Sunday I tuned in to part of a video countdown on BET and witnessed two consecutive videos that, respectively, epitomized what I hate about rap music today, and what I fell in love with about it 15 or 20 years ago. First, there was "Some Cut" by Trillville from the ATL. Flashing their gold teeth, they informed an imaginary female in the listenership that if she would only shut up and let them stick their dicks in her ass and come on her face she would receive jewelry. I am not exercising much creative interpretation here. See for yourself:
"Number one staller that takes dick in the ass and won't holler...
Suck dick from behind, and take nut in your grill
So bitch chill, and shut your mouth just for a second
While I lay this dick down on you just like I'm Teddy"
At the end of the video they present one cooperative young woman with a shiny necklace for her services. Booty and bling were part of hip hop from the beginning, but these boys have failed to bring any novelty to the business.
Then: an ode to Chicago: "Corners," by Common, Kanye West, and The Last Poets. The video: simple, gritty, classy shots of city and street life, and Common, alone, rapping in the cold. The beat: busy, complex, playful, and thick. The dirty drums are sampled and slowed from a Melvin Bliss tune. There is a brief soulful female vocal sample, pitchshifted up and accompanied by a piano riff. In the background is a constant texture of party-like voices and an odd silly sample that sounds like someone saying "ah ah ah ah." Nothing groundbreaking, but well put together.
Common's flow is tight. The rhyme scheme is repetitive (every line in the first verse rhymes. Same for verses 2 and 3.) but gains strength from it. It's like banging a nail over and over--the pounding just hammers the meaning in. It's almost hard to absorb it as fast as he dishes it out. With every line, he continues to paint a coherent, detailed scene.
"Now I roll in a Olds, with windows that don't roll
Down the roads where cars get broken and stole
These are the stories told by Stony and Cottage Grove
The world is cold, the block is hot as a stove" ...
"The corner, where struggle and greed fight
We write songs about wrong cuz its hard to see right
Look to the sky, hoping it will bleed light
Reality's a bitch, and I heard that she bites"
In those last lines, he puts weight on greed, see, bleed, she. Say it to yourself. It sounds so much better like, that, doesn't it?
(Trillville does some of this extended rhyming, but it just doesn't have the same effect: "I recall, I met your ass at the mall, in the fall." Um, was this at the food court?)
The "Corners" chorus is followed by spoken word segments by The Last Poets:
"The corner was our magic, our music, our politics
Fires raised as tribal dances and war cries
Broke out on different corners"
The image lingers.