Morphizm Main

Present Tense
David Gedge and The Wedding Present are coming straight outta L.A. on El Rey: MORE

Spaced Out
Jason Pierce has a thing for fire. So together we poured gasoline on Spiritualized: MORE

From slicing up cat dicks to signing up Fonzi, Big Tobacco has pulled some weird science: MORE On the Beach
Dream pop standouts Beach House are catching heat. But can they catch fire live? MORE

Stipe On Speed
R.E.M.'s thrash attack has gone into hyperdrive on the brilliant Accelerate. Stipe tells us the targets: MORE

Slugs 4 Obama!
Atmosphere's When Life Gives You Lemons... is all about the hope. And so is Obama: MORE

I Say God Damn!
What's left unspoken in the Obama flap is this: Has God blessed America recently? MORE Ass Out!
Assy McGee is one hell of a cop from hell. So where are his arms? Our interview explains: MORE

Miss Fortune
China's Olympic intrigue has reached critical mass. Who says politics and sports don't mix? MORE

Nirvana's Son
Kurt Cobain: About a Son is out on DVD. Its peek into bipolar stardom is still hard to watch: MORE

Boxing legend Joe Louis gave body and soul to God and country. Did they repay the favor? MORE

Those in need of war films are scoping the wrong Oscar bait. Try the Dark Side: MORE

Pro Choice
Clinton or Obama? Good question. Now, all you have to do is answer it, and wisely: MORE

In Cold Blood
Rick Geary creates comics that paraphrase history without passion. Our interview explains: MORE

RIP, Prof
Kashmere pioneer Conrad Johnson has passed. But his upstart funk still lives on: MORE

Past Proust
Adapting one of canon lit's most knotted yarns into a comic just might work. Wait, it did: MORE

The housing collapse is a failure of white-collar proportions. Klein saw it coming: MORE

Trash It!
Is your home worth less than your mortgage? Then walk away, baby. Just walk away: MORE

Dystopia Drift
Unembedded journo Dahr Jamail has seen Beyond the Green Zone. And it's looking ugly: MORE

Best of 2007
El-P's I'll Sleep When You're Dead was the most brutally honest music of the year: MORE

Fed Up
Bernanke's rate cuts won't stop the bleeding. It will just cover up the tracks. Thanks, Greenspan! MORE

Beat This!
Ike Turner has passed on. But Morphizm's last interface with the funk maestro never will: MORE

Karl Rove now says Congress rushed Bush into war with Saddam. Revise your textbooks! MORE

Shop or Die
The Kubler-Ross Model works for death, but it also works for the mall. Even around the Bratz: MORE

The Fixer
Gordon Brown is a go-to guy if you're a lobbyist. Or a fan of Rupert Murdoch: MORE

Guns, Green?
The market has spoken, says Naomi Klein. And it wants bullets rather than renweables: MORE

Pak Attack!
Musharraf may be Bush's nightmare, but he started out as Clinton's daydream: MORE

From pain rays and flying cars to innovations to save our sorry hides from climate change, tomorrow science is here today: MORE

Not a Moralist
The Serbian photographer Boogie has seen his fair share of the global underworld. Good thing he took pictures: MORE

Party's Over
Serj Tankian's debut solo effort Elect the Dead says civilization is over. So why is he smiling? Our interview explains: MORE

The Perv
Pakistan dictator Pervez Musharraf has declared martial law and suspended the constitution. Who's surprised? MORE

God is Bond
Barry Bonds isn't the only sports superstar who points to the Man Upstairs when he scores. Piety has gone viral: MORE

From plunging dollars to skyrocketing oil, the hyperreal American economy is due for a real-time ass-kicking: MORE

Pin is Back
It's been a long time since the stunning Summer in Abaddon. Good thing Autumn of the Seraphs is on the way: MORE

Ignore Nothing
Indie-hop titan El-P's newest epic I'll Sleep When You're Dead is filled with biohazardous truth. So is he: MORE

Sicko 'Em!
Whatever. Michael Moore's new movie on the corrupt American healthcare system is good for you: MORE

Water For War
If you think the clusterfuck for oil is scary, just wait until we're more worried about H2O than CO2: MORE

Altered States
Don't know much about global warming? Keep it that way. Trust us, you don't wanna know more than that: MORE

Pelican Echoes
If you think wordless metal can bring noise but not brains, we talked to a band that wants to talk to you: MORE

Rasputina has finally embraced the War on Terror in Oh Perilous World. What took so long? We asked: MORE

Osama's Diary
It's a stone cold Morphizm classic. And it will still make you cry. Almost as if it was real. Really: MORE

Slice and Dice
Cake blew up with a cover song, but they're even better at blasting "War Pigs." Our interview explains: MORE

Gaza Lab
Israel. Hamas. Fatah. What the? Gaza is looking less like a prison and more like a petri dish every day: MORE

Fronts in the War on Terror are shifting. Which means Canada's oil sands are up next for a global warming: MORE

Crow's Nuts
The indie Tony Millionaire strip Maakies is at last making the legit jump to Adult Swim. Bottoms up, sailor: MORE

Vulture Funds
You've got to get in on this one. You buy $5 million in Third World debt relief, then sue for $50 million. Suckers buy it every time: MORE

DIY or Die
Art-punk corn dogs The Minutemen were brazen heroes. It's about fucking time someone gave them a biopic: MORE

Not a Slave
300 director Zack Snyder may be a friend to CGI, but he knows when to leave it alone. Our interview explains: MORE

Physics of Iraq
What goes up must come down and what gets jacked must come back. Ask the British. While you're at it, go ask Icarus: MORE

A Bit Awkward
The Pixies' doc loudQUIETloud captured the band selling out stadiums and ignoring each other. Our interview explains: MORE

Total Chaos
According to our interview with journo and author Jeff Chang, the hip-hop arts movement is far from dead: MORE

Get Truthy!
Stephen Colbert's vivisection of the stoopid Republican machine is an example of linguistics at its ballsiest. Suck on it: MORE

Cry Wolfie
Let's not drink the Kool-Aid. The World Bank was fucked up long before fuckup Paul Wolfowitz took over: MORE

Object: War
Our hyperreal narrative in Iraq is in search of an ending. Will the American people write one before it's too late? MORE

Good Machines
In these liner notes excerpts from his compilation Fuzzy Warbles, XTC architect Andy Partridge's love of tech goes haywire: MORE

Torture Works
Is it just us? Or is the tight-lipped Bush administration's call to torture for information more than ironic? Hey, wait: MORE

Go Fuck Yourselves
President Bush's speech on the war's escalation revealed much. Including how little he cares about...well, everyone: MORE

"How My Brain Works"
From sci-fi to hip-hop, Michel Gondry has a gift for visual invention. And we have a lot of questions for him: MORE

When PNAC Attacks!
Get to know your well-heeled presidential family and other comb-lickers in this excerpt from Fanta's comic Bush Junta: MORE

I'm the Distorter
Sure, the Democrats may have taken over Congress, but the Bush administration hasn't blinked on Iraq. And it never will: MORE

Trial of Trials
Jose Padilla was once a terrorist. Now he's putting U.S. torture policy on trial. Only in America: MORE

Garrison State
Muslims rioting. Americans killing. Too bad no one's made a film called Why We Fight. Wait, Eugene Jarecki has! MORE

"The smell of damp earth that hangs over Guilin will surrender, and join the cosmopolis cropping up along the Li:" MORE

"In the cinematic fashion of the dying antihero, I expired while reading the stars. Coordinates on a grid of contested terrain": MORE

Fanta Goes Beastly
A comics powerhouse compiles a massive tome on our collective nightmares. Vampire and Harpy haters beware: MORE

Shit Happens. Real Fast.
In our continuing exegesis on exponology, China explodes and Antarctica's demise accelerates: MORE

The planet is heating at an exponential rate. But what is the exponent, and who are the people spinning it? Enter Morphizm's formative science, awaiting your learned modification: MORE

Panther Power
Fuck Hoover's race paranoia. The Black Panthers have survived, from Marvel comics to hip-hop to a loud ass protest near you: MORE

Surfing With Rosa
In honor of the Pixies doc, Morphizm pays homage to their Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim split, an enduring classic: MORE

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Nas, LA Times Agree: Hip-Hop is Dead

[Andy Hermann checks in once again from Blogger's Banquet with a rant on the so-called imminent demise of hip-hop, the most played-out marketing move the music genre has ever generated in hopes of avoiding the obvious: Most of it, like everything else, sucks ass.]

The Los Angeles Times published an article today joining a growing chorus of doomsayers, ready to declare that rap is dead. The impetus for this article? The fact that no rap acts were nominated in any of this year's major Grammy categories. Hmm... so, wait, by that criteria, does that mean that emo and dance-rock are dead, too? Thank God! Cuz those genres sucked big time.

Seriously, though, the LA Times does raise a valid point, even though they wrongheadedly cite the Grammys -- which remain totally irrelevant to any significant trends in popular music -- as evidence. The same article goes on to note that only one "rap" album (as opposed to "hip-hop" albums, which might arguably include crossover records like Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere that feature hip-hop beats but very little actual rapping) was among the year's 20 best-selling titles, and that was from T.I., who is hardly one of rap's giants, no matter how much he campaigns to become one (dropping subtle hints like calling his album King, for example). They even got an editor for hip-hop mag XXL to say, "Our problem now is finding enough albums that are worthy of being reviewed." Truly, dark times have befallen us, indeed.

Now, with perfect timing, we even have one of rap's elder statesmen, New York "Illmatic" legend Nas, releasing an album called Hip-Hop is Dead. Never mind that it's a hip-hop album -- Nas' point is that he's old-school and can do whatever the hell he wants, while today's younger generation of rappers have brought nothing new to the table. "It used to be fresh and original," he opined to the Times. "But that day is gone."

So is it true? Is hip-hop dead? Are you kidding me? Why are we even having this conversation?

It's true, none of this year's major hip-hop releases have performed up to expectations -- but guess what? None of the industry's blockbuster releases performed up to expectations in 2006. It was a crappy year across the board, the latest in a continuing downward slide as people buy fewer and fewer albums and turn their attention to downloading ringtones and -- let's face it -- swapping files illegally with their buddies. Relatively speaking, hip-hop did okay in 2006 -- it spawned #1 albums from T.I., Busta Rhymes, Juvenile, Jay-Z, The Game, Diddy, Ludacris. Even Rick freakin' Ross had a #1 album -- not on the strength of a hit single (he didn't have one) or a big rep (it was his debut album), but because he had a hit ringtone, "Hustlin'." I'm sorry, but any genre of music that can sell over a million ringtones, at two bucks a pop, of a song that stiffs at radio is a far cry from dead.

But commercial success aside, there were plenty of signs in 2006 that hip-hop is alive and well and just in need of a slight attitude adjustment if it hopes to follow in the footsteps of rock and survive into a healthy middle period. Veteran acts like The Roots and Clipse released solid, critically acclaimed albums; newcomers like Lupe Fiasco (a skateboarding black Muslim from Chicago) and Lady Sovereign (a wisecracking white chick from London) brought fresh ideas and sounds to the genre. Even OutKast's much-maligned Idlewild soundtrack was hardly the train wreck it was made out to be; it was scattershot, yes, but it was filled with interesting ideas, including several that actually worked (compressing 60 years of black American music into a single song on the Cab Calloway-inspired "Mighty O," for one thing).

So why all this talk of hip-hop being dead, or at the very least, stagnant? Because this year, most of rap's big guns were either silent (50 Cent, Eminem, Kanye) or putting out records that were varying degrees of crappy and/or commercially disappointing (Jay-Z, Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, the aforementioned OutKast). There also weren't any new big guns added to the genre this year -- arguably, there hasn't been a major new force in rap since Kanye West, and he's universally considered to be a fair-to-middling rapper at best, more widely acclaimed for his skills as a producer and egomaniacal grandstander (and yes, in hip-hop, that's a valuable talent) than as a true poet of the street, which is what all great rappers are, or aspire to be.

Pundits love to write off entire segments of our popular culture when they go for more than a year or two without producing a new savior -- just ask rock, which gets declared dead at least once every two or three years -- but I think in the case of hip-hop, there's a larger issue at work. For all its talk of seeking innovation or "taking it to another level," the truth is that hip-hop remains deeply mired in its own self-mythology and its own narrowly defined set of rules. Hip-hop has to be "hard," it has to be "from the streets"; it's about beats, not melody, about sampling and reconstituting music, not composing it from scratch. Above all, it has to be built around its vocal component, rapping, and the basic motifs to which all rappers return -- boasts, disses, clever analogies. Anything that strays too far from these conventions is immediately maligned as inauthentic. And if anything really kills hip-hop, it will be this obsession with "authenticity," however it's defined.

Think about it: Rock fans may argue over the validity of a given sub-genre, but rarely will they try to discredit any artist as even qualifying as "rock" in the first place (okay, James Blunt may be an exception). You may hate emo, but you would never say, "Fall Out Boy isn't a rock band." You may not like music that's not sung in English, but you wouldn't begrudge the Swedes their death metal, or the Mexicans their "roc en espanol." Rock 'n' roll has become a universal form of popular music with a hundred different sub-genres -- but those sub-genres all more or less happily co-exist with one another, and even keep one another's gene pools healthy by regularly cross-breeding (pop-punk, prog metal, blues-rock, etc., etc.).

In hip-hop, it's exactly the opposite. Fans gotta "represent" -- the "tru schoolers" hate that ghetto crunk shit, the "gangstas" think Kanye and his pastel sweaters aren't "street" enough. And everybody thinks anything produced outside the United States is phony to the core.

But if you deny all innovation -- if you dismiss every fresh perspective and every attempt to do something new as somehow "inauthentic" -- then of course, you'll eventually find yourself saying, as Nas does, "It used to be fresh and original.... But that day is gone." Because you'll spend your life walking around saying, as I hear from hardcore hip-hop fans all the time, "[fill in the blank] isn't real hip-hop."

But as far as I'm concerned... if k-os isn't real hip-hop; if Sage Francis isn't real hip-hop; if The Coup and Colossus and Lyrics Born and MF Doom and even Mos fuckin' Def and The muthafuckin' Roots aren't real hip-hop (and yes, I've heard it argued... because they play live instruments, see, and that ain't "authentic")... then yes, hip-hop is probably dead. Even if it starts winning Grammys and selling records again, it will eventually be a museum-piece, stuffed-and-mounted, lame imitation of its former self, like Chicago blues and big band jazz. Then it can start smug little preservation societies to keep its dying traditions alive, while the rest of the world moves on to reggaetronica or alt-klezmer or whatever the new trend is in 50 years. And if that's what the Nases of the world want, then I guess they can go right on proclaiming the death of hip-hop. But if you ask me, the reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.


Blogger karmil said...

great article... it's simply that the corporations controlling the media choose to push this incredibly narrow bandwidth of music forward as hip hop, when if you really look of the attitude and output of people like sage francis, madlib etc etc then 'real' hip hop is alive and well. It's just not squeaky clean enough and has too much depth / difficult questions for the commercial interests of mainstream media. Add that to the ridiculous state that copyright / sampling law is in and you can see why we are where we are.. do you imagine that an album like 3 feet high and rising or paul's boutique could be made today ?

5:14 AM  

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