By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
ERNEST HARDY'S AMERIKA
Hip-hop is America; its only real crime is being so much so. Hip-hop boils mainstream values down to their essences, then turns up the flame. Violence, materialism, misogyny, homophobia, racialized agony . . . These are the common, bankable themes in hip-hop because they're the common, moneymaking, all-American obsessions. Revolutionary hip-hop and its practitioners soar on the same terms on which American artists have always soared: by being un-American, by flying in the face of the fucked-up mores and ideals corroded in this country's genetic wiring.
1998 was a banner year for hip-hop in sales and chart rankings, but folks who read only those signs to define hip-hop's artistry will simply offer false prophecies. One of the most wrongly interpreted matters in hip-hop '98 was also one of its biggest controversies: the high-profile attacks launched on black writers and editors by rap artists. The mainstream media pursed its collective lips in a lot of what-do-you-expect posturing, while the hip-hop media said as little as possible about it -- at least on the front pages. When I was speaking with a handful of writers stranded in New York, the common sentiment expressed to me was "Consider who got beat down and you'll know why they got beat down." Or, as one writer put it more bluntly, "Not to condone violence, but . . ."
Unexamined in the controversy has been the issue of class. Prep-school jigaboos make up a large number of those wielding power in the hip-hop media, holding down coveted staff-writer and editor positions, shaping the questions and agendas of the culture. They bring with them the belief that ofay mediocrity -- in journalism, art, ethics, spirituality -- is the platinum standard. The "all about the Benjamins" mentality of the past few years could not have blown up as large as it did without their endorsement; it's their mantra. That mentality is also where common, if unstable, ground has been found between many hip-hop artists and the educated fools writing about them.
It's a battle of the poses. Many hip-hop artists come to the corporate game straight from the streets, armed with a different set of rules, and a lot of them have said and done inexcusably fucked-up things when they feel they've been dissed by a writer. (Dr. Dre's infamous assault on Dee Barnes comes to mind.) But the hip-hop media has helped dig itself into a hole for which it needs to take some responsibility. The prep-school Negroes writing about hip-hop have fronted for a long time, working out their authenticity issues by giving artists carte blanche in public forums, hoping to prove themselves down with the hood and its thriving-but-rigid notions of blackness -- while simultaneously pimping those notions in order to get paid, to land gigs at glossy, white, upscale publications. Too many hip-hop magazines, operating under a money-driven perversion of "uplift the race" sentiment, have been complicit in fostering the belief that they only exist to lacquer and disseminate the PR gush created by record companies, rappers and their publicists. They've played the part of the bitch, and now it's coming back to bite them on the ass on those rare occasions when they actually show some balls and say something.
Middle-aged wiggers screaming, "Yo!" and smarmy white-boy rock critics covering hip-hop only because it's what sells are immune to the violence -- sycophancy and skin tone are their health insurance. Negroes would never roll up into the offices of Spin, Rolling Stone or Details and break a chair across some white man's back or spray him with threats. It's strange, the still-pungent self-loathing and deference to massa that even alleged street niggas carry within them -- and beat into the bodies of other black folk. I'll believe in these white critics' triumphing of hip-hop's Benetton-culturalism when they start getting bitch-slapped on a regular basis.
The polygamous marriage of media, corporate America and the recording industry has created a new, high-stakes frontier, a fresh Wild West, and of course America has always conquered its frontiers by brute force. Controlling the media through intimidation goes on in Washington and Hollywood all day, every day. It has throughout history; that's the American way.
It's no accident that the best hip-hop albums of the year (some of the best albums, period) -- by Outkast, Brand Nubian, Lauryn Hill, Black Star, Goodie Mob -- placed black power and black-on-black love at the heart of their artistic agendas. That means forgoing America; that means trying to conquer America. They're albums steeped in the knowledge that capitalism -- and the violence it spawns -- will not mediate the inter- and intraracial conflicts that besiege us. Violence against human beings is indefensible, but the sellout writers and editors over at Vibe, Blaze, etc., are too busy turning Angela Davis' life into a fashion spread to see the part they've played in the madness that has enveloped them.
FALLING JAMES AND HIS NEIGHBORS' 10 BIG ONES
1. Tijuana No!Contra-Revolución Avenue (BMG/U.S. Latin)
2. Spectator PumpStyrofoam Artifacts (Trik Magik)
3. The BeautysLiquor Pig(Beeb)
4. Caustic ResinThe Medicine Is All Gone (Alias)
5. The HumpersEuphoria, Confusion, Anger and Remorse (Epitaph)