Subject: Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop -- a book (currently $6 on amazon? cop it now, yo.), and a website -- long and short, he's one of the contemporary Professors of Hip Hop.
Backstory: In the final verse of this three-part interview we compare the crises in Hip Hop and Wall Street, and explore how crack paved the way for our 44th President.
Mission: To sprinkle some crack on Barack. Let's do this:
(Part 1 of interview is here)
(Part 2 of interview is here)
PART 3: Hip Hop Diagnostics Check
TAN: In thinking about the "Wall Street is dead" headlines of late, the "hip hop is dead" headlines come to mind. did hip hop experience the same market correction? were some rappers living in houses their freestyles couldn't afford? has there been a hip hop recession? can an art or creative form experience those highs and lows?
Jeff: i love this analogy, and i think the similarities are shockingly crazy. i talk about this all the time, but usually get glazed-over eyes and yawns, but let me try again here and hopefully not put anyone to sleep.
the reason wall street is slumping with us right now is because deregulation got it all coked up. follow me here. deregulation made it feel omnipotent, made it feel beyond risk, made the irrational seem rational. and for a while, it got everything it wanted--risk-free money-making for the exclusive customer based off of predatory lending masked as humane housing policy.
when the media companies got deregulation, the same thing happened. it got big money rappers who could make money for them across multiple platforms (not just music, but vitamin water!) and sell to the big dark world beyond american borders (where most of the young world is urban and of color). it was risk-free chip stacking for the exclusive--the universals, the viacoms, the clear channels--masked as progressive, desegregated pop culture.
that's the thing about capitalism. supposedly it celebrates competition, diversity and creativity but it really wants monopoly, homogeneity and conformity.
and eventually monopoly, homogeneity and conformity destroy the whole farm.
think of another analogy--the move from self-sufficient farms to corporate farms. used to be everyone grew something different--crops, animals, whatever, and everyone traded and everyone lived. then someone figured out you could mass-produce corn. so the corn now creates soft drinks, feeds the chickens and pigs and cows, and turns your biodiversity into one big cornfield. pretty soon everyone's fucking obese and lazy or steroided and crazy. cause you gotta take steroids to get those muscles you no longer get from working the field.
i know you are reading this now and saying wtf?
my point is that it's not a correction, it's the way capitalism goes in the 21st century. wall street is now paying the cost, and corporate rap--because hip-hop is most certainly alive if you leave out corporate rap--is too. nothing's shocking anymore. fools in that game are either fat and lazy or steroided and crazy, and while that may be a good look for some, it's definitely not for most. it gets pretty boring for the average fan also, which is always the next source of renewal.
having painted this wall-e world, i do want to say that i'm the eternal optimist. maybe hard times will make folks hungry again.
and one last tangent: i guess in the end i feel about the hip-hop is dead argument the way i feel about all these anguished 'irony is dead' articles. isn't it ironic how much ironists want to believe irony is dead?
TAN: the "?uest love thesis" (as termed in your bloggingheads vid), puts crack/the crack trade in a more positive light. to my warped mind, your logic allows me to formulate this equation: the crack trade helps form hip hop ----> hip hop helps pave the way for Obama ---> therefore Obama has evolved from the crack game. An evolved Marion Barry? funny cause it's true? maybe?
Jeff: funny cause it's true enough. crack sucked, and musicians on crack still mostly suck. i also don't want to romanticize the relationship between hard times and art, because good art doesn't always come from hard times and hard times aren't a prerequisite for good art. i myself prefer not to be unhappy and i think most artists feel the same way.
but it's also true that lots of great art came from the environment that crack created. one version holds that more white people paid attention to hardcore rap because of the media blowup over crack. that may be true, but who cares? to argue that the artists back then were making music strictly for those who didn't live in cracked-out neighborhoods is to rewrite history backwards--say, from the clipse to n.w.a., not the other way around. you'd have to be an idiot or a serious narcissist to try to pull that one off. besides, when hasn't there been a mass hysteria in american society that didn't involve notions of illegality and darker shade of skin than pale?
TAN: I like the notion of gangster rappers as Republicans. care to expound?
Jeff: ah, young jeezy proved us wrong tho!
TAN: a big part of hip hop's multicultural cachet is really legitimized/propagated by the asian/asian-american embracing of it. I recently saw Ballerina Who Loves B-Boy, basically some asian breakdance crews doing an all-dance West Side Storyesque production. Can you enlighten as to what makes hip hop and asians get along so good?
Jeff: the same thing that makes hip-hop and everyone get along so good. not that it always enlightens us all. i was at r16, the international b-boy competition hosted by the south koreans, who simply dominate breaking now. i interviewed russia's top b-boy, this blonde-haired blue-eyed boy named robin, a nasty breaker with that bronx-style chip-on-the-shoulder, who cited how much folks like bob marley and nas had shaped him. then, in competition against the south korean crew called rivers, really the inheritors of the zulu kings legacy, robin made slant-eyes at c-4, one of the rivers crew's top dancers.
wtf? in front of a korean crowd? the russian kid was all balls and no brain.
still, and this is what i love about asians and hip-hop--this dude c-4 went back at him three times as hard, literally castrated robin and left dude with his tongue wagging. the crowd went bananas. now, i know from asians and pacific islanders having swag--i grew up on an island full of em--but hip-hop took us to a whole new level. and for that, we say thanks.
TAN: No, no Jeff. It is I who says thanks.
Seriously, thanks for the interview!