Discovering the Relevance of Words
Last night I had the opportunity to see two of the true OGs of hip hop – Method Man and Redman – and it became clear to me why rap music will never get better than it was in the 90’s: true MCs do not overcrowd their songs or stage with lies and bullshit. In fact, Redman said it best last night, when he stopped the music mid-song to tell the audience:
“We are MCs who know how to put on a show. We don’t put a ton of people on stage with us, because we want you to hear us.”
He went on to talk about how he misses true MCs who talked about the weed game and living the true street life, and that he was tired of all the new “rappers” who just acted like they knew what they were talking about. I immediately grabbed my cell phone, and started to write down what he was saying, and how it made me feel.
It finally made sense.
There really is a difference between “MCs” and “Rappers.” Redman told the audience:
“Redman and Methodman are MCs, and not rappers. Rappers are the shit you hear 80 times a day on the radio. I’m a real MC.”
Real MCs are there to tell you a story; Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, DasEFX, The Roots, Common, Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg, they were all narrating their lives, or what they saw happening in front of them on a daily basis. Some of it was good – the parties, the women, the weed smoke, etc – but a lot more of it was terrible – the deaths of friends, of families, the battles with drugs, the selling of drugs, the need to carry weapons, the fear they had when they walked around the city – and they wanted their listeners to understand it, because they knew that someone had to make it make sense.
Now, I’m a white kid who, from the age of seven, grew up in a middle-class household in the middle of a white suburban section of a mainly white part of SW Portland, Oregon. There wasn’t a ton of diversity in my neighborhood, or school, but there were a few different races here and there, and we all seemed to mix just fine. I never really remember any racial issues that led to fights, more just typical kid stuff that brought on the occasional beat-each-other-senseless-then-go-back-to-the-basketball-game moments. Before we moved, we lived in – what was at the time – a not-so-great part of town, near a not-so-great park, where my parents had to time me when I rode my bike around the block, and we could hear the occasional gunshot ring out from a house down the street. All of my friends were black, the majority of my school was black, and I didn’t notice any difference because it was simply who I was and where I was.
My friends, until 3rd grade, all listened to the rap music their older siblings gave them – Tone Loc, Kool Mo Dee, Gangstarr, NWA, Big Herc – and talked about parties where they heard of Funky Cold Medina being given to girls, and the new chains that they got for birthdays. While I didn’t really understand a lot of what they were talking about, I was a young kid who knew it was dangerous, and I was curious about the music and culture; so I listened to everything I could, memorized all that I could, and went on my merry way.
Hip Hop, as all things, went through a massive change with the onset of the new millennium. Things felt a bit more fake and watered down, and the radio started playing quite a bit more, and it just didn’t seem to carry the same narrative as it had during the 90’s. I think once TuPac and Biggie died, there was this sudden feeling that things had to be told in mass hyperbole, and a lot more theater was added into the music. Stage shows were made into almost plays, 20 people would stand on stage with the main MCs, and the lyrics got lost in the mix. By the time 2010 rolled around, rap had blended with pop had blended with R&B had blended with radio friendly music that parents weren’t so scared of anymore, and the ones they were scared of, were spinning yarn about things they really didn’t know much about.
In the middle of the show last night, someone from the audience threw something at Method Man. He immediately jumped into the crowd to go searching for whoever it was that did it. The person obviously ducked into the audience, so Meth got back on stage, and called him out. He told him
If you want to come throw something at me, be a fucking man, and come up here and throw it at me. I promise you that no one on this stage will touch you except for me.
You knew that he was serious, and while not one person approached the stage, the crowd got silent, and waited just a moment to see what would happen next. The performance moved along, and nothing was said about it again, but in that moment “shit got real.” Method Man and Redman, and the other members of the Wu-Tang Clan who were there (Cappadonna and StreetLife), have experience with this. To paraphrase something that Ghostface Killah once said, they’ve been there, they’ve shot people, they’ve been shot, and now they rap about it. Last night we all got the feeling that it wouldn’t take much for them to go right back to it.
On the flip side, 2Chainz was robbed at gunpoint yesterday and TMZ reported they were “told video also shows Chainz and 14 of his people all “ran away from the incident like cockroaches running from a flashlight.” But I’m confused, because in his music, he “started out sellin’ crack,” so shouldn’t he be used to this sort of thing, and shouldn’t he, and his entourage, be willing to stay and fight, and fire back? Or is he just spinning a fictional tale in order to sell music?
Now I don’t fault those who write fictional lyrics, or fiction novels – it’s an art form, and I appreciate it quite a bit – but I more appreciate the honest approach to narrating the life in which one has lived, in order to tell others how to survive either in “the game”, or out of “the game”.
To quote a song from Method Man and Redman’s Blackout album, “You don’t got no wins in mi casa.” No one is doing it better than the true MCs who have been there, done that, and are willing to talk about it all.
Here’s a list of the top 20 MCs and hip hop groups I’ve seen in my near-32 years of life: