) and I agree with most of what you wrote and most of your views. However, I have to play devil's advocate and defend these brothers to a certain extent. First of all, they weren't "portraying" anyone, these young brothers were just reporting the truths about what was going on in their community at the time. While the rest of the world had no idea that things in that community were going on and that their situation was so bad. The things and songs they rapped about were a cry for help from a community that felt that America had abandoned and left for dead. Like Cube said in Boyz in the Hood: "Either they dont know, don't show, or don't care about what goes on in the hood". Think about this: they were rapping about police brutally and how brown people were being beaten and killed by cops. That was 30 years ago! That is still happening today! They had a song called Express Yourself too.
Also, the conditions they lived in and how being in a gang was their way to survive in their community of kill or be killed. We can't ignore the good things that came of that. How many jobs they created for brown people through their music, the lives that changed, and look at Cube and Dre now. The story is also about a rags to riches tale of these brothers who weren't supposed to live past 18 and with a little opportunity, their genius was given a chance to blossom. And we can look down on gang life and drug dealer money but if they didn't have that dope money, what would have been their story? Would they have had an opportunity for their music to be heard? Could Dre have gotten a loan from the bank to start a studio? I doubt it. There would be no Eminem, no Beats by Dre, Boyz in the Hood, no Barbershop movies, Friday 1, 2, and 3. Their contributions are huge and go way beyond the thug life.
You have to look at the why... why were they thugs? Why do they hate the police? Why do they sell drugs and gang bang? That's in their music too but that gets overlooked by the publicity that the media gives the more "thug life antics". And yes, most rap music is trash. For every Dr. Dre and Ice Cube there are 5 Young Thugs and there has been a lot of collateral damage from the few that do succeed and are truly talented and do good with their music. But let's not ignore the fact that Rap music and entertainment is one of the few avenues for minorities to change their circumstances. How many hair and makeup artists, background dancers and singers, musicians, video directors, extras on set and homeboys that are out of the hood because of the success of Rap music. And the mainstream media doesn't report when Rick Ross or T.I. does a turkey giveaway or bookbag giveaway. But if they go to jail it's on the front page.
So, while I agree with most of what you and the other readers have said, but let's not forget to point out the good as well as the bad and not be so hard on these young brothers and others. We should support them and not look at the things they rapped about, but look at the fact that they came from Compton in the 80s and are now very successful and powerful figures in the entertainment industry. And by the way people there is good rap out there, you just don't hear them because the radio stations and MTV don't give those artist a chance to get their music out.
We should support anyone who is trying to change their life for the better and maybe focus on channeling the hate of todays hip hop music into changing the communities at which this music derives from.
You're still the man though Mr. E!
@Garth Vader I am not sure I understand your point but thank you for reading.
@Niurys I agree and I also acknowledge that there are some current hip hop artist who are creating some very conscious and profound work but unfortunately they are underground and do not reach mainstream level status because they are not willing to participate in the popular characterization of what is a "real" hip hop artist. Thank you for reading and sharing.
@D Barbara McWhite You breakdown my sentiments of not even representing the lifestyle that you sale. Yes by retreating to your places of privilege while the "real" folks have to negotiate environments bloated with your narrative. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!
@Mike Watson I agree that unless we begin to step back and look at the bigger picture of who is ultimately in control then in the long run we all end up losing. I want artist to want more and to do better. We has consumer's of that creative narrative deserve more. Thank you for reading and your words of support!
@Mark Kemp you bring up an excellent point that frustrates me in some of these artists attempt to now re-write history and legitimize some of their scandalous acts when they were building their empires. If that is what you are about then rep that but do not expect some Cultural Image award now. Thank you for reading and sharing the link and resources.
@Coie Butler You have so eloquently outlined and explained the never ending cycle of original content and co option of culture. But a cycle has the opportunity to be broken and that is what I hope for artist who become more conscious of their gifts, contribution and its influences on popular culture and more specifically how their art contributes or demeans the community they are more closely connected to. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your most profound observations.
NWA was a secret plan by record execs to falsely portray rappers as thugs? "Many of these artists do not even rep the lifestyle they have sold to the general public."
Uh, how many women has Dre admitted beating?
I agree with Barbara Mcwhite, I liked some of the music but it was just a beat with a catchy phrase.
I hate how that era made kids think being a "Thug" was cool, getting shot while doing your thing... Not just heroic but downright fly.
Hi Charles, I had to take a moment and let you know your recent article, "un-conscious", was in my opinion, one of the best things I have read in quite a while. I appreciate your insight and intellectual perspective coupled with emotional intelligence. Unless we as a people, decide, that me as a person needs to care more about the elevation of community, then the struggle will remain with the many and the power with the few. Grateful for your words and spirit. Mike Watson, emcmike.com
I agree totally, Mr Easley. I wont support a movie that pimps out our culture for a dollar. Too often today's rap artists turn out soulless offerings that dehumanize and over-sexualize our women and depict our men as thugs.
Meanwhile the rap stars take their dirty profits to gated communities leaving the "real thugs" and "thugettes" to live and die in their crime ridden and decaying communities.
I can go a long way with artistic expression. But sadly, rap music is too often nothing more than a lewd catchy phase and a decent beat .
Rap musicians can do better. Black America should demand better.
Charles - As always, you make an eloquent argument about honesty and responsibility in the making of art.
In addition to the issues you point out, this well-made film (read: Dre and Ice Cube) also spinelessly ignores key incidents in N.W.A history -- such as the group's severe misogyny and the beatings Dre inflicted on women including hip-hop artist and journalist Dee Barnes. Any of us reporting on hip-hop in L.A. during that period well remember these inconvenient truths. I agree with you that hip-hop took an unfortunate turn after N.W.A, even if musically a lot of great stuff followed. In leaving out the really ugly stuff, this film deprives younger fans of the opportunity for honest discussion of how we got to where we are today.
Here's Dee's story:
I also saw the movie and I think it was very honest. I think we have seen these instances, time and time again, where music is on a incline and then the decline begins. Its a life cycle, the concept of generation. Unfortunately, a lot of it has to do with the "powers that be" socially engineering blackness to be a self defeating concept. It seems like a never ending battle, when the studio exec okays the conscious music as well and the ignorant music. Artists have percieved power because of their success, which is addressed as well. We see many times where one generation starts on that incline, they get wild with drugs, promote promiscuity, the glitter of the industry itself etc and then they either leave the game, find religion, lose their minds and criticize the next wave, or even the next generation on whether or not its real music or a reasonable cause that the youth believe in. Both Public Enemy and KRS-One are guilty of the same crimes as N.W.A. regardless of their conscious effort. This has happened with Jazz, Blues, R&B, Hip Hop and Rap. The masses like ignorance as a means of expressing themselves because they feel that raw honesty is better because its cathartic, it appeals to their emotions...I think more than anything N.W.A. was used as a weapon against society and themselves like many others. Their cause was valid, but they didnt understand their responsibility as artist, they did what other artist did, they just talked about it. They wanted to be heard and be hot like any other artist. They lacked the understanding that emotions are barbaric and unless you are attacking the enemy, whatever you deem that to be, you will lose everytime, because your enemy has the strategy. Every time you lash out in emotion they have that figurative snapshot to use against you the next time. Brain vs Braun. It got them out of Compton and they weren't going to sacrifice freedom for moral responsibility because that wasn't paying at the time. I think especially in Hip Hop, because it is so current with American culture, that politics also play into the immense shade thrown at black culture. We cant talk about drugs, sex and violence, we cant talk about society, injustice, equality, but what has all famous and lasting art ever been about?
@Lotto Thedreamchild thank you man and a big shout out to your help and and contribution to the narrative! Thank you for reading!
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