fbpx

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