Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Will Punk or Emo become the new hip-hop?

Music tends to have generational significance. Blues was a rebellious form of music years ago in the earlier part of this last century. Jazz likewise was a sharp break from standard popular music in the years after Blues first began its rebellious riffs. Rock became an outlet for youth in the 1960s and 1970s. Reggae, perhaps, picked up where Rock left off and carried us into the 1980s and then of course there was Hip-Hop.

What will children of the late 90's and early 00's take as their music? Perhaps Punk and Emo (short for Emotional or Emotional Rock) will speak to the next generation. I'm not talking about the Sex Pistols, but more modern Punk. This music has spoken to the angst, worry, and fear of teenagers for years, originating in England some 30 or so years ago. Punk and Emo music address pressing problems of group conformity and identity, relationships, love, rebellion, distrust of parents, concern about politics, and myriad other issues that are often the subject of every generation's rebel music. They aren't the same, but many see Emo as growing out of Punk.

Furthermore punk has impacted clothing and appearance choices not unlike previous rebel music. Gratuitous piercings and tattoos are often common, leather cloths, wallet chains, skull logos, and massive amounts of black or neon colored clothing are often characteristic of punk. Emo has likewise caused many youth to straighten their hair and die it black.
I'm no expert on Punk and Emo, although I did go to Warped Tour (2002 maybe) at what was then the Verizon Amphitheater in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Most true Punk and Emo supporters would likely bemoan all the "sell-outs" on stage there, but it was something different for me and let me at least begin to look into this community.

I'm also not sure that Punk or Emo has the same socio-historical importance of Hip-Hop, but perhaps that's my own bias. Who knows? Maybe Flogging Molly, Dashboard Confessional, Fall Out Boy, Good Charlotte are the new prophets among us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The first hip-hop president... so now what?

Much has been made of President Barack Obama being the first hip-hop president. Over a year after his election, it is probably time to ask, "What does that mean?" To be sure, many hip-hop artists have flocked to the President. Artists from Common to Nas and Young Jeezy, to Joel Ortiz have produced songs in support of Obama.

And many critics have questioned what hip-hop means or even has to do with being President. See Sasha Frere-Jones, in The New Yorker, who takes a less than enthusiastic view. Slightly more positive is the Harvard Political Review, Harvard's undergraduate political science magazine. Opposed to the notion is Rosa Clemente who wrote an article commissioned by the Green Institute. Then there's Matthew Cooper's piece at the Huffington Post that seems to blur the line between honest reflection and mocking hyperbole. Also look at an NPR story on hip-hop flocking to Obama.

What are hip-hop fans, community members, and casual listeners to make of this? There's a danger in assuming that because President Obama claims to listen to Jay-Z, is relatively young, hails from a city with a strong hip-hop scene, etc., that he is able to or even wants to represent hip-hop. Let's not let our excitement from the historical nature of this election blind us to the realities of presidential politics. It's a big task to shoulder the entire hip-hop community and hip-hop isn't monolithic. We might see this as a stepping stone, but Obama can't do it all. Obama will not solve the world's problems and he won't solve hip-hop's. Health care and climate change are pressing issues. Police violence continues to be endemic in many communities. There's a struggling economy that needs desperate help. Even if we expect Obama to lead the hip-hop nation, it's not going to happen soon. It is not a priority item on his policy agenda.

Has Obama done a good job representing hip-hop? What does it mean to represent hip-hop? Do we often think of President's as representing musical genres or communities? Did anybody call Bush II the Texas president or the country music president? And if they did, what did that mean? Often times elected officials will make claims that they best speak for a segment of the population, but that is not always true. It seems that the hip-hop community seized upon Obama and not that Obama seized upon the hip-hop community. Sure, he worked hard to mobilize minorities and young people, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was targeting hip-hop.

-- Nick J. Sciullo

(Obama poster courtesy of eshark design.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Bar Exam

ludacris feat. mary j blige - runaway love

Artist: Ludacris (feat. Mary J. Blige)
Track: Runaway Love
Album: Release Therapy

Little Nicole is only 10 years old
She's steady trying to figure why the world is so cold
Why she's not pretty and nobody seems to like her
Alcoholic step-dad always wanna strike her
Yells and abuses, leaves her with some bruises
Teachers ask questions she's making up excuses
Bleeding on the inside, crying on the out
It's only one girl really knows what she's about
Her name is little Stacy and they become friends
Promise that they always be tight 'til the end
Until one day little Stacy gets shot
A drive by bullet went stray up on her block
Now Nicole stuck up in the world on her own
Forced to think that hell is a place called home
Nothing else to do but get her clothes and pack
She says she's 'bout to run away and never come back

(Video Courtesy of Universal Music Group)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Celebrating 25 Years of Def Jam

2009 marks the 25 year anniversary of the creation of Def Jam Records, undoubtedly the most influential rap label in the history of hip hop. Founded by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, Def Jam in its 25 years has been responsible for, among many other things, (a) bringing rap and hip hop into the mainstream (think Run DMC and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" and the always enjoyable motion picture "Krush Groove"); (b) providing the platform for the explosive social critique that hip hop is now famous for (think Public Enemy and "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" and "Fear of a Black Planet"); (c) providing the blueprint and model for the young black hip hop CEO and entrepreneur (think Russell Simmons and Phat Farm, Def Comedy Jam and $100 million as a price tag for his sale of Def Jam to Universal); (d) radically changing the music industry, including the label/artist/music making model (think Rubin and Simmons in dorm rooms running the label, think recording studios in basements and bedrooms, think "Hustle & Flow"); (e) crossing hip hop over into a multi racial industry (think Beastie Boys and "Licensed to Ill"); (f) launching the careers of dozens of influential artists and bands.

The gravity of Def Jam's influence cannot be overstated. To wit:

"Def Jam meant to the music industry as much as Stax, Atlantic and Motown meant to their respective music," said rapper Chuck D, whose group Public Enemy is one of the most famous to appear on the label. "It started from the same humble beginnings that all of those other companies started, very small, but very much passionate about the music."

"I think Def Jam has done a whole lot for hip-hop, for music in general. It's just given us a face of hip-hop for us to want to become a part of something," rapper Snoop Dogg said. "Even the rappers from the west[ern U.S.] wanted to be a part of Def Jam. Def Jam was like the Mecca of hip-hop."

"Def Jam is the Motown Records of hip-hop, and that is without question," said writer and pop culture expert Kevin Powell. "You really can't talk about a significant chapter in hip-hop history over the last 25 years without talking about Def Jam."

Speaking during the 2009 VH1 Hip Hop Honors, Island Def Jam Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Antonio "L.A." Reid said he believes that it will continue to live on for years to come. "When Def Jam was founded, it was founded upon an amazing idea," he said. "And it's an amazing idea that's bigger than all of its founders, bigger than all of its presidents, bigger than all of its chairmen and bigger than all of its artists. My guess is that it will be around a lot longer than any of us."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lil Wayne, Cash Money Records Face Another Infringement Battle

Rapper Lil Wayne is facing yet another copyright infringement action. Thomas Marasciullo claims he created some "Italian-styled spoken word recordings" for them in 2006, but did not give Lil Wayne and Birdman permission to use them.

Marasciullo alleges the recordings were used on a number of songs on the rappers' joint album Like Father, Like Son as well as on some tracks on Birdman's CD 5 (Star) Stunna.

Click here for more info.