I got 99 problems...but a B ain't one....and other satire

So I've finally been persuaded to read "Decoded" the Jay-z book that came out last year. First of all let me tell you why I wasn't running to grab this, I actually listen to rap and the lyrics already so in my mind, listening to a dude explain what should be self-explanatory if you're paying attention bothers me. Secondly, I understand that everyone doesn't know that much about the culture, about the hood etc, and this book is going to be more of an explanation for them than it is for myself. From what i was told before there are things I have a problem with but there is also some inspiration for blog topics so I am thankful for that.

One of these is a topic I've hit on before that and that is the use of satire and sarcasm in hip-hop as a means of getting a point across. See there are quite a few people especially in earlier hip-hop who sort of admit to embellishing and going to the next level to make a point. N.W. A. readily comes to mind as a group who was so abrasive-on purpose- to try and expose or bring to light the life of inner city L.A. . You were supposed to fear them, then question just exactly why you had that fear.

Looking back at it, all that happened was to expose the disconnect between the streets and people in it, and the leaders and politicians of that era. While denouncing the music and the message, no one ever thought to do something to keep more people from emulating the group, and emulate they did whereas now no one knows if the art is imitating the street or if the street is imitating the art at this point. That's not to say that NWA was the real life CB4 (though there are some similarities), but their entire point was missed.

My premise, if you haven't determined it by now, is that hip-hop or rap music is not the medium for this type of communication. Hip-hop communication must be straight forward, or the masses will totally miss the entire concept. Am I saying that listeners of hip-hop are stupid? Not really, although by default, some are because stupid people are everywhere. However, they are not trained to look for it and be able to trace to true story to be told. Some don't want nor care and that too is for different reasons. Some look to these songs to legitimize their own lives and thus aren't going to look for the satire or anything that might imply what they do isn't the 'correct' way to proceed. While others, choose to treat art as if it isn't a way of communication of true societal ills and hang on to the idea that 'it's just music and it doesn't have any influence over me'.

Going back to Jay-z and the song "99 Problems", it was written to be tongue and cheek and fan the flames of those who criticized his language and treatment of women through his music. Now on the one hand it's smart, a good idea. But looking deeper, if there is a person or group of people who don't understand what your point is when you say it straightforward, then how would they be able to understand satire or sarcasm? The entire idea doesn't make sense. Even worse, this song isn't even that much of a satire, especially after reading the book and seeing how much of it is actually based upon real life events.

Much like Sacha Baron Cohen who has gotten plenty of heat from movies such as "Borat" , "Bruno", and "Ali G", people who most need to understand and discern humor or embellishment from the truth are the ones who are the least able to see it. most of the time, it is because they feel as though they were being picked on because the images remind them of themselves and it would hurt their pride to laugh at it and look inward in order to make changes. So if you already sell dope, looking at NWA or any other rapper who has this image that is so huge and preposterous that it cannot be true, you're not going to look at yourself and say maybe what I do is crazy I should change. What happens is that it becomes a validation of the way you act and further serves to promote your agenda.

Look at what has changed since the NWA era. The hood is still the hood, gangs have spread further and gotten worse, and rappers have simplified their lyrics and lost all of the social commentary while doubling up on the violent content and the expressions of love for the hustling lifestyle and its rewards without equal light shed on its negative consequences. Artists like Jeezy, Gucci, and Wacka all are in the same place as NWA in the 90's. Then artists who become successful without any connection to gang life, decide to further gain credibility to start repping for that culture although there is no reason to do so.

So to wrap things up neatly, and allow for some better comments and replies on what you guys think about this, I'll say that, in hip-hop, being straight forward and to the point is the only real way to get your point across.  While we would love to have people understand more complex concepts and difficult rhymes, the best way to make a point is to just say what you mean and not give others the opportunity to misinterpret.


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