observations, reviews and ramblings about Hip-Hop culture, sports, politics and the industry and life in general.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Punk Gospel


I was a guest lecturing at York College today and in between classes I took a walk around the Queens neighborhood where York resides. I marveled at all the Kanye/Pharell/Lupe looking Black kids. Skinny jeans, DC shoes and the occasional actual skateboard. Bugged me out a bit. See when I was growing up skateboarding was something all kids did. It was fun exercise. Then I saw it get real uncool in the Black community and it became something only white kids I went to boarding school with did. So to see skateboard fashion come full circle and became not only Black again is interesting. Totally organic but noteworthy nonetheless.

The other side of this revelation is, I was down in North Carolina over Easter weekend for a christening. I am by no means a church guy these days but like many Black people the church was a significant part of our lives growing up so I definitely have an appreciation for it. Particularly how the church provided the glue for a far too often fractured household. What I liked most about my trip to the house of G-O-D was the 1) the words from the pastor and 2) the choir. Soul music, blues, and encouraging inspirational words.

The juxtaposition of skateboard culture in Jamaica, Queens and the significance of the church in Charlotte, NC lead me to this revelation. Hip-Hop is both punk music and gospel music. These two undertones merge and diverge like strands of DNA.

For some Hip-Hop is rebel music. The sound of defiant, arrogant revolution. From the politics of Public Enemy and dead prez to the ignorant swagger of Lil Wayne. Just look at Wayne. Put a white face on that dude holding the lean cup and you have Sid Vicious. Unabashed male sexuality, flaunting of drug use and the overall American nightmare. For the most part the participants are young. Don’t see too many 40 and 50 year old punkers. And by the time Chuck D hit his mid 40’s he had transformed into a liberal pundit complete with a show on Air America.

On the other side of the spectrum you have Hip-Hop as gospel music. The music of positivity and the audacity of hope. Gone is the middle finger of Punk Hop. It is replaced with the gender inclusive, racially inclusive, politically correct talk of A Tribe Called Quest or Common.

On one of my road trips which provide me with the few opportunities I have to zone out to my iPod I became re-mesmerized by Nas’s “New York State Of Mind.”

Thinking of cash flow, buddah and shelter
Whenever frustrated I'm a hijack Delta
In the P.J.'s, my blend tape plays, bullets are strays
Young bitches is grazed
Each block is like a maze
full of black rats trapped, plus the Island is packed
From what I hear in all the stories when my peoples come back, black
I'm living where the nights is jet black


That is gospel music. And the pure blues. A vivid portrait of the life facing Black people in the dungeons of America. And although that song is dark and there are numerous references to drugs and guns I always leave that song feeling inspired. Nas like other blues and gospel griots brings us face to face to the bitter nastiness of it all. By facing and conquering it we come out the other side bereft of fear. That’s gospel music.

These two genres are very similar. Similar in tone, voice and they even share an audience. This leads to cross pollination that creates magnificent hybrids. Jeezy on the Lupe remix (which is super dope, btw). Busta and Jay Z on the Get By Remix. Andre 3000 and Big Boi. Q-Tip and Ice Cube in the Cypress video for ‘How I could Just Kill A Man’ – remember that? And so on.

It also leads to confusion. Sean Price or better yet Fat Joe performing at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. Makes sense to the informed, but also poses a severe contradiction that is the elephant in the room. No one better manifests that contradiction than our headliner last year. The great Tony Starks. I can only think of Jay, Nas, and Outkast as able to toe this line between punk and gospel as well as P Tone. That’s why we love him.
Why we love these Chicago MC’s like Kanye, Common, and Lupe despite the embarrassing comments they may make.

But we have to be careful not to let the contradiction bite us. Just because Punk and Gospel can live together doesn’t mean the marriage always works out.

As for me, I cast my vote with the gospel sect with a fierce affinity for those who can toe the line as stated above. I am too old to be a pure punk Hop fan, and even when I was young enough it all seemed silly. To quote Common from “Afrodesiac”:

I rhyme far, away away away
From what you accustomed to hearing everyday,
You know the dope-chopping, gun-popping, homies dying
I'm amongst it,
Save the war stories for Private Ryan

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2 Comments:

Blogger Leon said...

Brilliant post!!!

March 27, 2008 10:04 AM

 
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March 27, 2008 11:49 AM

 

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