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hip hop appreciation

Instead of giving you faithful readers another lovely album review, I decided to write about something that’s been on my mind since Saturday night. It is partly spawned by watching a ridiculous amount of Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” video, listening to soul music at work, my roommate buying me Stevie Wonder on vinyl, paying more attention to what people listen to on the subway and/or a combination of all these things, but this week I want to talk about hip-hop.

As you may or may not know, I just moved to Williamsburg in September. I have, needless to say, met a ton of hipsters, musicians, artists, baristas, thrift superstars, et cetera. However, I have noticed one thing I wasn’t expecting: there is an undeniable hip-hop culture here; it is ironically underground now because of the gentrification, but let us not forget where we are: Brooklyn, and it is kind of a birthplace of this genre. It’s strange now that how we used to define the area has been pushed back underground as hipsters came in and took over, but there are little bits and pieces of hip-hop culture everywhere you look in Williamsburg.

As Jay-Z so eloquently put it:
When you first come in the game, they try to play you
Then you drop a couple of hits, look how they wave to you
From Marcy to Madison Square

This is a perfect metaphor for how it feels when you finally become popular after revealing your talent. Marcy is a stop on the JMZ subway line, which is well-known to be the transportation pulse to the most dangerous area in Brooklyn. Madison Square, or Madison Square Garden, is one of the biggest venues in Manhattan, full of tourists and only there for high-priced entertainment – clearly the opposite of the ghetto Jay implies with “Marcy”.

While on my commute to work I take the L to Penn Station (which sits underneath MSG) everyday, I live only fifteen minutes away from what Jay-Z is talking about. The proximity to hip-hop has its effects, even on the strictest hipsters I’ve ever seen. From the few times I’ve been out in Williamsburg, I see that people don’t just want to hear Arcade Fire, they also are interested in old school hip-hop and r&b jams from the 00s.

This past weekend, I went to my favorite neighborhood bar because a few friends were in town. We had a good time because there are a lot of things that make the place fun – cheap prices, good music, a taquería in the back and a huge outdoor patio – but we got bored of the whole “I’m cooler than you bitch” vibe that rules Williamsburg. After the third musician came up to me and struck up the same conversation, we decided to go this “dance party”, which we expected to be mainly techno or electronic music because it really is the land of the skinny jean. We got to the bar, where I had previously seen stand-up comedy, and were immediately thrown into a hardcore rap dance party. There were probably 100 people there and only thirty ‘getting down’, but we loved it.

First, I thought we loved every second because it was such a break from the judgment, the lifestyle and the ideas that seem to seep out of Bedford Avenue.  But as we stayed longer, I realized that it really because we love hip-hop. Not the pop music that clogs the radio (although Drake, I see you), but true hip-hop: clever, catchy music that borrows hooks and choruses from Motown songs and explores word-play and freestyling in the same way a poet frantically tries to write down a good piece of work or an artist violently creates his or her masterpieces.

A guy came up to me on Saturday night, presumably because he thought it was funny that my friend and I were so into the scene. After talking for a few minutes, he was surprised when I actually knew what I was talking about. I like talent; it’s what I’m attracted to. It doesn’t matter if it’s Lady Gaga or Band of Horses, I love all music that exhibits signs of talent. I think that if you cut off what you listen to because of genre ideas or because it doesn’t make sense with an image you’re trying to maintain, you’re as ignorant the guy at the party who argues with others that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. In our digital age, there is SO MUCH product out there for us to consume – why not indulge in a little of everything?

Once, of my professors once made a backwards inference that my deep, unending love for Jay-Z was racist in nature. He made this comment after I had revealed two key things about my personality: first, that I celebrate Jay-Z’s birthday (December 4) as if it was a real-life friend’s and second, that the first death I remember outside my own family was that of Notorious B.I.G. My professor was (is) a radical man, but his point really struck home with me – I had to wonder what the love was born of. He made the joke that I probably drove around campus blasting heavy rap in my SUV and people were surprised that I was A) a girl and B) white, which I thought made me special. That’s probably 60% true, but after overanalysing this for a while, I determined that I’d blast Radiohead or Led Zeppelin just as loudly if the mood struck. I’m just an attention-seeking arsehole I guess?

Anyway, these feelings all came up in this sort of catharsis I was experiencing on the dance floor. People were EXPECTING me to listen to a certain type of music and not know anything else about anything because I’m a white girl that lives in Williamsburg. That generalisation probably does apply to the majority of people who live here, but I’m being as objective as humanly possible when I say that it doesn’t to me. And even if I’m being short-sighted and the stereotype really does apply to me, how can someone I’ve just met be able to tell me what I do and do not truthfully enjoy? I get so angry about that – how angry rap is, how intense it is in every way – that it motivates me to keep listening so I know my shit.

After even more overanalysing the following Saturday night, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe I’m clinging onto this idea of loving hip-hop as a defense against letting hipster culture totally take me over. That might be just as bad. But that’s another story.

Bottom line: listen to more hip-hop. It’s worth it. Don’t rule out the unfamiliar.

(Image credits: 1.)

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