Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Larve, fuh real

I have a dwindling interest in (read: a spiraling black hole of fear from) post-modern deconstruction of the world as something that needs constant pseudo-scientific experiments on figurative sense deprivation and (unwittingly) paranoiac reinterpretations of perception and memory, as it reeks not of institutional insanity but institutional comfort that breeds insanity. I'm not going to pretend that everything is definite but it's a lot harder to deny you can feel something when you have a rubber truncheon being lobbed at the soles of your feet in some secret European prison cell.

On the other hand, when a rapper drops his game and pens an ode to his wife it's like a tangible link to reality that drops irony on his ouevre harder than a hipster with a pompadour for a coiffure.

Case in point: Juvenile. Juvenile of Back That Azz Up fame. Juvenile who once "reached back and stuck" a "bitch" who then pressed charges and when she brought her pa woulda stuck him too if he wasn't behind bars (in a song of course, quotes from "I Got That Fire") then in an odd choice of chronological retelling, bit "the titties" during sex and busted "a nut on her leg" (in a SONG, of COURSE). Yeah, that's coarse, but when he breaks down you start to understand the distant non-relationship between what's moving your Azz on the dancefloor and what happened before it hit the mic in the studio and all the channels it passed before it made it on tv and into your stereo.

bell hooks, a black feminist activist and writer, brilliantly sends up the industry that scapegoats it for society's misogyny on the one hand but profits off of it on the other, while also displaying how sexism in rap is not a vacuum but part of a much larger sexist continuum.
Misogyny and Gangsta Rap - Who Will Take the Blame is excellent in that respect but evades dissecting the nuances in Gangsta Rap that put holes in the facades of violent machismo. The examples I use couldn't have possible been foreseen as it was written in '94, but there were plenty back then as well.

Exhibit A: Last year's Reality Check, an album that for the large part is a post-Katrina reconfiguration of the crack game in New Orleans (where Juvenile lost his home in the 9th ward to hurricane damage) told with beats whose stark bombast swoop under his growl with the menace of a furnace blast. While his hustler status is repeatedly assuaged with stick-up kid swagger it's with a frightening older man's weathered interpolation of survival of the fittest, a nihilistic defense of bottom barrel gangsterism aware that the only point of it's existence is to fade out. These can easily be pointed out as gangsta rap cliches but these are attitudes only reinforced when the government sends in blackwater as the most immediate response to a natural disaster in order to make sure shops aren't broken into in desperation from lack of supplies by shooting shoplifters on site. Even before that, 9th ward probably shows you things you never wanted to see but have to live with.

I'm getting off the point, since that's not a large part of the album there's also a sizeable portion of club jams luridly appraising female attributes (i.e. Loose Booty) and vivid detailing of what Juvenile and his crew are going to do to them. It's all bullshit though. He doesn't just have a baby-mama he ducks and covers from, he has a wife and family to feed. He knows that, and in between all the shooting and fucking lifts his chin up and lets you know that he wants you to know too.

Really it's between him and his wife but it's one of the most heartening invitations to peek in on a genuinely touching domestic set-up:
I Know You Know does just that. He assures his wife it's her he's about, he's not a baller with an uncontrollable wad that needs to be blown on every fly girl that comes up in the game, not even one. In sweet terms that are unintelligble without a lyric sheet he assures her and reassures her on how he holds it down because he's got a wife that loves him and a family to feed. All that's for the money! But not money for money's sake, money for "us". Sorry, my heart swells when I read something like that.

Sometimes though, a line like the one about sticking a bitch isn't just a construct, and is really just a depressing and frightening glimpse of male dominance and how the fact that women can get out the vote doesn't broadside traditional institutions of patriarchal condescension and violence.
Love Hurts - Rap's Black Eye is a painful, necessary and extremely unfortunate indication of that.
Ever hear Me and My Bitch by Notorious B.I.G.? Putting aside the term bitch for a moment that is one of the sweetest declarations of love I've ever heard (I'm not a female so I can't swoon on behalf of the ladies, but I'll put a stake in this and show you the lyrics, for the run-up of a takedown on a hilariously flawed attempt at getting miffed on behalf of the minge click here) that almost makes bitch as soothing as boo (in the romantic sense, not the scary one). He puts his manhood on the line by starting off with

"When I met you I admit my first thoughts was to trick
You look so good huh, I suck on your daddy's dick."

Do you know how much clout you have to have on the streets to get away with that? I don't, but I imagine a lot. Even when admitting to cheating he recounts her taking his toothbrush and scrubbing the toilet with it. And when he envisions their future together he does it like this
"And then we lie together, cry together, I swear to God I hope we fuckin die together." It makes me want to cry! But then there's another line that always cold-cocked me figuratively in the possible indication that it represented a cold-cocking that was much less of a cringe than something to be frightfully scared of. "You talk slick I beat you right." Apparently Faith Evans, who was with Big at the time, and the article attests to this, used to walk around with Jackie O glasses to cover her bruises. She's currently spokesperson for battered women in Harlem.

But on the other hand it's not always an indication of what goes on outside the studio. Check Willie Dee from the Geto Boys. The Geto Boys are even more notorious than 2 Live Crew, because where 2 Live Crew got their aesthetic from porn, Geto Boys got it from slasher films informing a gruesome spectacle of raping and killing that while raking in millions at the box office only got petitions on the radio and subpeonas in court. It was all a construct though, a self-consciously knowing construct, with the slasher films as a defense and the label horrorcore as a reassurance.

Willie Dee's solo outings were more political and sexual without the slasher ineffectual. Known for songs like Bald Headed Hoes (in which he goes to capital hill and demands they be killed) in real life he's a community activist. He was the national spokesperson for Women In Trouble, a houston based organization devoted to rehabiliting victims of rape and battery and reintegrating them into school and the workforce and helping them get on with life. They even made a lifetime movie out of it! Minus Willie Dee, of course, but still!

In the end, shit's complicated, but it's worth figuring out those complications instead of swearing them off as deplorable and amoral because they might be onto a sociological definition of reality untouchable by p.c. theoretical work, y'know?