I have been listening to a lot of mainstream music lately. It has been a deliberate effort to re-open my otherwise discerning and discriminating ears to the sounds of whats ‘popping’. Needless to say, I am still very underwhelmed with what passes as Pop music and Pop Culture in general. But this does not mean that I am a hater or some navel gazer or an ostrich with his head buried underground. Part of my nascent return to mainstream/commercial sounds may have something to do with what we call in Zulu ‘Ukubamba i-age’, roughly translated as ‘Holding Back The Years’ or a subconscious compulsion to stay and feel younger than I am.
Despite what has been trending throughout SA and the Durban Gqom scene etc, I have really rekindled my love for Hip Hop again. These are interesting times for Black cultures in general, but quite nuanced for musical expressions. After having my heart, mind and soul wrapped in jazz, Reggae, old school soul and rare grooves, I am glad that I remembered that music is really for public consumption as well as being a private pleasure. This reminded me of the Notorious B.I.G. lines; “A foolish pleasure/ whatever, I had to find the buried treasure/ some pounds I had to measure/ however, living better now/Gucci sweater now …”
In my opinion Hip Hop can do various things, but if it does not touch my head and heart, I might as well not be listening. There is a lot of ego-tripping and a lot of fake stuff going on too with industry created gimmicks out there, yet there are also people who ride whatever wave happens to be trending – snapping and trapping, but if the skills are lacking, you can miss me.
One of the albums that has recently piqued my interest of late, is Jay-Z’s 4:44. This is an album that in my opinion towers way above most of the contemporaries in scope and depth of emotion and sheer delivery. Hov got skills. I have not really listened to Jay-Z seriously since his second of third albums. His message of whatever he was pushing got lost to me, for years I just couldn’t relate to the materialism and egocentricity, some of my peers called it confidence. For me it all became too loud, too bling and too much like Black people trying to be white or promoting an unsustainable lifestyle. But then I had to relax and realize that its all a Game.
Shawn Carter aka Jigga aka Jay-Hova’s thirteenth album is a master piece conceptually, lyrically as well sonic-ally, the brother got Game. Released on the 30th of June 2017, it took the world my storm and was accompanied by a video for the track,The OJ Story that sent many tongues wagging, an animated blackface narrative that made for a socio-political conversation piece. while it also reveals some of the most intimate aspects of his very public life it is done with a true artists calculated honesty and vulnerability as well as a wicked sense of humor. I must say, it is a pleasure bumping songs like Marcy Me, 4:44 and Legacy knowing that many of the young folks listening to the music cannot fully grasp the depth of the lyrics, simply because they have nit lived enough. Hip Hop retains its youthful swagger and the vigor of being a multi-million dollar business, yet it is in the moments of private or even communal comprehension where the music is truly felt.
Most people would say that Black Thought, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco are among the top lyricists doing it today, and they may be relatively right, but Mr Carter’s opus-concerto is a cut above the average, it is also a lesson in business acumen in addition to being verbally sharp-witted. Last week in some nice Zimbabwean spot called Wyrd, I found myself in conversation with some 20 somethings who really love Hip Hop, and one of them was dropping jewel after jewel from Jay-Z’s older raps, and we agreed that none of these cats such as Drake or anyone really can touch Hov. Yes its grown folks music, but so fresh that its timeless.
My favorite MC’s Top 10 still remain
- De La Soul
- Andre 3000
- Mos Def
- Lauryn Hill
- Black Thought
- Supah Mpondo
- Roots Manuvah
- Lupe Fiasco
After all is said and done, I am still about that wordplay. How you say and what you say.