Long time hip-hop fans are hopeless romantics, always reminiscing about the good ol' days. We hate the now and wish the back-then would come back.
My favorite example of this is an oldie but goodie. Chicago rapper Common's breakout song was “I Used to Love Her,” a track where he lambasts rap music of the day, while reminiscing on the days when hip-hop was "underground original, pure untampered."
The song sounds somewhat silly now only because it was released in 1994 — a year in which there were classics from Nas, Notorious B.I.G. and Scarface. 1994 is considered a golden era year of hip-hop music.
In 2012 we might be seeing another golden era of hip-hop music, but I wouldn’t know it.
At times, I'm just as romantic as Common was. I grew up on '90s rap — which means a lot of Mobb Deep, Wu Tang, Nas and Jay-Z. So anytime I hear new acts by rap artists that don't have the '90s in their DNA, I’m scared of it, mostly annoyed by it at first, until it becomes something I can't ignore.
It's why I love Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky (who are both entrenched with '90s Southern acts I grew up with, like Scarface and Outkast) and dismissive to someone like Chief Keef.
In fact, when I first saw a Chief Keef video, I laughed. It was ridiculous to me. It was a video of a 16-year-old hopping around his grandma's house, swinging dreads, while talking tough.
I laughed, but I’m sure a fellow 16-year-old didn’t.
Earlier today, I read a blog from a veteran Chi town journalist named Edward McClelland. The central idea of the piece was that the writer had issues in buying the new Chief Keef record, Finally Rich, which is the 17-year-old’s debut LP, considering the Newtown shootings.
His piece traveled; not because of the Newtown ideas, but because of a line he wrote in which he called the rapper’s music a minstrel act:
“Since last week’s murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, though, I haven’t had the stomach for any violent entertainment. While I was watching this Sunday’s Bears game, ads for the movies Gangster Squad and Django Unchained came on TV. Both ads packed two or three shootings into 30 seconds. I don’t want to see either. A culture that glorifies the sexiness of the man with the gun is one reason we have 300,000,000 guns in America. I also don’t want to pay $14 for the minstrel show of listening to a real live South Side thug. I don't want to support a scene that makes gangbanging a resume builder for music success.”
Minstrel is a strong and provocative word to use when describing a young black rapper, so whenever someone reposted the blog, that was what they focused on.
I’m conflicted by the claim.
Like I said before, my first impression of Chief wasn’t a positive one, but maybe that’s because it wasn’t meant for me; Keef’s audience is young.
The urban community seems to be something Mr. McClelland cares about, so I understand how he can watch a video of Keef and his cronies, swinging their dreads, flashing guns and rhyming with little poetic flair, and think Minstrel, especially since his city is becoming the murder capitol of the United States.
I just don't know if it's accurate.
How is the image (not the music quality) different from Mobb Deep’s Prodigy rapping about stabbing a kid’s brain with his nose bone at the age of 19? Or how about Raekwon and Ghostface flashing guns and cocaine while in their early 20s? Is there a difference? Is it just because those rappers are considerably more talented (by our definition)?
Truth is hip-hop has been spitting out Chief Keefs for years. They are young men, who’ve grown up in violence, sharing their stories.
If you question Keef and his impact on the rising violence in Chicago, then shouldn’t you have that same question for every Chief Keef hip-hop has produced?
I don't know how much of a hip-hop fan McClelland is, so maybe he has had these questions in the past. All I know is don’t. I have a deep fondness for gangsta rap from back in the day, and I don’t consider any of it minstrel. I’m just an ol' head who doesn’t get Chief Keef.
But that’s probably because I’m getting too old too understand.
And, the truth is there might be a time when, one day, a hip-hop fan reminisces fondly about the days of Chief Keef.
Happy holidays. Tweet away @Milkman__Dead