The most prominent show this evening revolves around the 20th anniversary of a recording that I quite admire, and one that has held up quite well, particularly the opening track. It is Coming Out Hard by 8Ball & MJG. The Memphis rap duo will be appearing at Club Carnaval this evening. Leave your plea for responsible lyrics at home though, please, as this record is not for those who are easily offended.
There has been so much talk of cleaning up hip hop’s act of late, and it should be noted that to this day, the most offensive lyrics I think I’ve ever heard were uttered by Big L two decades ago. Nobody can take L to task, however, because he is unfortunately deceased. Some may take that as a cautionary tale, and I don’t see what separates Big L from Ian Curtis, or Darby Crash, the Notorious B.I.G. or anyone who simply lived as they sang. Though I certainly don’t endorse that method, it raises a question: Are those artists more prominent because of their martyr-status? Or could it be that their art was made as powerful as it was by the fact they were just deadly serious about their craft?
Speaking of responsibility politics, I have to admit I was a bit embarrassed earlier this week when the Guardian reported that Macklemore, of all people, was being manipulated as a symbol of how the rest of hip hop should behave itself. Why “embarrassed,” you ask? Because guess where the example given came from? You guessed it: Dallas, of course. Thor Christensen’s tisking concert review for the DMN was held up as an example of this new wave of cultural conservatism that threatens to ruin rap for the rest of us. The following quote was extracted from the piece:
What if someone like Macklemore had hit it big 25 years ago? Would hip-hop have still become a genre marked by homophobia, violence and a mind-numbing obsession with weed, booze and bling? Probably. But watching Macklemore thrill 5,000 screaming fans Saturday night at Verizon Theatre left you hopeful that his kinder, more cerebral brand of hip-hop will flourish in the future.
Oh, I totally agree, Mr. Christensen. If only Macklemore could travel like Marty McFly and save us from all of those foul-mouthed rap records like Ready To Die, and Step in the Arena, and 36 Chambers, and Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous, and The Fix, and Runaway Slave, and … somebody get this guy a DeLorean, ASAP. I need 25 years of rap influenced by Macklemore instead. I would just as soon review holiday sweaters if I had to live in that alternate universe.
Perhaps you haven’t wasted as much of your life on the history of censorship and popular music, but let me give you some context as to why this is a bad avenue down which to venture. Though it’s not the first example, the zealotry and alarmist attitudes of this country’s take on pop reached its first breaking point, when an instrumental was banned on the grounds that it might incite violence. That would be Link Wray’s “Rumble,” which was released the year my mother was born. Every decade since, about once every ten years or so, another round of authoritarians try to tell our artists how to live, and how to sing. That is no environment in which to create. We are addicted to censorship and blaming our problems on art when we run out of political scapegoats elsewhere.
The end result of that endless crackdown on music was the completely meaningless Parental Advisory Code, or the fact that you now occasionally get the “clean version” of rap songs on Spotify. It’s a joke, and the fact that the PMRC was founded by Democrats is one of the most counterintuitive blemishes against the left.
Just like food is not medicine, pop lyrics are not your moral guide. Yes, they are sometimes offensive, but if it bothers you, then listen to Amy Grant. Don’t try to police music for the rest of us. It’s no longer in vogue to demand that novels be banned, lest they forsake obscenity, so don’t demand it from musicians and lyricists. It is a double standard.
To summarize, go see 8Ball & MJG tonight, and you music critics beware of moral grandstanding on artistic freedom. You’ll be joining some of history’s biggest losers if you do. DJ Sober opens.
Other Thursday events—
Supreme La Rock/Spinderella/JT Donaldson/Jay Clipp (The Crown and Harp): In only its fourth edition, this event is already approaching mythological status, after the recent appearance of Derrick Carter.
Blixaboy and M3sa will be be on the other floor at C&H this evening, for “Lost Generation.”
“Vibe” (Beauty Bar)
Gillian Carer/Echo Base/Elesh Norn/Weakness (1919 Hemphill)
Son of Stan/Nathan Brown/Botany/Matt Skates (The Wherehouse)
Grand Theft (Levu): The venue celebrates its first birthday party with this Lights All Night-sponsored affair.