Monday, October 13, 2008

My President & Rich Folk

Young Jeezy - My President

Unfortunately Jeezy calls himself out on and of this one before it even starts showcasing any lyrical depth. There's been a strain of political semi-awakenings in the rap community in the wake of Obama's presidential nomination. Or, not necessarily political awakenings but the entrance of rappers into the conventional framework of what constitutes political consciousness. Will. I. Am with the Yes We Can theme song, Big Boi and Mary J. Blige's collaboration for an Obama themed song. This unfortunately makes a distinction between rap's previous examination of politics as an external force entirely neglectful of their immediate surroundings. Or at least the immediate surroundings of their fictional manifestations, the throwbacks to their alleged (and most likely historically true) lives on the streets. For me these were far more important than an endorsement of any particular candidate as hood politics were emblematic of the general disillusionment with the political system that rampant police corruption and funding cutbacks caused in the inner cities. I would love to see young rappers just write about going to an impoverished school, basically confirming the quotes in Jonathan Kozol books.
Here though we have Jeezy making what seems to be an obvious endorsement of Obama. Instead what we find is an examination of the economic and social factors that would lead a member of the underclass' reliance on the voting process to solve their problems. First he offers a series of polemics in which the current situation under the present administration is painted as fraudulent, deaths over crude oil, voter manipulation and so on. But some lines are laced in there that are just inquisitive of the political process in general
"Just Cuz You Got An Opinion Does That Make You A Politician?"
"I Say And I Quote 'We Need A Miracle'
And I Say A Miracle Cuz This Shit Is Hysterical"
But my favorite part comes in the beginning of the second verse, in which the long tradition of focusing on street level react quotes as opposed to abstract thematic concerns comes into play. With a seemingly overblown response undercut with a sly sense of humor Jeezy raps from the perspective of someone between the choice of drug dealing and I guess voting, which is an unfortunately false dichotomy but it stresses the desperation that would cause someone to buy into Obama's hope for change slogans instead of endorsing them wholesale.
"I Said I Woke Up This Morning Headache THIS BIG!
Pay All These Damn Bills Feed All These Damn Kids
Buy All These School Shoes Buy All These School Clothes
For Some Strange Reason My Son Addicted To Polos "
The song is almost subversive in that regard, suggesting the political process is really just a last resort and not necessarily the first thing required to improve upon the immediate problem OR the long run. I have no idea if the lambo and the rims being blue is something about an alignment with democrats and specifically blue-blood democrats.
What's great is the Nas verse continues that concern, and instead of stressing that voting for Obama will change that situation he holds up the historically cynical negation of the voting process as a means for change in the inner cities/poorer districts. Not only that, but this won't be any exception.
When Thousands Of People Is Riled Up To See You
That Can Arouse Ya Ego You Got Mouths To Feed So
Gotta Stay True To Who You Are And Where You Came From
Cuz At The Top Will Be The Same Place You Hang From

Instead of giving a mandate via song and verse this is an ultimatum, a binding contractual agreement, now that an endorsement has been commodified by an album called the recession, you can't just go around stoking people's hopes via skin color and rhetorical strategies. Unfortunately this still stresses reliance on the system to fix itself so it can serve the community while maintaining that hierarchical imbalance that created the need for welfare. At the same time though it's still cynical of the process as a whole. This song is great because it totally sees through the slogans and understands why someone would come to see a vote as something greater than it is, not because it actually is, but because they feel like they've got nothing else. It comes to the point where Obama is just as viable as Bill Ayers.

Plies - Rich Folk/A Hundred Years
I was on my way back from the dentist when I heard Rich Folk on satellite radio and it reaffirmed my belief that Plies is one of the most endearingly honest sounding rappers no matter what he's talking about. A while back I had caught the hundred years video of Plies testifying in a courthouse looking like he was on the verge of tears as shiny as his mouth. One, it was the best usage of puss ass cracka I had ever heard, turning into a chorus suggesting such serious emotion that it obviously came from being personally affected by puss ass crackaness. In the courthouse a black person is sentenced to an irrational sentence, life taken away by an uncaring judge. My confidence in Plies was shaken when I read that his bodyguards shot up some audience members after a brawl broke out because his mic was cut for Lil Boosie to cut in on his overtime.

Sometimes though, you have to separate the art from the artist, and sometimes that emotional instability (which seems to have come from a poor choice in protection) actually strengthens a song's statement. Seriously, the facial expressions put on display here are the stuff of verite acting methodology, video recordings in a bomb shelter with last word expectant improbability.
Rich Folk on the other hand is basically my president's politics without a solution, especially not a political one. Unfortunately the song espouses the kind of individuating libertarian impulse of abandoning a community's groupthink to pursue riches. But the problems with this aren't really the individual choice, not everyone can afford to bring up the community with them. When white people tout Oprah and Cosby and various black business leaders as examples of success their brethren should follow they completely bypass an understanding of the factors that allowed for individual advancement as opposed to community transformation. There's the COINTELPRO's sabotage of every effort for community organizers to create self-sustaining healthcare, education and food distribution within ghettoes for fear of a disruption in the food chain, as well as spending cuts that followed in the wake of that perpetuating impoverishment in poor areas. Basically, it's when a statement like one that Plies makes here is used in a derogatory context that it becomes dishonest.
But why does one deal? To pay bills. While rappers talk about riches and how the game saved their life, or that of their fictional counterpart in the first person, they neglect to discuss the chain of command. Footsoldiers don't get the same respect, there's still a disparity in the distribution of wealth. In creating an unlawful hierarchy out of being disenfranchised by the lawful one, the drug business maintains disparities in wealth. They can afford cookouts at the local church, but it's still a service industry that places their organization in control.
So, here is this song where Plies plays someone vying for a better life. Not wanting to rely on drug dealing to pay the bills, knowing that being on the grind actually involves grinding, and grinding isn't always an alchemic process. It's also not just a matter of personal growth but posterity for future generations. This might not be just in response to people so embedded in the game that they despise you for making attempts at joining the bourgeoise negro elite that consistently looks down upon its less successful brethren (in accumulation of wealth and assimilation into the white capitalist power structure), this could also be in response to conventional rap wisdom of how it's necessary to survive. So yeah, it kind of denigrates others making decisions that don't have upward mobility written all over them, but it comes from being mired in those decisions on a daily basis.
"Fuck hood rich, I wana be rich for real, I don't want no gun I want a million fuckin dollar
bills, be in mind it's brand new and sit it on da edge, walk into my sons room, and you can't
tell if it's mine or his, I want my son to be the first one with a wheel, I want to send my son
to college and pay it up for four years, let the streets be mad and tell em he anit real, the
motherfuckers hate you when good is how you live, cus nine days broke is wat da streets call
real, the same mother fuckers who can't pay there fuckin bills, take it from me bein broke,
that ain't trill, it feels even better bein worth a couple mill"