MOVE THE CROWD: VOICES AND FACES OF THE HIP-HOP NATION
Posted Mar 18 2006
During Yo! MTV Raps’ heyday, MTV gave hundreds of artists invaluable promotion and exposed millions of listeners to the exploding hip-hop phenomenon. Yet MTV’s agenda has always been dictated by people far removed from the music itself. For this reason you’re more likely to see Master P rap than Pharoahe Monche, or Puff Daddy dancing around in shiny suits rather than breakdancers battling for props. MTV shouldn’t be casually dismissed, but viewers should be aware that they’re watching a small slice of the overall picture. So how does MTV do when it comes to conveying hip-hop culture in print?
Since they don’t claim to be experts on hip hop, authors Gregor and Dimitri Ehrlich make it quite clear that they want to give an authentic voice to the culture by letting the "voices and faces of the hip-hop nation" speak for themselves. With exception of the intro, the Ehrlichs make no editorial commentary – they just shut up and listened.
Peppered with full-page photos of hip-hop stars, their book is filled with quotes from rappers themselves. What better way to give a realistic look at hip hop’s development than to hear from the music’s practitioners?
The quotes are culled from the authors’ interviews, primarily conducted during hip hop’s "golden era" of the mid-’80s through early ’90s. Rappers of all sorts – West Coast and East Coast, male and female – are represented, giving a decent cross section of voices as they address everything from sexism to religion. Some, such as Michael Franti, come off as extremely intelligent, while others would’ve done better to have kept their mouths shut and just make music. Some of the best quotes come from Chubb Rock who chastises gangster rappers who "aren’t tough enough to baby-sit."
But while many of these statements are amusing and thought-provoking, the problem is the lack of a context for them. For example, if a reader isn’t familiar with their religious beliefs, it’s hard to appreciate the weight of Busta Rhymes’ comments on the "devilish nature of the white man" against Rakim’s belief that the devil has no color.
Even more scary is the lack of background info on the people being quoted. Vanilla Ice talks about his "realness" and his ties to the streets, but there’s no mention of his being exposed as a poseur and fraud. To the uninitiated, Vanilla Ice could appear to be a respected pioneer in the business! Granted, the Ehrlichs do try to set up some type of context with news clippings, but considering that these come from the likes of the L.A. Times, that background is still provided by people observing the culture, not living it, and thus isn’t very effective.
It’s a fun glimpse, but unfortunately it all comes off as a personal scrapbook for groupies bragging about which celebrities they’ve rubbed shoulders with. The quotes feel as if they were a means to prove how accepted the Ehrlichs are within hip hop by showing how connected they are to the "inside." In their intro they even reminisce about sipping champagne with Q-Tip and riding around in Pete Nice’s BMW.
For both MTV and the Ehrlichs, sometimes the best ways to show respect and how down you are is to not try so hard.
Daniel D. Zarazua is a Detroit-based
freelance writer and DJ.