Sunday, November 26, 2006

What are We Fighting For?

Growing up in the Midwest I was exposed to all the various facets of Hip-Hop. The geographic location of my upbringing allowed me to hear everything from the East to the emergence West. I fortunate enough as a youngster to be exposed some of the first generation of Rap music from Run-DMC, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa, Big Daddy Kane, Treacherous 3, The Sugar Hill Gang (was and still is my father’s favorite group), Rakim, L.L. Cool J and N.W.A., just to name a few. As I got older, hip-hop was right there with me and it evolved. I saw the emergence of the East Coast/West Coast Beef that would forever change the face of the music. I vividly remember skipping class to go by both 2Pac’s, “All Eyes On Me” and Notorious B.I.G.’s last musical offering, “Life After Death.” You couldn’t wait to unwrap whatever new hot CD was coming out on Tuesday at the local record store. However, this article is not written to romanticize or reminisce like Pete Rock and CL Smooth. This piece was written to discuss a problem with the music, and those who create and consume it.

In the pantheon of artists in heavy rotation (at least in my car) around that time that I was in high school was Nas’s album “It was Written,” could always be heard in the background. It was also nothing to hear me reciting B.I.G.’s “Everyday Struggle”, on my way to basketball practice. Though I was somewhat annoyed with the minstrelesque producer Sean “Diddy” Combs, (laughing, etc. in the background of most tracks), I learned to live with him. Hearing B.I.G.’s versus made you forget Combs’ annoying adlibs. Presently, both Sean Combs and Nas have become in many respects icons of the industry. In 2001, “One Mic” reintroduced Nas to new audiences and reaffirmed his place among the great MC’s. Diddy, on the other hand, kept himself in the limelight after the death of B.I.G., one way or another. Whether it was the launching of his highly successful Sean Jean clothing line, his brush with the law (that landed former Bad Boy artist Shyne in jail) failed attempts at MTV Bands, and resurrecting old Bad Boy artists (Mase, Black Rob, Craig Mack…by the way did his second joint ever drop?) “Puffy” was always on the scene.

Last month, Nas and Diddy announced they would be making some really big moves, or so it seemed. Inspired by the current hip-hop/rap boycott of the widely known Cristal premium champagne, after some disparaging remarks made in The Economist maganzine. Nas and Diddy were going to join forces not too different from their “Hate Me Now” video, and launch their own premium brand of the coveted bubbly. I was initially estatic to hear of this venture. I mean who wouldn’t? Two black men who have made great sums of money and spent large sums would now be toasting up their own champagne. My black-nationalist sensibilities were intrigued that these young brothers would go into business for themselves, dispelling the negative aspects of conspicuous consumption. As much as material culture has thrived off of rap music and hip-hop culture Nas and Diddy were going to, at least preverbally, bring it back home. My joy or at least praise for them, especially Nas, was short lived. On October 6, 2006, in an interview with, Nasir Jones, (Nas’s birth name), commenting on the remarks made by Frederic Rouzaud, frankly opined, “The bottom line is all these dudes is jealous of black men…So stop making fly sh**t, if you don’t want us to buy it, hell how in the f**k we gonna not drink the most [expensive] s**t”. Nas continued, “…so they gotta a problem with the Black man, I know they jealous of me. I’m gonna make them more mad. I’m gonna drink more of their s**t [to upset them] and boycott ‘em, F**k ‘em.” Okay, will the real Nas please stand up? When I read this I could not believe it. I asked myself is this the same Nas from “Illmatic” fame? Unfortunately it was. We have some serious problems to address when those at the top of the rap game are this confused. That is like me saying I’m going to buy a house from a Ku Klux Klan member who works for a local realtor to piss him off. The stereotypical African American quest to seek and attain status through our lifestyle, is painfully reaffirmed here. There are some hard questions to be asked and some real discussions to be had as some aspects of hip-hop culture continued to be hijacked by corporate interests. I don’t have time to discuss them all here (hopefully in another issue).

I’m going to let you marinate on this, when I was first listening to Nas I used to also listen to Goodie Mob quite often, (and still do). On their Soul Food album there was a track called, “Fighting”. In the chorus amidst the penetrating rhymes of Cee-Lo, Khujo, Big Gip, and T-Mo the vocals echo, “Seems like we’re fighting for our spirit and mind/They got us fighting for our spirit and mind/We can’t stop fighting for our spirit and mind!” That was out in 1996, and it is still the case today, but I don’t know...could someone please tell me what Nas is fighting for?


Keith said...

I'm shocked that Nas could have said such a ridiculous thing. Had it been Diddy, Kanye West or even Jay-Z I wouldn't have thought twice about it, but Nas... Say it isn't so! To me Nas is the greatest MC alive today because he doesn't say things like that. Now that he suddenly does make idiotic comments based on flawed reasoning must we turn to the GAP-hawking Common for enlightenment? Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I found this blog. What is unbelievable to me is how every step we progress, we take two steps back to "regress". It is unbelievable to think that this is his "state of mind" right now? When will we grow up & figure it out? do they even understand what they are doing wrong?

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