Rap/hip hop is particularly unique, in the respect that it tends to be one of the only forms of music, or art-forms in general, that involves the very figures that represent it openly insulting and discrediting it on a regular basis; even going so far as to question its relevancy. It’s an inherent trait for something which has roots tied to the Dozens; a competitive game of one-upsmanship based around two people flinging clever, yet disparaging, remarks back and forth at each other. And that’s the dynamic; the one holding the mic is the “greatest of all time,” while everyone else is complete trash — especially, in the context of a battle, in which case they are also the enemy. From my first exposure with the scene as a youth in the 80s, and well before that, there have always been accusations of “sucka emcees” and boasting about one’s own personal skills surpassing all others. And when it wasn’t all about yourself, it was still about the dominance of your crew. Back in 1986, when KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions released “South Bronx” as an attack/response to the MC Shan and Marley Marl track, “Queensbridge,” –a situation known as the infamous “Bridge Wars“–they were not only dissing Shan, or even the Juice Crew, of which he was a member, but the entire neighborhood that he was representing and came from.
Rap can be a boastful art, but it’s still an art in its purest form and, when someone displays a remarkable level of skill, it can be hard for an audience, or even a challenger, to deny that they are indeed bringing something of quality to the table. But there’s a duality to the craft, as there is with all things, and destroying someone on the mic is still a motivator–whether it motivates the victim to throw in the towel, once and for all, finding a new hobby, goal, dream, and/or profession to pursue, or it motivates them to actually step up their game and push twice as hard, is dependent on the resolve of that individual. The important thing to keep in perspective is that most of the elements that could be interpreted as “negative,” still stemmed from a positive place and with a positive goal; to sharpen ones skills and push the art form further –it’s not as if BDP didn’t have any legitimate respect for the Juice Crew. Even when there was a genuine lack of respect between individuals, however, they still respected the craft above all else, and your ability to prove yourself through your skill set and your contribution to that craft is what you were judged on and what mattered. Tearing fools down was a method of quality control for the whole movement and a way for it to remain as a movement, rather than stalling out. Now, if these principals have completely been sucked out of hip hop altogether, or it’s simply become less prominent is debatable, and the answer differs based on who you ask. One thing that is much more difficult to deny, however, is that there are actually some particularly fresh, young, and hungry figures emerging out the Flatbush area of Broolyn, right now, that are keeping those ideals alive (or reviving them), by focusing primarily on –of all things– lyrical ability, content, and quality song craft. Surprisingly enough, a good portion of them are still only teenagers. Read the rest of this entry →