Anyone who reads this blog or have read my book knows that I write extensively about how Jay-Z’s lyrics serve as a blueprint for greatness for the Hip-Hop generation. The thing is, Jay rhymes as an ex-street hustler and his lyrics reflect the principles of “the game” or “the life”. MCs like Jay-Z, Raekwon, Ghostface and Biggie hipped my generation to what was going on in the streets and the connection this had to Hip-Hop culture and the world. Either you lived it, respected it or rejected it. Nowadays, the new school of Hip-Hoppers most likely didn’t live it and don’t care one way or the other to respect or reject it. They “have the tattoos but not the true scars”. Follow me?
VH1 premieres a documentary, Planet Rock: The Story of Hip-Hop and the Crack Generation on Sunday, September 18 at 10pm (est). Narrated by Ice-T, it looks like it’s going to be a great watch. It’s must-see for those of us who truly respect the game because it wasn’t a game, it was real life for so many. It’s important to make and understand the connection between 80′s street economy (crack cocaine trade) and street culture (what we now know as Hip-Hop). I do think this connection, and, explicitly, the impact it has had on a generation and the world, has been underexplored at least in certain forms of media such as print and film. Of course, the connection has been explored in great detail in some of the greatest Hip-Hop albums ever made such as Big’s Life After Death, Nas’s Illmatic, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt.
I’ve heard some fans (who I suspect would be considered “new school”) diminish or downright diss the aforementioned classic “criminality rap” albums and other rap music masterpieces that brilliantly provided the connection between the crack generation and Hip-Hop culture. I’ve heard both new school and ev... en some old school fans dismiss classic Hip-Hop albums as overrated…or, even WACK! Hearing this kind of rhetoric makes me want to throw up or pass out! But seriously, some of us are listening without a clear understanding of the time period in which MCs like Jay-Z emerged from. When we listen to these game-changing and culture-defining albums, some of us don’t get it because we didn’t live it (never was in the streets), wasn’t there (too young or not even born at the time) or just don’t care (we were around yet we reject the “tragic greatness” of that era).
I didn’t “live it” but I was around it to a certain degree and I definitely respect the era and claim it as my own…
I have high expectations for the Planet Rock documentary because from an artistic perspective, I think Hip-Hop culture deserves greater depth in terms of documentation, analysis and debate. Hip-Hop artists were (and are) inspired and influenced by what was (or is) going on around them just like other artists have been (and are) in music, film, photography, painting, publishing, etc. But Hip-Hop artists and culture don’t receive the kind of “serious” documentation that other artistic trades such as Jazz enjoys. I’ve always admired the great level of music criticism and respect Jazz has received. I think as Hip-Hop music and culture gets closer and closer to 50 years in existence, more work like the Planet Rock documentary (and dare I say even my book, I Will Not Lose) needs to be created and put other there for the masses-to not just further legitimize the culture-but to put it in its rightful place as one of greatest global movements of all time.
For us and by us….
From an intellectual perspective, I hope that Planet Rock serves as a historical visual document of a defining period of a culture a couple of generations removed from the Civil Rights era. Our generation has been the target of very harsh criticism (some of it justified) from those who came before us but a significant part of what defines us is a direct result of a dynamic that we didn’t control-the 80′s crack epidemic-a period of time that began when most of us were kids or teens being the products of single-parent households, attending under-performing schools and living in war zones.
And still we rise…
I’m sure the VH1 documentary will be enlightening and entertaining. Some controversy has already sprung up due to Ice-T’s comments about what he sees as the lack of accountability in Hip-Hop today and his issues with the authenticity of certain “new school” artists like Rick Ross and Lil Wayne. Ice-T has always spoken his mind and that’s what I love about him but I hope his comments don’t veer the conversation into an unproductive direction.
We can debate the “realness” of “this guy” or “that guy” but oftentimes the division will be generationally or even geographically driven. I don’t necessarily hear or see the epitome of authenticity in Rick Ross but I don’t necessarily hear or see a fraud either. Ross’s music is a product of the 80′s crack epidemic just like Jay-Z’s music is, but not in the same vein. I might actually give my perspective on Rick Ross in a blog post sometime soon because I think his artistry and imagery is not black or white, but gray….
But anyway, let me conclude by encouraging you to check out Planet Rock on VH1 this Sunday. I’m sure I’ll post a piece on the blog to share my views on the documentary. The new school has the future of Hip-Hop in its hands. Ironically, as Jay-Z said on Lil Wayne’s song, Mr. Carter: “Go farther. Go further. Go harder.” Just remember that it’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.
Get More: VH1 Rock Docs, Episode Sneak Peeks