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Analysis: Hip hop, hue and cry

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Eric Olsen brought my attention to his entry about the history of hip hop at MSNBC. It was written in anticipation of the upcoming Grammy Awards.

Rap music and the so-called “hip-hop lifestyle” have become integral to American popular culture, as even a cursory look at movies, television, radio, or a simple stroll through a CD store, reveal.

Rappers appear across the cultural landscape: Will Smith, Ice Cube, and Queen Latifah are among Hollywood’s most prominent black actors. A cozy Lil’ Kim cooed for the Gap in Christmas TV commercials, Snoop Dogg pitches AOL, McDonald?s “I’m lovin’ it” campaign jingles to the rhythms of hip-hop, and heavyweight brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Budweiser, Nike, Reebok, Lincoln/Mercury and Cover Girl have all availed themselves of hip-hop personalities or incorporated the lifestyle into their marketing strategies. Top 40 radio is now dominated by rap and hip-hop. Terms like “bling bling,” “dis” and Snoop’s “izzle” lingo are now ubiquitous. Rap hits are pumped over the sound systems of virtually every professional sport team.

Since 1999, rap and hip-hop sales have been second only to rock in the U.S., in 2002 rising to 13.8 percent of all records sold, a total of†more†than†84 million recordings. 50 Cent?s thuggish, monochromatic “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” was Billboard‘s top album for 2003, and his “In Da Club,” Sean Paul‘s “Get Busy,” and pop-R&B singer Beyonce‘s “Crazy In Love,” with prominent raps by Jay-Z, were three of the four top singles for the year.

I never expected rap to be as successful as it has become. I guess I’m old-fashioned. Pipes, as in voices that can break glass, will always impress me more than clever rhymes. The inanity of the lyrics, which often focus on hallucinogens, ‘hos’ and homicide, leaves something to be desired, too. The other aspect of hip hop culture that has left me ambivalent is its ongoing relationship with violence. Yes, the reputation is overstated, but there is a core of truth to it. For example, the assumption that a rapper and his main man had killed a young lawyer in Maryland was ridiculous.

Prosecutor’s murder reveals flip side of Internet

The story has a made-for-TV quality. Bad guys, a rapper and his sidekick, who also are drug dealers, have supposedly had the lead prosecutor in their heroin dealing case kidnapped and murdered.

WASHINGTON – Jonathan Luna, a federal prosecutor in Baltimore whose bloody body was found in rural Pennsylvania, had been stabbed 36 times and may have been tortured before he was thrown into a rural creek to drown, officials said Friday.

Luna’s body was discovered near the town of Ephrata, south of Reading, Pa., Thursday morning, just hours before he was scheduled to appear in court in Baltimore, 70 miles away, in the case of a rapper accused of running a violent heroin ring.

At some Internet forums, commenters are already calling for the death penalty for the drug dealing rapper, Deon Smith, and his associate, Walter Poindexter – if they willing to allow a trial. But, there is a problem – this movie of the week storyline that appeals to many people’s preconceptions may not be true.

It now appears Luna’s involvement in a seedy sex and the Internet underlife may be the key to his death.

But, the volatile reputation of hip hop has been supported by an ongoing series of attacks and killings by rappers and their associates, often within the hip hop elite. People who don’t know Will Smith from Jay-Z are aware of the East Coast/West Coast rappers’ feud. Equally damaging is the fact that hip hop clubs and concerts are clearly associated with violence in many cities.

Olsen observes that hip hop has yet to penetrate beyond youth and relative youth markets in regard to sales.

Yet for many people, especially Middle Americans 35 and older, rap and hip-hop (the music underneath the rap, and the broader lifestyle) still seem as alien as Mars.

Until hip hop cleans up its house, I suspect those visitors will continue to stay away.

Note: This entry, now updated, has also appeared at Silver Rights.

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About The Diva

  • Docent Shark

    Diva,

    You’re really going out on a limb there! Equating hip-hop with violence? Who would have thought of that?!

    And the segue into that original thinking—to string together a series of copied and pasted press releases!!!

    BRILLIANT! MASTERFUL!

    Bet you’re on the leader board next month! [winky-wink]

    XXOO,
    Docent (“hey, I’m a critic”) Shark

    PS: ummm, you’re not… Katie Couric, are ya?

  • Docent Shark

    Oh, and EXTRA POINTS for including a gigantic, meaningless, slow-loading jpg!

    um, Diva, have you been acquainted with Docent Shark’s Universal Law #3?

    *”The World is OVERDESIGNED and UNDEREDITED.”

    *see “Architects Design for Hell

  • Eric Olsen

    Dude, too harsh on the Diva – thanks for the quotes! I think the overwheling success of Outkast moving in a very eccentric and non-gansta direction may open up the doors for more such things. My guess is that things haven’t been “cleaned up” until now is that the powers haven’t wanted to alienate the core young audience in search of a broader one.

  • Docent Shark

    Eric,

    Harsh but right. That’s me.

    And Diva’s smart enough to know the difference between writing and typing.

    So my standards are high: Things could be worse.

    xxoo
    Sharko

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    And Diva’s smart enough to know the difference between writing and typing.

    …anything you say, mr. capote.

  • Eric Olsen

    Fine, but there are different kinds of stories, and one of the most common is always going to be quoting heavily from elsewhere and commenting upon it, which is what she has done here. We have to judge like with like.

  • Shark

    re. “…one of the most common is always going to be quoting heavily from elsewhere and commenting upon it, which is what she has done…”

    My bad. I’m new around here.

    *If that’s the case, I’ll be cutting and pasting and commenting like a chihuahua on crack!
    )))spraying WD-40 on his keyboard(((

    Leaderboard Immortality, HERE I COME!

    *just kiddin’

    jeez.

    PS: Mark, re. Capote: I could never get that drunk.

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    Mark, re. Capote: I could never get that drunk

    me neither, though he was pretty funny in the movie Murder By Death.

    i was refering to his comment about Kerouac’s On The Road.

  • shaun

    the one problem that i find with this article is that you clump all hip-hop together. There is the “bad” side to many types of music from rock to rap to punk, and some others. there are many amazing rappers who have completely different subjects.
    The reason all you hear on the radio “bling bling” and songs about killing is because that is what sells. It is kinda pathetic, but it is reality, and as long as there are poeple to listen to it theie lyrics are not going to change.

    P.S. Here is a list of some rappers that have REAL meaning in their lyrics.
    Blackstar
    anticon
    atmosphere
    sage francis
    blackilicious
    and there are more

  • Shark

    Mark: “i was refering to his comment about Kerouac’s On The Road.”

    KAPLOW!!!

    Intellectual/Literary reference Warning!!!!

    A big huggie-wug for Marky Mark!

  • Shark

    Re:

    “a list of some rappers that have REAL meaning in their lyrics.
    Blackstar
    anticon
    atmosphere
    sage francis
    blackilicious”

    Yeah, Dammit, BUT CAN THEY SING???

    Best,
    Docent (“with a voice that can break glass”) Shark

  • shaun

    They are not singers they are rappers, it these guys sang, it would be called R&B. Like maxwell, d’angelo, erika badu, and others

  • http://www.foliage.com/~marks Mark Saleski

    Intellectual/Literary reference Warning!!!!

    yea….and if you could see me sittin’ here with my pipe, slippers & smoking jacket, you’d be jealous.

    ;-)

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    Press releases? I could have sworn both of the pieces cited came from news sites. In fact, one of them is part of the Baltimore Sun‘s ongoing coverage of Luna’s mysterious murder. Poor newspaper. It has been reduced to a shill for hip hop by the devastingly deep Docent. (Wait a minute. Wouldn’t a deep person recognize news stories even if he didn’t click on the links? I retract ‘deep.’) Deep thinkers do not embarrass themselves by showing they don’t know the difference between a press release and an article.

    Anyone interested in more in depth personal opinion about hip hop can read the link to Mac-a-ro-nies cited in this entry, which is a longer analytical piece. Read it there or at other blogs that linked to it. I don’t regurgitate in full everything referenced. That is what links are supposed to cover.

    Shaun, I am saying there is a pathological aspect to the behavior of some in the hip hop community that taints the form. I am not saying everyone in hip hop is a participant. Some of the negative image is deserved. Some of it is not.

    If I liked Docent, I would suggest we pass the hat to buy him a dictionary and a high speed Internet connection. But, I don’t like Docent. I think a lame brain like that deserves to remain clueless and on dial-up.

    A note on graphics for newbies: They don’t load to Blogcritics‘ Movable Type interface the same way they load to Blogger’s. (Actually, when I post to other Blogger weblogs there can be differences based on how the owner has set her formatting, too.) I usually go into the BC entry and change the graphic to look better after it posts. (Preview is not a good guide.) If you post here, you may need to do the same. If you are a reader, cut us some slack.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    And, Eric, stand up for yourself. Docent had no right to dis’ your feature story as a effin’ press release.

  • Shark

    Diva,

    Struck a nerve..?

    Shark’s Universal Rule #7:

    “These days, ALL NEWS IS MARKETING AND ALL MARKETING IS NEWS.”

    Regardless, my original point still stands: you posted two “article” excerpts and little else… except….

    “…I am saying there is a pathological aspect to the behavior of some in the hip hop community that taints the form.”

    Talk about deep! You musta blown a few synapse connections workin’ out that one.

    PS: Diva, the original hip-hop (pre-Sony/corporate appropriation/mass marketing) was based on glorifying pathological behavior.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  • Lamebrain

    AND THEN THERE’S THIS:

    “Deep thinkers do not embarrass themselves by showing they don’t know the difference between a press release and an article.”

    —followed by—

    “Eric, stand up for yourself. Docent had no right to dis’ your feature story as a effin’ press release.”

    Manipulative Much?

    Talk about embarrassing yourself.

    You’ve got me beat there: I haven’t resorted to calling my professional writer friends to come to my aid.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    I am going to cease hostilities, Docent. First, because I found your point about the photo useful. (Notice it is gone.) I’ve been spending too much time trying to force fit graphics into formats I have no control over. Besides, the Amazon ads add color to the page, already. Second, because you are all over that smug arse Freeper, David Flanagan. Anyone who peeps his game gets props from me.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Stop the presses, banner headline:

    MAC DIVA CEASES HOSTILITY!!!

    Who’d a thunk it?

  • fwbull@earthlink.net

    Diva,

    I accept.

    Tis a rare thing you’ve done.

    For that, props backatcha.

    (Besides, I’ve always believed that the enemy of my enemy is the confusing Arab cliche.)

    …or sumthin’ like that.

    _insert smiley peace-loving face here_

  • Eric Olsen

    I hereby state unequivocally that my feature article was not a press release – I made it up myself.