It's time I came out of the closet. But I am not alone. Recently, Jon Matthews and Laura have made similar confessions. And, if I'm honest, their strength in the face of potential public disgust and rejection by family and friends is what compels me now to finally be true to myself:
I love Hip-hop.
There, I've said it, make of that what you will. And before anyone freaks out, I should add that I'm talking about real hip-hop - the kind of thing that, back in the day, we just called "rap." So, we're not even gonna talk about P-Diddy or the trash that gets thrown in with greats like Rakim, Melle Mel, Public Enemy, Kool Moe Dee, A Tribe called Quest, etc.
The first record I bought was by Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Furious Five and it was a 45rpm of Step Off. Ah, man! I loved it. I was blown away. I was always more interested in lyrics than music and it was great to find a style of music that was (then, at least) lyrics-based. Okay, some of the stuff was just ego-boosting, but that's historical and goes back to the roots of rap on the streets and in the clubs of Queens. But I was also soon hearing stuff about Social deprivation, drug addiction (ironically, given that those rapping about this stuff were major Coke addicts!), spousal abuse, nuclear disarmament, racism and so on. The only other place I'd really heard lyrics like this was in folk music.
Of course, hip hop isn't necessarily known today for its intelligent lyrics, as much as violent and sexually-charged lyrics. But it wasn't always that way. Well, those things were never far away - given the cultural background and environments of most of the rappers - but they weren't center-stage like they are today. In fact, in the 90's a number of prominent rappers including KRS-One (from BDP) headed-up the STOP THE VIOLENCE Movement, aimed at ending Black-on-Black violence. And a number of artists used violent language and image in an ironic way, almost 'fighting' violence with lyrics. 'My lethal weapon's my mind,E' apparently.
But the pull of the streets was too strong and the STVM died a death, whilst groups like NWA began to associate hip hip and violence too closely for many people to tell the difference. The same thing had happened with sexism in hip hop. Though we were seeing the rise of female rappers like MC Lyte, Roxanne Shante, Queen Latifah, Ms. Melodie and Salt & Pepa, it never really affected the sexism or eroticism of hip hop - and this just got worse with the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T and the 2Live Crew.
I guess that I'm not a likely candidate for a hip hop fan. I'm not particularly cool; I guess, in fact, that I have a tendency to be a bit of a geek. I'm white - which isn't such a problem now, but back then the only white rapper was Vanilla Ice who just seemed to confirm to everyone that White and Rap don't mix. I'm a pacifist, which is cool if I'm listening to De La Soul or A Tribe called Quest, but it makes listening to Eminem a little uncomfortable.
So, why do I like it? Easy - Rakim. He da man! Most of the time his lyrics are completely wholesome as he's a devout Muslim. And he was almost single-handedly responsible for the James Brown revival with his classic, I Know you got Soul.
I'll stop there, as I could go on all day. There you have it - probably more info than you needed, but it's been good to get that off my chest. It's been like therapy for me; thank you.
By the way, for those in the know, other potential titles for this post included: Whoop - there it is!, Lyrics of fury, The Message, Step Off, Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em, Can I Kick it?, Devoted to the art of moving butts, Description of a fool, Verses from the abstract, Check the rhyme, Change in speak, Ghetto thang, transmitting live from Mars, rappers delight, rap attack, Fresh adidas squeak across the bathroom floor, these are the breaks, My Philosophy, I'm a slave to the rhythm, that street-talk game, It makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under, hippie to the hippie, bring the noise, It ain't where you're from - it's where you at...