It's been a weird month for hip-hop.
First, there was an Associated Press story on last year's plummet in rap album sales. It discussed how many in the hip-hop community are unhappy with the same old hoes-cars-and-bling rap on the radio. The story ran in a number of papers nationwide (The Union-Tribune ran a condensed version in its A section) and I linked to the full version in a previous post.
It highlighted one of rap's crucial problems: lack of lyrical creativity. But it also offered no nuance or examples that there's more to rap than what's on the radio. The popiest version of any type of music is going to be a watered-down bastardization. The difference between Merle Haggard and Kenny Chesney is the same difference between Public Enemy and the Black Eyed Peas.
Then cable news jumped in, which is NEVER the place to find nuance. CNN did a series called "Art or Poison" (because there can be no middle ground!), and Fox News blamed hip-hop for the weird case of a group of (black) teens getting a toddler to smoke pot and filming it.
CNN page with the AP story and links to the "Art of Poison" segments
Partial transcript of Fox News story about hip-hop
Video of the Fox News segment
It's all extremely frustrating because hip-hop really is at a commercial low point. One of the hottest rap songs right now is also one of the lamest. A rapper named MIMS offers a dissertation on why he is hot that's written like a Dr. Seuss book. "This is why I'm hot / I'm hot 'cause I'm fly / you ain't 'cause you're not" raps a guy whose name, ironically, is an acronym for Music Is My Salvation.
A hilarious "graphical dissertation" on the MIMS track by The Village Voice
So it should be fertile ground for Clipse, who play Saturday night at the Belly Up. The brothers Pusha T and Malice rap with a purpose. They put the focus back on lyrics, replacing absurd bragging with intricate, complex stories about the highs and lows of the coke game. They're creating their own world.
They even changed hip-hop. While stuck in label-merger limbo, they released a mixtape that proved mixtapes could be like real releases and not just hype machines.
Clipse has become a critic favorite, especially among the mostly white, mostly middle class indie/blogger set (like, ahem, me). Despite near-consensus acclaim, their long-awaited "Hell Hath No Fury," released late last year, has not been a sales blockbuster.
Clipse have something to say. And if you're a rap fan and aren't game to listen, then you're part of the problem.
Clipse — Momma I'm So Sorry (MP3)
Clipse — Hello New World (MP3)
Clipse (Feat. the Re Up Gang) — Mic Check (MP3)