I’m feeling old.

I don’t get Lil’ Wayne. I don’t understand why Drake is popular. I don’t see why everyone’s wetting their pants about Gucci Mane.

I grew up with hip-hop. Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Paris, The Coup, etc etc. I still listen to hip-hop all the time. I buy new releases from new artists like Lifesavas and Lupe Fiasco. But I feel alienated, cut off from the hivemind of modern hip-hop.

Part of it may be that I’ve never been down with the mainstream. I appreciate the aesthetic of lumpenproletariat artists like Snoop, Slick Rick, Geto Boys, Redman, DMX. But I’ve always preferred rappers who have something real to say — something important.

Very few artists getting regular rotation these days have anything important to say.

As I said on Facebook, I’m wrestling with Jay-Z right now. He just put out a book called Decoded, and I’ve heard three interviews (two of them hour-long) with him, during which the interviewers (legendary intellectuals like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson) heap untold praise on his skills. I’ve never been blown away by Mr. Hova, mostly because it all felt so standard — dealing drugs, getting money, attracting women.

But I’m willing to give him another chance. So I’m listening again and reading lyrics carefully, and I’m discovering that his lyrics are all about .. dealing drugs, getting money, and attracting women. If there’s insight or groundbreaking material here, I simply cannot find it. I met a woman at a hip-hop-and-education conference several years ago who expressed some mixed emotions about Jay-Z’s music. I wish I could remember her name so I could see if she’s written about this.

Let me say that I have lots of respect for Jay’s lyrical skills and musical production. Obviously he deserves lots of praise and success for the figurative language and aesthetic quality of his work. But for me, that’s as far as it goes. Meanwhile, artists who are every bit as linguistically creative, but also raising important social and political points — Dead Prez, Paris, Conscious Daughters, Public Enemy — don’t get this same kind of love.

It’s quite likely that we’ve reached the gulch-point of the generation gap that all music reaches. Fans of Floyd and the Beatles complain that Nirvana and Pearl Jam don’t have the same lyrical quality or depth of thought. I’m sure older country music fans would make the same points about Willie Nelson vs. Toby Keith.

It’s bad enough when my students show disgust toward The Simpsons and Star Wars Episodes IV-VI. But now they’re sneering with disdain when I mention Rakim and Boots. (And there’s near-unanimity that Northern State “sucks”, while Vanilla Ice is “fun”.) Yeah — I know, they just don’t know. But it’s another example of failure on the part of cultural institutions you would think would be showing them the way.


Taalam Acey, tell ’em, would ya?

Today I’m listening to: Sunka!

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