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January 05, 2004

Death of the New Jacks

Ward Bell brings up a question that evokes much thought:

Snoop Dog on Prime Time TV and the exclusive spokesperson for Nokia? Never thought I would see it. Or, that I would see it and start thinking about culture highjacking. But, in some respects, the way the product was displayed and used, Snoop is probably the perfect spokesperson.

How do I explain this and what do I think?

I think some Muslim criticism of American pop culture is right on target.

I've said that most of our pop culture is porno, and that's not good but our civilization can stand it. Much of the liberalization of our current society I put down to a real thickheaded cluelessness of 60 years ago. I mean to put it in perspective, before WW2, beachfront property was considered low rent - then visions of Fiji island girls etc, morphed all the way to what Tommy Bahamas is today.

So all of the liberalizations of the 50s stood the old order on its head and social conservatives relinquished control (or it was wrested from them). Into this mix jumped legitimate civil libertarians and counter-cultural blockheads. This is why the commies always show up at King Day parades, they thought that we were thinking what they were thinking. But they're not showing up as much as they used to and elites are shaping up.

What this has to do with Snoop is that the same thing happened in microcosm within African America. Whereas once we were all Negroes, now there are different flavors of black and it all hasn't settled down yet. (As you know, I'm pulling for the progressive end of the Old School to win). Afrocentrics and multiculturalists, hiphoppers, Old School, post-soul, motown soul, buppies, baps... there are still lots of flavors, but the black capitalists that got the biggest hand from corporate capital were the Bling Bling hiphoppers.

What Snoop has got going for him is that crossover is dead as a subgenre. Youth pop is all the same hiphop and rock, thanks to Chuck-D, Living Colour, and the Black Rock Coalition if you ask me. While a lot of folks tripped out about wiggers, and other whitekids buying Ice-T, others recognized that it wasn't all culture vulture. Hiphop genuinely crossed racial lines and if you listen to any contemporary pop hiphop station today, this is self-evident. So there is big money to be made and Snoop is mainstream, period.

That wasn't always a possibiltity. So it was also a question of timing. Fifteen years ago you couldn't consider yourself a straight hiphop radio station. Dre, Ed Lover & Funkmaster Flex changed all that starting with Hot97 in NYC as a big commercial success starting from the jump off of Yo MTV Raps. By the time artists like Snoop walked onto the scene, the groundwork was laid for some real capitalization across markets.

Not so with the hiphop generation just a few years older like Latifa, Heavy D, Young MC, Rob Base, Salt & Pepa, Kid & Play and the original New Jacks like Guy, Bell Biv Devoe, Bobby Brown. These artists were actually a lot less raucous but dealt with heavier racial politics in the music business in their crossover bid. It wasn't until the gangsta sold to white suburban kids that the marketers realized hiphop was inevitable. So Snoop and his ilk never really had to compromise artistically, whereas I'm confident that the New Jacks were a little bit watered down and second guessed. If you remember, 1989 was the time of Milli Vanilli and 2Pac was just another young rapper in the Digital Underground crew.

The pendulum swung to the extreme and there were serious battles over direction in 90 and 91. You had Onyx on one hand and PM Dawn and Arrested Development on another, The Native Tongues and Digable Planets were a third way. Studios were throwing money everywhere, as were certain (ahem) pharmaceutical salesman.

At any rate, Snoop hung in there long enough to be consider 'old school' (lord help me), and diversified his investments. Master P came into the game late enough to be a bonafide black capitalist. A good question would be where is all the money that LA Reid and Babyface made? What happened to the fortunes of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis? Were they actually dwarfed by P Diddy and his old boss whatshisname? Is Rush still the real king or is Rocawear outselling Phat Farm? Interesting questions.

I would have liked to have seen the New Jacks do as well across mulitple markets as the Bling and Gangsta hiphoppers. Latifa, I think has done well, and Will Smith goes without saying (but everybody knows Heavy D should have done better). But I think the story of how Bobby Brown's misdemeanors have destroyed his career and how 2Pac's felonies have enhanced his career is all the difference between the kind of image black entertainers have been able to capitalize under the biggest producers and distributors of the music business in the 90s.

If P Diddy & Snoop money will capitalize on artists who are less porno, we will see. But that kind of baseball been beddy beddy good to them.

UPDATE: I cleaned this up a bit - I was on a tear writing it this morning. I also wanted to add that I think the same thing happened in Hollywood. The greatest casualty of the New Jacks of all was none other then Robert Townsend, who should have had a franchise as big as.. oh say Conan O'Brien by now.

Posted by mbowen at January 5, 2004 04:09 PM

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Mandatory Reading This Week... from lingosphere daily
Okay, so I'm mandating that you must read Cobb's comments entitled "Death of the New Jacks," which covers some thoughts you might have had while seeing Snoop parade around during the Nokia Sugar Bowl on Sunday night. Good stuff.... [Read More]

Tracked on January 5, 2004 11:25 PM


I love this entry. I like the rhythm of it. Good shit. I was just listening to Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation over New Year's. Hot damn, that was some beautiful stuff. All I hear in my head is riiiiiiiiiithuuuuuuuum nation! This has little to nothign to do with what you wrote, but I thought I'd share.

Posted by: TLL at January 6, 2004 09:25 AM

You nailed it, Mike! Knew you would! I posted a link over at BS; maybe it will drive a little more traffic to your weblog. I know that yours is the one that I read every day -- looking mostly for your comics which are the bomb!

Frankly, I like more interaction and give and take than blogs offer but because of your eclectic tastes, I gain a great deal from checking you out. Keep up the good work!


Posted by: Ward Bell at January 6, 2004 04:42 PM