Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.
As such, we're reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop's current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the "we" in question is myself, Omar Burgess and Andre Grant. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX's Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here are this week's "Stray Shots."
Do Ice Cube Fans Have A Legit Gripe Against "Drop Girl?"
Omar: Ice Cube has a curious relationship with his fans. If you wanted to, I think you can make a solid argument for Cube being one of Hip Hop's top 10 emcees of all time. From his N.W.A days through a solo catalogue featuring AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and Death Certificate, there's an unprecedented run of social commentary, impeccable technical delivery and just raw talent. But as one of the godfathers of Gangsta Rap, there is a contingent of Cube's fans who only want that element from him. There was a backlash when Cube began writing, acting and directing, and there's been a similar backlash any time Cube attempts to make a crossover hit. I think it happened with "We Be Clubbin'" and to a lesser degree when The Boondocks character Riley Freeman referred to Ice Cube as "that dude that makes family movies." There have been various moments from 1993's Lethal Injection through 2000's War & Peace series where fans have felt Cube strayed from the path. But while he's always been an ambassador for Hip Hop, he's never felt Hip Hop singularly defined him.
And he's correct. "Drop Girl" is no more egregious than "It's The Holidaze" or "She Couldn't Make It On Her Own." What is troubling is Cube's rationale for enlisting 2 Chainz and LMFAO member Redfoo for a single that also doubles as a Beats commercial.
"When you see your girl dance to this shit, you'll love me again," Cube quips in an Instagram video to his hardcore fans upset with the single. For someone who has been such an innovator, it's somewhat understandable why Ice Cube's fans get so salty when he releases formulaic music. Equally troubling is his age-old music industry rationale that female fans will instantly gravitate toward anything simple and rhythmic that also objectifies them. It holds true for 2000's "You Can Do It," (an equally meh booty anthem) which peaked at the #35 spot on Billboard magazine's "Hot 100" chart during a 12-week stint. But maybe Ice Cube is selling his female fans short (and low key insulting them). It's hard to imagine women not loving hit singles such as "Pushin' Weight" and "It Was A Good Day." The millions of people buying those albums and singles couldn't have all been men, right? Speaking of women, here's one last fun fact. How would Ice Cube connect with the guys who made "Party Rockin' Anthem" anyway? Doesn't it seem like a weird fit? A quick Google search on Redfoo's mother, one Nancy Leiviska, reveals that in addition to being credited as a writer, director and miscellaneous crew member, she is also listed as Ice Cube's assistant on several Cube Vision films such as Are We There Yet and xXx: State Of The Union. But that's none of my business though.
Andre: I don't quite know what to make of Ice Cube's "Drop Girl." It's not.. terrible, right? Like we all danced to those atrocious but great LMFAO joints in the past with no problem. I guess it just feels weird listening to this stuff when the lights are on and there's no whiskey swimming in me. Which is fine. I also appreciate the outrage. Ice Cube is an institution, and lands squarely within the elite cache of artists whose older output actually ages pretty gracefully. Someone even went out of their way to calculate what day Cube's "Good Day" was, much to the delight of the Intertubes. Now that's dedication. But it also may be slightly unwarranted. Sure, "Drop Girl" is an almost complete departure from Cube's original hardcore aesthetic, but if you haven't noticed, he's been going away from that aesthetic for a while now. And while once Ice Cube stood firmly on the outside of a larger culture he admonished for not recognizing his presence, the tables have turned. He's now one of the most recognizable faces in all of pop culture not only Hip Hop. And as this thing continues to define the Internet age, letting our artists evolve with the culture is part of our job as fans. We're dedicated to this Hip Hop thing for good or ill. It feels like ours, but it's not ours alone. We share it. That's why these things matter to us, why authenticity still matters, though as Hip Hop grows it matters more and more that we let the definition of authenticity grow within the culture, unless we want it to be defined by those who don't wish to understand it. Is Cube a sellout for making a song about women making that "ass drop?" No, of course not. Letting someone talk you into sampling yourself, however, is another thing entirely.
Has "Non Lyrical" French Montana Become An A-Lister?
Omar: Angie Martinez has moved to Power 105.1, but she might want to borrow her former co-worker's "Flex Bomb" sound effect. Martinez's most recent interview was with French Montana, and there were plenty of bomb-worthy quotes. It's crazy to even type that, because I distinctly remember French as an afterthought. I figured he was a dude who couldn't rap and just happened to be a cohort of Max B (another dude who I didn't think could rap and was a cohort of noted non-rapper Jim Jones). But the guy from those hood DVDs demonstrated the upward mobility of Hip Hop when he linked up with Rick Ross and Puff Daddy and scored a #4 SoundScan debut (56,000 first week sales) with 2013's Excuse My French. Going from a WorldStarHipHop afterthought to a guy with the top Rap album in the country would have made for a happy ending. Except it's not over.
French has soared in mainstream popularity after dating Khloe Kardashian. And if his comments to Martinez are to be believed, he's going to wait until his lead single drops to begin milking the newfound popularity. And that's really what French is all about right now. In a statement that was just begging for a Flex Bomb, French deadpanned, "All the lyrical rappers that I know is broke." At which point, he professed his love for the single "Shmoney Dance." Why does any of this matter? Because the other high-profile Hip Hop artist who is linked to a Kardashian, is hell bent on breaking the barriers between high and low culture. Kanye West is comparing Kim Kardashian to acclaimed director Steve McQueen and making concerted efforts to "raise the communication" by placing reality television contributors in the same room with people like Jawbone co-founder Hosain Rahman. I'm not sure if it's the proximity of supposed family ties or a case of West putting his money where his mouth is, but now Yeezy has connected with French for at least five songs and may co-executive produce the Coke Boy's upcoming project. Think about that. French went from hood bodega DVDs, to a Max B affiliate to the guy with the country's top Rap album. Now he's a socialite, and he's rubbing elbows with Kris Jenner, Sean Combs and Kanye West. The ability to totally change your career trajectory in Hip Hop is amazing, especially considering even by his own admission that French is not a technically proficient rapper at all. But hey, at one point Kanye West was ghost producing for Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie, Sean Combs was an intern for Andre Harrell and Rick Ross was a former football player turned correctional officer. In America, you don't have to be particularly good at anything other than reinventing yourself and being popular to achieve success. There is no high culture, and there is no low culture. God bless America (*drops Flex Bomb*).
Andre: "All the lyrical rappers I know is broke," French Montana said. And there, shoved in right under our noses is a particularly glimmering kernel of truth. Not "only moderately successful." Not "not really represented on the radio." Broke, like the way your pockets caved in as a teen when you realized you could ask for money, but it would hurt something more than pride if you did. We're not saying lyrics are the end all, be all of Hip Hop culture. There are a myriad cultural milieus orbiting the Hip Hop universe. No one style will most likely ever completely conquer the space.
But is he right? Even with Kanye seemingly executive producing his album?
"Lyrical" has come to take on a connotation in Hip Hop today that's unprecedented in the culture. In a war of words, it has become the six shooter whose flag rolls out instead of something lethal and the thing says, "Bang!" At least within the mainstream music industry that sells downloads, streams, and CDs. It usually gives way in conversation or editorial to words like "musicality," "infectious," and "catchy" and implies that you've focused too much on the mechanics and not so much the soul of the thing. Which is the music, right? Notes strung together to make you dance, forget, cajole, or whatever in some darkness somewhere in some city or a barn out in some backwood. Of course, we wouldn't have Hip Hop without Funk and Soul as Cube recently mentioned as the James Brown biopic looms. But being "lyrical," however, seems to have aged a bit. It's turned into some sort of an academic thing. A separate niche part of the grand whole that is Hip Hop, and thus emcees can now fall into the camp of "lyrical" in much the same way you know a man who is "book smart" but not "street smart." It's fascinating to watch things grow in this way. Especially considering that French is on the iconic Bad Boy label where Sean "Puffy" Combs helped the lead the charge away from the lyricism of the late 1980s into the turn up era. And I want to make it clear that I'm not drawing lines here. Just that they're becoming more defined in certain places and frayed in others. It all came crashing down on me when he dropped that jewel. So that's why Troy Ave. can say that Kendrick Lamar is a "weirdo" and that's why we can all get upset when GKMC loses a Grammy to what amounts to what felt like carefully chosen platitudes over complex narratives. It's that narrative itself has become a sidebar. Separate but equal to the music itself. There's nothing wrong with this. Things are cyclical and this grand mosaic is a concentration of energies crashing into each other. I'm also not saying I prefer someone be "lyrical" or fun. Frankly, I'd like them to be both lyrical and fun. But it doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. But it's interesting to note that being "lyrical" may now make you a past leaning conservative within the dynamics of Hip Hop.
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter@omarburgess.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant who's contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Senior Features Writer for HipHopDX. He's also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter@drejones.