Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Outside the Box

Rap is going the way of it's distant, slightly more tolerated cousin, country music. Case in point; they sing about love (usually unbridled &/or forbidden), inebriation (whiskey ain't henny, but I'm sure it does the trick), ostracizm (every good MC has the whole world against them), fondness for their transportation (replace a horse with any car most of us can't afford), & disdain for authority (fuck the police...........am I right?).

Granted, many genres of music tackle similar issues, but it's in a more round-about way, sometimes so subtly insinuated that you wouldn't have ever known what the song was about if your 15 year old cousin didn't tell you. For the most part, hip hop, like country, sticks to a basic diet of several main subject groups & anything outside of that box is either asinine or amazing (depending on who you ask).

Could it be that hip hop is running out of things to say? Highly unlikely. Such a free spirited form of expression can always find an aspect of life to dissect & display to the world. Rappers rhyme about what they see & what they know, which is vaguely similar whatever hood, project, ward or borough you're from. When a young, virile Dwayne Carter said "tha block is hot", he was talking about YOUR block specifically.

But hip hop, namely rap, seems to find a comfort zone inside the confines of what it knows; money, cars, clothes, hoes, drugs & violence. The most skilled lyricist can take these basic elements & create some of the most beautifully crafted art ever heard over the appropriate sonic canvas. Other rappers, for lack of skill or lack of trying or a cocktail of the two, seem to be boxed in by these topics. Any attempts to think outside of that box result in an awkward flail at creativity. No dice. The fault we find in them is automatic & easily recognized; they suck & shouldn't be rapping to begin with.

But for those whose lyrical prowess is far beyond their mediocre & lame counterparts, should we expect more? Do we accept more when it's presented to us, or turn it away for fear of change? Take Kanye's "808's & Heartbreaks", minus his emotional outbreaks & self-righteous hissy fits. Was it not embraced by the hip hop community because it was the proverbial jagged pill? Or was his reach one of such magnitude that he lost our attention indefinitely? For the record, I didn't like it because I didn't like it, but that takes nothing away from his musical genius (however crazy the dude appears). Without expansion, there is only contraction, & that goes for the horizons of the human mind as well as anything else.

I'm sure it would be much easier to digest different direction if it were more accessible & less random. Uniqueness in music can be tolerated, but the process has to be unveiled in baby steps, as opposed to being force fed. Individuality is a quality admired by many, but too much too fast & it becomes something to shun & shy away from. Rarely is it personal, but more of an automatic response to the unknown. People enter dark areas slow & apprehensively because they have no idea what may be waiting for them inside. That's the cautious nature of any functioning brain.

Simply put, minds remain closed without a reason to open. Hopefully the next wave of MC's will understand that. Hip hop is freedom. As long as that ethos is remembered, then no, hip hop won't ever run out of things to say.