Tuesday, November 06, 2007

American Flava

With Jay-Z's new release, "American Gangster," hitting shelves today to impressive reviews, it leaves one thought in my mind: If what Jay really needed to crank out a well-reviewed album was the inspiration of a Ridley Scott film, why did he release "Kingdom Come," his back-from-"retirement" album at all? "Kingdom Come" was received as nothing more than an unexciting, uninspired, one-single disappointment. Jay made such a hype about (as we predicted...) coming out of "retirement" to release this album, but when us mortals picked it up, we wondered what had happened to our hip-hop god. "American Gangster," on the other hand, is what we knew Jay had all along: smart rhymes, fresh beats, and good old mass appeal. I would like to credit the success (I say success in regard to what the critics are saying; who knows what Nielson will reveal) of this album however, to one key component that so much rap music is lacking these days: inspiration. When Jay saw the advance screening of "American Gangster" (the film), he left utterly inspired to create an album that reflected what he saw in the movie, and how its message reverberated with him. The result is an album that tells a story with a blurred line between fact and fiction, just as stories should be. With "Kingdom Come" lacking the inspiration of "American Gangster," it landed itself in a pile of albums with flat tones and plain-old boring tunes.
Jay-Z isn't the only one to have committed this crime of non-inspiration. If you look at today's Billboard charts, you see songs about prostitutes and how women move their bodies like "cyclones" scattering the Top 40. Now, I'm not saying that a musician cannot be inspired to write a song about how their "shawty" is "a 10;" in fact I am completely in support of artists recording whatever the hell they feel (Hello, Ariel Pink). I just find that songs that last, and maintain listeners years after the release of their song often are the songs with inspired lyrics, or at least inspired melodies. A song can be about having sex with a prostitute and still be brilliant, as long as the song brings something new to the table, like an experimental type of production, or a unique voice (i.e. Lil Wayne).
This is why I believe that while Soulja Boy's "Crank That" is acceptable, but the rest of his album is questionable. While "Crank That" has the purpose of teaching a new dance (and apparently succeeded, based on all those YouTube videos), songs like "Soulja Girl" and "Yahhh!" serve no purpose but to add fillers to an album designed to market a single song.
If hip-hop continues on the road it's on, with most new artists lasting a year, at best, and songs being written to become ringtones, the genre could reach a new low. Now, comparing Public Enemy to Soulja Boy makes one wonder how the two could possibly consider themselves in the same stratosphere of genre.
Also, with hip-hop being a relatively new musical category, most "old-school" artists have their first albums clocking in at barely twenty years old. It's depressing to realize that today's hip-hop is considered successful if it lasts for a few days at the top of ringtone charts. While De La Soul is placing in the top fifty of all-time best records charts, many new hip-hop albums, save the Kanye Kult (West, Common, Talib, etc.) can't even place in a best of year list. And yet these songs are played on the radio, and bought religiously by musically ignorant teens. Do we really want to live in a society where "Ay BayBay" will be played like a classic on the oldies station in fourty-or-so years? And does anyone else find it at all depressing that Flava Flav, once the saving grace of the genre, now has his own VH1 reality show? The future looks grim for hip-hop, and stronger selectivity must be used when signing new artists, but thankfully albums like Jay-Z's "American Gangster," Kanye's "Graduation," and Common's "Finding Forever" carry inspiration and the hope of bright new hip-hop frontiers with them. Hopefully that trend will last longer that the next season of Flava of Love.

1 comment:

ReyTheHussein said...

Props on a good post.

Informative without being condescending, positive without being preachy, and written from a fan's perspective.

Cosign the American Gangster, Graduation, and Finding Forever...and I'd like to add Eardrum to that.