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October 10, 2004

VH1 Don't Stop

I kept finding myself saying "I didn't know that". Considering what I think I know about the Old School of hiphop, I am very pleasantly surprised by how informative VH1's documentary 'And You Don't Stop' has been.

I was up and energized until 0230 hours this morning checking out 4 out of the 5 Tivofied episodes of the series. It took me back. Even after having seen 'Style Wars' within recent enough memory to recognize scenes bitten from that documentary, there was more than enough new material here to clarify. A couple of journalists, one of whose middle name is Hodari, had some precision heretofore unexpected. I've been hearing Nelson George completely dominate hiphop history for too long, and here his interpretations were leavend by interviews with Ice T, Flash, and some of the originals.

I think the biggest surprise of the series was that Sylvia Robinson has written 'The Message' for Melle Mel and his gang two years before they decided to record it. What? I must confess that I had yet another Tupac Epiphany. He is suddenly comprehensible on the other side. Surely here is a young man who should have lived longer. It makes me even more angry at Suge Knight for the seedy life and Dick Griffey for his apparent ignorance.

The first episode 'Back in the Day' is definitive. It sticks tight to the core of hiphop and documents the transition from street phenom to record industry in a way never before done. It becomes even more clear how seminal Russell Simmons is to the commercial development of hiphop. It can be said to be a purist's view of hiphop.

I expect that in the missing episode will cover Biggie and De La Soul. (But it didn't). It's interesting that there was a whole section of hiphop that was left out which left me a little bit frustrated. To look at the entire series, you wouldn't know about a dozen hiphop artists who really held together the highbrow. As late as 1995, I believed hiphop could be saved, needing a renaissance that never really came other than with the Roots (not that I believed in them so much) and the Fugees. Common on the Stakes Is High album was a wowser, and the rumors that Dallas Austin was producing the new Fishbone album (which had Busta Rhymes on it but never went commercially big) kept hope alive for a while, but not long enough. By the time Lil Kim and Bonethugs were on the scene I was audi.

So completely left out was what I suppose one ought to call 'alternative hiphop'. Just as you could talk about Metallica, Aerosmith and Led Zep for years in rock and never mention Frank Zappa, Rush or King Crimson, I think there is always going to be a hiphop which deserves its own thread which simply is not pop hiphop.

In the alternative hiphop world, MC Solaar looms large. You really, truly cannot just get into this silly East Coast West Coast thing and leave France out of the picture, as VH1 did. Rappers like Menelik and all those produced by Jimmy Jay, the group Raggasonic took hiphop to new levels 10 years ago. Lucien was a member of the Native Tongues. You can't talk strictly about the commercial influence of hiphop without dealing with the artistic influence of hiphop. If you look at the tremendous difference between the relatively music of Quincy Jones' 'Back on the Block' in the late 80s and the work done on Buckshot LaFonque in the mid 90s, you know that jazz itself was undergoing a change. A far cry from Prince's Madhouse project. If you listen to smooth jazz today, half of it has a hiphop bassline. Artists like Ron Carter and Lenny White (if you don't have Lenny White's 'Edge', run don't walk.) have taken hiphop places that define the vacuum between the commercial actuality and the artistic potential of the form. Thirdly, although VH1 hit on it briefly, it's possible to consider all female rappers as alternative as well. Monie Love was a phenomenon no less extraordinary than Craig Mack.

And what about Kwame?

AT speaks of hiphop like a member of the family. I think of her as a beautiful woman gone bad, or more accurately a beautiful mistress gone behind your back with lowlife. But there are too many threads to look at her as just one woman or even as a multiheaded or schitzophrenic woman. It's time to give the alternatives their due. I think that this way I can be a purist, a snob and still enjoy the music and rhymes I know to be influential.

I listened to Slick Rick a lot today, and it's fascinating how many of the lyrics in just two of his songs 'Children's Story' and 'Ladi Dadi' have resurfaced. (or maybe I've just been listening to too much Black Sheep).

I wanted to say something else about Public Enemy while I'm thinking about the existentials of living hiphop. Nothing annoyed me so much as PE's insistance on permanent radicalism. It did PE in, just as it has claimed Spearhead. By the time they did 'Fight The Power' I was reversing the lyrics. I was the one rapping "Be the power that fights". But maybe that's why I'm a Republican and Chuck D is not.

Posted by mbowen at October 10, 2004 07:18 AM

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I was actually gonna go with the unfaithful woman angle at first. I just know one chick who occasionally looks at the blog who might've thought I was talkin about her indirectly and I didn't even want go there.

Posted by: avery at October 11, 2004 10:18 PM