I was drinking at a friends house last weekend, and, being millenials, instead of just putting on an album, someone pulled out the laptop-projector combo and we played my very well curated vhx.tv rap video playlist. We stood around drinking, sometimes paying attention to the screen and enjoying the antics of Azealia Banks and Odd Future and Fat Joe, et al. Then, Yasiin Bey’s (née Mos Def) remake of “N**gas in Paris”, “N**gas in Poorest” came on and everyone stopped in their tracks to watch it.
The video, embedded above, sent a message to us that, Oh yeah. All the songs we like now are about how great it would to be rich, and none of them are about how fucked up we are for thinking that. Once the next Rick Ross video came on, we went back to our prior positions, but the situation got me thinking that, even though I like fun, dumb music, I (and I think many of the people I know) wold also appreciate some music that reflects and affects reality.
When I started listening to hip hop in the late 90s, in my middle school years, I was less interested in what was popular on MTV (Biggie, Diddy (née Puffy), et al) and was way more into the nascent “Conscious Rap” movement of Rawkus Records, the Roots and the still-pretty-awesome Black Eyed Peas. I took this predilection with me to college, where, while I was unhealthily obsessed with the underground rap scene, I also started listening to the mainstream rap of the height of the Roc-a-Rella era. The popular rap of that time, though it was often misogynistic, violent and nihilistic, was also fun, funny and dance-able at parties. Talib Kweli’s “Get By” aside, the last word you’d use to describe the early 00s underground hip-hop scene would be “dance-able”.
Then, as years passed, the underground scene got way less cool/vibrant/interesting/politically motivated and some of the most popular rap artists in many ways were also the best (Kanye, Jay-Z, Wayne, TI, etc…). And many of the most popular rap touches on politics, and frankly, the fact that the music’s subject matter focuses on the drug culture of the hood makes it inherently political. However, it’s been literally years since I listed to a quote-unquote political rapper.
But, after watching the Mos Def video, and thinking about it for awhile, it made me realize that that, as an intelligent, discerning hip-hop fan, I could use some new rap that was smart and angry and not about entirely about the monetary benefits of drugdealing. I’m a news-junky, and while I’m optimistic about human nature, I’m pessimistic about where America is going. In the 2ist century, our middle class economy won’t be driven by hardworking blue collar laborers the way it was in the 20th, our generation is turning out to be more self-obsessed than any previous and our public/political/media culture feels like a dystopian vision from a 1980s Don DeLillo novel.
So, I’d love to hear more songs like “N**gas in Poorest”, that paint a stark picture of what the world is actually like right now. Especially if they’re fun, dance-able bangers. Now, someone just needs to go make them.
Henry Goldman is founder of yr an adult. And he’s available. Oh wait, no he’s not.