It has been brought to my attention that one of the primary arguments that Jay-Z puts forth in his “D.O.A.” video is about the lack of aggression in hip-hop. I still maintain my initial position, that the song is a discreet way to put Jay-Z back on top by differentiating himself from the current movement of the popular culture, and he was very successful at doing that, but I often wonder about the scene where a rack of loud, bright clothing was blown up. A lot of Jay’s videos from this particular record have been about ultra-masculinity and being dark in general; in fact one could take away the idea that this particular brand of darkness is a way to elevate Jay conceptually and artistically from everyone else.
In the past, his videos have largely been about spending money and the glamorous lifestyle, but on this record, Jay-Z, and his counterparts, Kanye West and Rhianna, have went in a completely different direction surrounding themes of the medieval and dark age periods as well as evoking themes of militarism and spirituality on their videos. In what appears to be a genuine lack of creativity, Rhianna’s latest video seems to take a page from M.I.A.’s playbook. In all though I think that Jay is at odds with the current state of affairs, not just in hip-hop, but of the Black culture in general.
I will explain; how I see it is that when Jay was transformed, either on his own or through whatever stylists or designers that were working with him, from t-shirts and baggy jeans to high-end Versace he naturally expected that a lot of other artists would follow his lead, and a lot did. But then when him and Kanye decided to flaunt fashion from relatively unknown designers from Eastern Europe, like Martin Margiela, not everyone followed. Instead, a trend of bright colors and loud fashion was heralded in by everyone from the likes of the New Boyz, Cool Kids and other hipster rappers, who or more or less hijacked inner city style with their skinny jeans and their eighties influences. It didn’t help matters that older individuals like Ron Browz were enabling them to do so.
The problem that I have with all of this is that hip-hop is supposed to be fun. Jay-Z had a lot of fun party songs sprinkled here and there throughout his career, but it feels as though he is trying to rain on their parade by trying to make being dark cool again. Most young kids in their adolescence or as young adults could care less about fashion from Eastern European countries like Germany or Belgium. Likewise, Jay’s work is a contradiction of the same self-affirming, rhetorical lyricism that remain in contrast to the dark themes of the music videos themselves, that often have absolutely nothing to do with the song. In many ways it is still pop music, just a darker, heavier brand, yet pop music still. If Jay truly had a message, like some of the backpackers and conscientious rappers from his time that pop up from time to time, or even Little Brother, I could give him the benefit of the doubt, but he isn’t really offering anything of substance in place of it.
In fact a lot of it reminds me of Soulja Boy’s issues with Ice-T; the later is just as much in the mainstream as the former, but it is just that he is on television and is no longer active as a rapper. It is sort of like Ice-T, who has found a better career in television, when he decides to pick up the microphone and talk about the current state of affairs. A lot of you probably think that I am dumping on Jay-Z, but I am using it to illustrate a deeper point about what I see going on in the community. A lot of the individuals that are complaining about skinny jeans, loud colors, and pastel, effeminate fashions in urban wear aren’t offering any creative alternatives and are busy making noise without giving any real solutions. First off that is just a subset of fashion that people like to say is “metrosexual”, or whatever, that is simply another means of expression, another venue to be fashionable. There are no rights or wrongs in fashion, but rather the entertainment of the rhetoric that often comes with a position of authority in fashion.
In fashion you have leaders and you have followers. Everyone should want to be a leader, but as with everything else in life, you have a lot of people who do not want to think that hard about it and just want to stay current as opposed to getting ahead of the curve. A lot of what we have seen, from anyone, still revolves around the rhetoric that the only way to do anything different is to spend more money. Though I am not that thrilled about the hipster look myself, it appears to be a genuine, anti-fashionable movement that flies in the face of convention. You do not need a lot of money, and a pair of Converse shoes, Levi’s 501s, and a plaid shirt often does the trick.
This goes against the direction of where urbanwear is supposed to be headed. It is original, and it isn’t a look conceived by some fashion corporation or the elite. It definitely is not about labels. If you connect the dots, it would appear that rappers who speak out against the style of these younger kids are working together with the establishment to promote the purchase of expensive European fare again, which these kids have largely abandoned. Kids don’t need to be “hard” or “aggressive”; there is too much of that on the streets as it is. If someone wants to have some fun and just dance and dress and look ridiculous allow them to do so. It isn’t the end of the world; in fact now that the fashion is more imaginative than what we did back in the day there is a small chance that the music can finally push forward as well.
The bottom line, is that the industry is doing everything that it can to suppress genuine artistic expression in the Black culture because they do not want to find themselves in the boat that they used to be in where they could not control the same culture that they wish to exploit. You should expect to continue to see similar attacks from other artists who are supposed to offer something different, but in all reality, are just giving you something that is more in line with what you are accustomed to hearing. The industry itself is just a big game that is waiting to be conquered, and everyone is trying to get to the top and stay at the top. Talking about production techniques and fashion has nothing to do with “real hip-hop”, whatever that means anymore. The days of being that best hip-hop artist are behind us, no one really cares who is the king of which region and who is the best lyricist because the movement has matured, went mainstream, and it really should not matter anymore …