Guest post: Eric Wilson (MAPH 2011), who blogs at The Spirit of Space.
Taking the title of this post from a song off of Port Arthur, Texas’s own UGK (Pimp C & Bun B) album titled Underground Kingz, I have in mind rappers from the South (UGK =
Houston (Chewston), Texas; Lil’ Wayne = New Orleans, Louisiana; Project Pat/Three 6 Mafia = Memphis, Tennessee (Tennekee); Clipse = Virginia Beach, Virginia). I come hoping in a sense to enlighten (excuse me as I add yet another joke about the material that we’ve been reading).
I don’t want to stand here (as a digital avatar) and preach that I am an expert on
Southern rap music or possess an exhaustive knowledge of the complete history
of rap (for that history lesson see Can’t Stop Won’t Stop). To quote Quit Hatin’
the South as a means of defending my lack of a claim to exhaustive knowledge: “There’s some trash in the south, I promise you/from the east to the west, some of y’all [rappers are] garbage too.” I have not heard it all and, in a way, I don’t want to; I cherry pick, though I prefer to call it bricolage.
Lyrics, licit and otherwise, after the jump…
But for the last year, as I listened and re-listened (and re-listened) to some of
these songs, I felt like they called out in their own language – with their own
metaphysical system (order of things, as it were). There is an internal logic, and
my (continued) goal is to investigate that logic.
Yes, this music can be uncomfortable. There is rampant homophobia, misogyny,
promotion of illicit activity: from activities that in some states seem only marginally illegal (smoking pot), to the not-even-close-to-being-legalized (regularly drinking promethazine [‘purple,’ ‘syrup’] whilst operating vehicular units. Clearly not safe). Not to mention the persistent presence of guns, assault and murder.
I clearly do not condone these things, and honestly, part of my interest in this music comes from a feeling of distance from them. The challenge to myself has been to see beyond, or rather to contextualize, those things, to see in what way they work together with other pieces of the music, discussions of employment, external (social) and internal (individual) pressures, etc. to paint a portrait of American life that exists simultaneously with mine. As I clearly don’t represent my life in this way, nor have I had to experience 95% of what they are discussing, I do wonder what it must be like to have experienced it.
Music is indispensible for someone who is attempting to understand the complicated fabric of American society. And this is my interest. As a demonstration of the pervasiveness of this music, I’d point out first track off of Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals, Play Your Part (Pt. 1) [explicit, NSFW], which opens with Pimp C’s verse from the song “International Players Anthem.” Whereas Girl Talk disseminates these rappers and their music by co-opting for musical purposes, I want to do the same, but co-opting it for social theory, hence why I’m at MAPH…Questions/comments, bring ‘em. But try to enjoy the music.