Where’s the Funny?

Once upon a time, hip-hop knew how to laugh. It also knew how to cry, to get angry, to love and to be serious. Laughter was the vital source of hip-hop’s creative force. Regrettably, hip-hop has been losing its sense of humor since the mid-’90s, when the last great jester, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, ruled the airwaves. As if a symbol of the sad times, late in 2004, Ol’ Dirty Bastard died in a studio. (We’re still waiting for the release of his last album, A Son Unique; see the Q&A with Damon Dash, for the full poop.) Also sadly in ’04, the Beastie Boys, the original hip-hop jesters, released To the 5 Boroughs, a record that was packed with nostalgia but almost no laughter. (As for Eminem, who released Encore during election season ’04: There is comedy in his music, but he is not a full-time jester. That is, the mere thought of Ol’ Dirty Bastard makes you laugh — which is not the case with Eminem, who is first and foremost a gifted rhyme sayer.) But if 2004 was dismal, 2005 was worse. Rappers who used to make comic hip-hop were forced by their labels and the realities of the times to go serious; and if they dared to be funny, the hip-hop public ignored them. In short: The thrill is gone. And then there’s Blowfly, who has been rapping for well over three decades and rightly considers himself a pioneer — not just of hip-hop jester-hood but of the rap form itself. But read any recent book about hip-hop, or listen to any rapper detailing its history — naming the founding b-boys, the original headz from the oldest skoolz — and you will not find even one mention of Blowfly. Why? It’s because his raps were (and still are) ridiculously pornographic. But the omission of Blowfly from written and rapped history has nothing to do with censorship, nor with any concerted effort in the hip-hop community to keep rap’s official history pristine. Indeed, many MCs have released records at least as pornographic as Blowfly’s — and still they get props from writers and spitters (Too Short being the prime example). Blowfly’s lack of recognition results from the simple fact that hip-hop can’t take him seriously. And he can’t be taken seriously because he has never taken himself seriously. Hip-hop is happy to claim Too Short’s “Blowjob Betty” as part of its history, but it will have absolutely nothing to do with Blowfly’s “Shitting on the Dock of the Bay,” or “Spermy Night in Georgia,” or “My Baby Keeps Farting in My Face.” “Blowjob Betty” is about a young woman whose life ends tragically; “Shitting on the Dock of the Bay,” on the other hand, is about, well, shitting on the dock of the bay. In the ’80s, the emerging world of hip-hop had plenty of room to recognize Blowfly (he sold thousands of records, and his dirty, silly, excessive raps were circulated), but by the end of the ’90s he was silenced. And if the punk label Alternative Tentacles hadn’t released Blowfly’s Fahrenheit 69 earlier this year, his laughter would never have been heard again. Hip-hop, however, paid no attention to Fahrenheit 69; its primary audience was that class of white hipsters who enjoy reviving discarded or neglected cultural junk. With songs like “I Believe My Dick Can Fly” and “Your Precious Cunt,” how in the world could hip-hop give Blowfly his due? His songs are not about getting laid because you look rich, or own golden spin wheels, or a mansion up in the hills. Furthermore, Blowfly’s raps make fun of sex — mocking sexual drives and organs. Hip-hop trucks this kind of foolishness no longer; it is now either strictly business or strictly skillz. From corporate rappers (Jay-Z, Nelly, 50 Cent) down to indie rappers (Talib Kweli, Vast Aire, the Perceptionists), what matters is the moment of clarity, playing the game, keeping it real (in relation to the streets or the roots of hip-hop), repping hoods, gods, a way of life. MCs who dare to waste creative energy on the kind of laughter that rises from the depths of the belly and shatters all reason and meaning are shut out of every level of the game. Even L.A.’s kings of hip-hop boozing, Tha Alkaholiks, have, for the sake of survival, abandoned laughter this year. The trio’s latest album, Firewater — which is set for a January release — is not, as with their earlier albums, about getting stupid drunk, throwing up all over the place and passing out on the dirty floor of a dive bar. Instead, Firewater is about what so many (too many!) rap albums are about: the serious business of looking sharp and getting much love and rubs from shorties in “da club.” Fatlip, who was once a member of the Pharcyde, the funniest hip-hop group in 1992, also released a laughless record this year, The Loneliest Punk. Gone are the days of “Ya Mamma” jokes; now it’s all about his suffering, his struggles, his eternal principles. And then there’s Atmosphere’s Slug — who to his credit makes a guest appearance on Blowfly’s Fahrenheit 69. Though never entirely funny or entirely serious in the past, Slug dropped the comedy for sure on his latest (You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having), sticking with important and somber matters, like raising his son, or the murder of a 16-year-old girl who attended one of his shows in New Mexico. On the track “Get Fly,” Slug goes as far as to detail his politics against the swelling voices of a gospel choir — it’s nearly impossible to take yourself more seriously than that. Don’t get me wrong, You Can’t is a great album, but it’s rock solid, super-focused and full of purpose — qualities that will not produce the kind of record that offers real surprises. Proving there’s still a little pulse of life in the cold arm of hip-hop, the surprise success of the year turned out not to be a serious album but one that’s entirely playful, Danger Doom’s The Mouse and The Mask. A collaboration between producer Danger Mouse and the veteran rapper MF Doom, Danger Doom is not only funny but also excessive in a way that hip-hop rarely dares to be these days: While hip-hop excess is now limited to the area of spending lots of money on very expensive things, it no longer encourages creative excess — wasting phat beats, squandering dope lyrics. At all costs, beats and raps must not be wasted or recklessly expended. The rapper has to be understood, and phat beats, like Jay-Z’s “December 4th” or the Perceptionists’ “Black Dialogue,” must not be spoiled by sudden noises like farting, burping, sneezing or ranting, which is precisely what Danger Doom does — the duo wantonly ruin perfectly fine beats and rhymes. Ultimately, laughter is disruptive, and such disruptions are too risky for “commercial niggaz,” who need guaranteed hits, and “underground headz,” who are on a mission to be heard, understood and recognized as the monks, the defenders of real hip-hop. But without the fecund, beer-belly laughter from the likes of Blowfly, hip-hop will whither and die like an old colorless flower.

Blowfly • The Knitting Factory • December 17 • with Mr. Mixx of Two Live Crew, DJ Howie Pyro, Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite), Explogasm


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