I had simply noticed your conservative vs. progressive framing, which you arbitrarily introduced into the discussion, and tried to escape that frame by pointing out that there is “conservative” music that can be coarse, and “progressive” music that can be soulful/spiritual as your silent night example.
Neither of which I would actually frame as being “conservative” or “liberal”, by the way. There are an enormous amount of people on the left who are a) religious/Christian, b) at the amber stage and later, c) deeply moved by songs like Silent Night. And if we want to be super accurate, the sorts of rap lyrics you describe would actually be pre-modern in nature, and therefore pre-partisan. So I wanted to make it clear that those sorts of lyrics absolutely do not define hip hop as a genre, especially since, as you said, hip hop is a genre you never really connected with, and therefore had little familiarity with. I know there are a lot of “conservative” stereotypes about rap/hip hop, just like there are a lot of “progressive” stereotypes about, say, country music. And just like any other genre, both of those have a lot of terrible shit in them, but also plenty of diamonds.
Which is exactly why I spent so much time enthusiastically writing about one of my own favorite hip artists, by the way! I wanted to show you a side of hip hop you may not have experienced before, and see how elevated the art can be.
I also HIGHLY recommend you check out Endtroducing by DJ Shadow. It’s an all-instrumental album, and another of my all-time favorite albums. It was a real taste-maker for me, the album that first made me “understand” hip hop when it came out way back in 1996. Which is interesting, because there’s no actual rapping on the album (you may already know this, but “rap” and “hip hop” actually mean somewhat different things.)
So all I did was mention Baby It’s Cold Outside as an obvious example of a Christmas carol that many find to be coarse. I mentioned it, and Blackalicious, because it felt to like your conservative/progressive frame was purposely skewed and unfair. And then it appeared to be the only thing you wanted to talk about was BICO, and every comment of yours from that point was an effort to disparage my worldview because I was critical of that song.
And here’s the funny thing — I think that song is in some ways the 1940s equivalent of the Top 50 hip hop songs on YouTube! Those rappers would say they are also being “playful” in their lyrics about getting laid. They are just allowed to use much more colorful language to get the point across, due to shifting cultural permissions over time
As for the YouTube Top 50, that is basically making my original point for me. Due to all the technological, electronic, cultural, and creative pressures I described, we now have a music industry that creates far more incentive for “lowest common denominator” art. And that lowest common denominator is usually going to select for our lowest stages and drives — sex and violence, in this case — because 100% of us have those drives within us.
And gangsta rap is an interesting subgenre. Here’s the story as I see it:
In the beginning, it was basically a 1st-person documentary of what it’s like to grow up in a ghetto. There was an immediacy and authenticity to it — it wasn’t celebrating violence as much as simply describing violence first-hand from the 1st-person, as well as the ways the artist had to adapt to and even perpetuate that violence in order to survive. There was almost a desperation in many of those lyrics, and a resentment that they could see no way to transform their environment, or to escape it. Hell, that was often the primary reason they were making the music in the first place — to be successful enough to escape their environment. It was music being made by some of the most economically challenged people in the country, describing the many social evils associated with poverty and the lowest rungs of the needs hierarchy, wherever we find it.
But then after a few years, a funny thing happened. Dr. Dre released The Chronic, and on that album mainstream America was introduced to Snoop Dogg. And white people flipped their shit Suddenly white people were increasingly becoming a primary audience for gangsta rap. Which, in turn, made the artists flip their shit. For some of them, their own ethnocentricity made them resentful, and they wanted to make music by black people, for black people. For others, they were suddenly making millions out of nowhere, and becoming household names. So they kept giving their audience what they wanted — the lyrics and narratives started to become more exaggerated, until the music almost became a caricature of black culture, produced for white audiences. At worst, it became almost something like black artists wearing blackface for white audiences.
For awhile, gangsta rap dominated the hip hop mainstream. What is kinda funny here, though, is that it was bookended by two other subgeneres. Before gangsta rap, from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, the hip hop mainstream was going through what is now known as the genre’s “golden age”, with artists like Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development, De La Soul, and many, many others. These artists tended to be very jazz-influenced, and had a major emphasis on positive Afro-centric identities and themes. Positive “ethnocentric” stuff — let’s support each other, support and improve our communities, improve ourselves as human beings, facing challenges out there by becoming better people in here, etc.
And then, on the other side of gangsta rap, from the late 90s to the mid-00’s, we had the next major phase — what’s now sometimes known as “conscious hip hop”, or sometimes called “backpacker” hip hop, based on the fashion styles of the predominantly-hipster audience who loved collecting underground hip hop albums in their backpacks. These artists themselves often came out of the afro-centric “golden age” era (see: Blackalicious), and many of their lyrics were actively pushing against the violent themes of gangsta rap (listen to Shallow Days in the videos I posted above, which both directly criticizes gangsta culture and reminisces about the now-faded golden age era). However, while these artists embraced their afro-centric (ethnocentric) roots, they also fully embraced their white audiences, and began to deliver more socially conscious, worldcentric, and even kosmocentric (in some rare cases) lyricism. Their audiences rewarded them not for appealing to the lowest common denominator, but to our higher nature.
So it’s interesting to me, that we saw a shift from healthy ethnocentric “golden age” era, to egocentric “gangsta rap” era, to worldcentric “conscious hip hop” era.
However, over the last two decades, we haven’t really seen these sorts of “eras” emerging and passing. Which, again, I think is due to the many pressures I described in my original posts above — but mostly a) changing means of distribution, which b) diminishes the local-to-global creative flow generated by various regional scenes, and c) the shifting financial incentives away from “album” and toward “single”.
Anyway, I find all this endlessly fascinating, and love how hip hop gives us something like a cultural archeology to help us better understand where we as a people have been, where we are, and where we’re going.