Jay-Z vs. Nas: A Perspective From 1933

A bona fide and even passive hip-hop fan may encounter  a time (or numerous times) when their dogged opinions rattle their consciousness as they seek both entertainment and enlightenment. The tension of firming up your musical identity sways you partisan as you pick a side on not one but two fronts, intellectual and emotional fancies. My childhood bias for Nas has transitioned into adulthood and I have to negotiate emotions and facts. When we evaluate artists and their work, there is a shaky foundation of objectivity. Outside of record sales or syllable counts there are no statistics to assess, and your interpretations sprout from your unique experiences: you heard a song, you read a book, and maybe smelled a distinctive scent while simultaneously doing both. Recently I succumbed to a spell of hip-hop piety, deference to “Gnozir the Gawd” at the expense of ridiculing Jay-Z, as a result of reading Carter G. Woodson’s The Miseducation of the Negro. One excerpt from it compelled me to call on Jay-Z and Nas’ feud from 2001, with some insight from 68 years prior, and forced me to examine their contemporary presence.  So, I threw this together with some help from Carter G.

Excerpt from Carter G. Woodson's The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933).

Text excerpt from Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933).

Black_History

“Play up before the Negro his crimes and shortcomings”

Rappers  have emphasized crime, its effects, and their own involvement in everything from robbery, homicides, and drug peddling for quite some time. Though there are plenty of rappers who claim to have done the latter, Jay-Z almost seems to be praised for leveraging such a lifestyle to fund a self-made business, garnering artistic and economic success. Now, I’m not completely knocking him for this because surely there are plenty of other non-African-American businessmen who have done the same and to me it sure does beat a messy and perhaps inaccessible bank loan. But it almost seems like the public respects him (outside of artistry) that much much more because of a shady past turned starburst. Nas, or “Nas Escobar,” depending on which of his albums you’re listening to, is certainly not exempt from the drug talk. I just don’t think he has highlighted criminal activity from an autobiographical perspective in the way Jay-Z has. And the public perception of Nas seems far from even defaulting him as a criminal in the same way. Much less do we interpret his past life as using criminality, in part, to catapult himself into mainstream music (see Roc-A-Fella Records).

“Let him learn to admire the Hebrew, the Greek, and the Latin and the Teuton”

I’m presupposing that Jay-Z thought naming his latest album after two random historical artifacts somehow puts it on par with their significance.  What remote relationship do Jay-Z, the Magna Carta, and the Holy Grail even share? But I get it, “Magna Carta” and “Holy Grail” make the product seem more prominent and what in America could be more revered and accepted than Greco-Roman culture when you want to exude a legendary feel?  He may as well have thrown in the Rosetta Stone for good measure. At least that  would acknowledge ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and thereby some extent of “Africanness.” Nas1.0.0.0x0.344x344

“Before we came to this country we were kings and queens, never porch monkeys. There was empires in Africa called Kush, Timbuktu, where every race came to get books. To learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans, Asian Arabs and gave them gold when gold was converted to money it all changed, money then became empowerment for Europeans. The Persian military invaded, they heard about the gold, the teachings, and everything sacred. Africa was almost robbed naked, slavery was money, so they began making slave ships. Egypt was the place that Alexander the Great went. He was so shocked at the mountains with black faces. Shot up they nose to impose what basically still goes on today, you see?” – Nas. “I Can.” God’s Son.

gettyraj-9

Now ask yourself, where does your fidelity to art’s “sound” representation of history lie? Is Jay-Z miseducated? If he admits it, will we ever get an album cover that looks like this?

But then irony rears its head as we’re reminded of what can be construed as either profane and audacious for the purpose of publicity or social awareness advocation. Both artists, due to art’s sheer subjectivity, can and will endure their share of condemnation. Yet it all seriousness, pitting two men against each other while criticizing one or both hardly results to anything constructive. The chasm is a playground for a long storied matchup that, in this context, is no more than mere banter.

“Project Rapprochement.” Click the .GIF.

And just for kicks… jayz

Nas wins.

Queens Get the Grapes

“Yo, my mind is seein through your design like blind fury. I shine jewelry, sippin on crushed grapes, we lust papes.”

Hip Hop’s Mr. West and the Mr. West of Hip Hop

Twelve years ago marks the mainstream emergence of Kanye West, a then blossoming producer renowned for his work on Jay-Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia and The Blueprint. He debuted in 2004 with the groundbreaking album, College Dropout. Kanye creatively underscored a perspective to which common consumers could relate. His style and content reflected a hip-hop eccentric and painted typical challenges and experiences: withdrawal from college, monotonous retail employment, early financial woes, a horseshoe toss to fatality and a work ethic that progressively packaged it all into triumph.

Kanye West ft. GLC and Consequence- “Spaceship” (prod. by Kanye West) | College Dropout | 2003

While West may be recognized as a trailblazing pioneer of music, and few in entertainment match his commercial success, he is not the only hip-hop act with such a coordinate footpath. On the surface and to the layperson Venice Beach emcee and producer, Evidence, may seem like Kanye’s musical antipode.

Kanye West, an African-American Chicago native, has reached star status perhaps appearing larger than life. Evidence, or Michael Perretta, is of Russian decent and hails from Southern California with his artistic origin and presence remaining mostly subterranean. If it is Kanye’s sheer artistry that has garnered him world renown, Evidence certainly has those roots covered. On the same token if Kanye has reeled in his audience by baiting us with the commoner’s testimonial, then Evidence has cast the same line yielding a different catch.

I pay the mortgage and the storage and it keep pouring. Can’t afford it so I gotta keep on touring. Trying to make a record in between was never foreign. But I’m familiar when there’s no way to avoid it. No way I was loyal in believing in “C.R.E.A.M.” but when the well runs dry we go beyond our means.

Evidence ft. Krondon | “When The Well Runs Dry” (prod. by Sid Roams) | Cats & Dogs | 2011

Evidence has a background story comparable to Kanye interwoven with academia and art. Kanye West bears the college dropout title after withdrawing from the American Academy of Art. Evidence is also a dropout, leaving Santa Monica College after less than two years. He has a rather blue-collar background in visual arts for which he is alternately known as “Bucket” the graffiti artist. Interestingly, his artform may have served as a symbolic presage of his impending music career. The general perception of graffiti tagging tends to straddle a hazy boundary between the aesthetics and vandalism. Hence graffiti is not particularly embraced by the masses, but those well versed in the culture know better. This to the same effect describes Evidence’s appeal, or lackthereof, to music’s mainstream community. Unsurprisingly an underground visual artist would also carve a career as an underground recording artist.

Evidence- “It Wasn’t Me” (Prod. by Evidence) | Cats & Dogs | 2011

My first album only had underground appearances. So what’s the outcome? I’m still an underground lyricist. And fame don’t even capture what my interest is, I’m halfway to famous, halfway away from infamous

Ironically the first line, “my first album…,” is a spinoff of “Got Yourself a Gun,” originally made by Nas, Kanye’s big brother’s one time adversary.

Keep a plant in my car like Good Friday, keep my world godly. I stay grounded like my lobby, tagging ‘Bucket’ on the wall but never tatted on my body

At the same age of 35 years, Evidence holds four years of recording seniority over Kanye. Accompanied by emcee Rakaa Iriscience and DJ/producer, DJ Babu, Evidence flourished from the cracks of the Los Angeles underground music scene as the three comprised the group Dilated Peoples. Their second project, The Platform, spearheaded their major label debut with Capitol Records in 2000, the same year Kanye landed production credit on The Dynasty: La Roc Familia. Though they emit different sounds, Evidence, like Kanye, has crafted his production with clever sampling.


Evidence flips Soul Children’s “Kindness for Weakness” into what would become Dilated Peoples’ “Kindness for Weakness,” featuring Talib Kweli, off the album, 20/20, their last for Capitol Records.

Dilated Peoples 20/20 (2006).

Kanye West and Evidence eventually collaborated in the studio and touring circuit in 2004. Evidence silently procured a Grammy award for assisting in producing College Dropout‘s “Last Call.” Kanye handled production duties and was featured on the single, “This Way,” by Dilated Peoples, released on the album Neighborhood Watch. Later that year Dilated Peoples joined as opening act on the College Dropout Tour. Circumstances would separate Evidence from the tour, but also box him and Kanye into the same corner.

When Kanye was chasing spaceships all over the nation, I was at the gravesite face on the pavement. Left “College Dropout,” first flight racing from Scranton, Pennsylvania on a crop plane praying. Heart ’bout to pop out my chest in Pittsburgh. Paranoid in first class, heard a voice whisper. Just touched back in LAX and my phone starts buzzin to a thousand texts. Out the gate and runnin like I’m motorless. (I Still Love You) explained if you don’t know the rest.

Evidence | “I Don’t Need Love (prod. by Evidence) | Cats & Dogs | 2011

The rest” alludes to the passing of Evidence’s mother, Jana Taylor, two weeks after he left the tour. Three years later in 2007 Kanye would face the same misfortune, when his mother, Donda, paseed after complications with a cosmetic surgery. Both artists seem to have negotiated their mothers’ passing similarly [see below].

Evidence continues to be a visual arts practitioner with lauded and creative use of the mobile application, Instagram. He credits his mother, an accomplished photographer, for his snapshot art.

Evidence explains his mother’s influence on his use of Instagram with 2DopeBoyz (0:00 – 1:45)

Take a look at some of Evidence’s Instagram photography

Source: Instagram (MrEvidence)

Kanye West has advanced his appreciation for visual arts with some of the most interesting album art and his Donda imprint, a design firm named after his mother Donda West.

Donda is responsible for this album art, 2Chainz’ Based on a T.R.U. Story

We’ve praised Kanye West for some time, be it due to his background and/or artistic vision. Hip-hop has carried him to prominence, and has easily done so likely because of his transparency. But what about the real Mr. West? The Mr. West who lies under opaqueness, yet shines brilliantly to a privy audience daring enough to exhume hip-hop’s hidden gem, has been molded by the same pressures as “the Mr. West of hip-hop.” Hip-hop’s “Mr. West” (Evidence) and the Mr. West of hip-hop (Kanye West) meet below.

Kanye West | “Last Call” (prod. by Kanye West and Evidence) | College Dropout | 2004

Evidence (with Dilated Peoples) takes the stage with Kanye West in 2008, performing “This Way.”

Dilated Peoples ft. Kanye West and John Legend- “This Way” official video.

Via Evidence’s Instagram (MrEvidence)
Extras:
Purchase Evidence’s Cats & Dogs here on iTunes.
Kanye West and G.O.O.D. Music are set to release the album Cruel Summer on August 7.

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The Bitch In You, Him, and Her

Hip-hop has traditionally endured plenty  of criticism with claims of misogyny and lewdness and rightfully so. If you listen to a variety of rap music long enough you’ll likely hear “b*tch,” which is largely perceived as misogynistic and indecent. Certainly hip-hop is not the only entertainment pocket that flares the expletive.

Reality television has boasted the lives of prosperous and privileged women in dramatic fashion with shows, like Real Housewives of Atlanta and Love and Hip-Hop, that depict progressive yet sometimes tactless women. Sit and watch and you’ll hear “b*tch” like it’s a character on the show. A recent column targets “Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta,” and details the so-called “Mass Media University,” and its ill effect on womanhood particularly that of young, black American women.

One week before the column was published, west coast rapper, Crooked I, released “Ratchet Heauxs” (pronounced “hoes”). The day before the posting Lupe Fiasco gifted us with his single, “B*tch Bad.” “Ratchet Heauxs” is a filibuster tirade about a deceptive, less than favorable woman. “B*tch Bad” is a conscious spin on the ever so popular expression “bad bitch,” which can be interpreted as some twisted testament of feminine pride or just a man’s immature appraisal of a woman.The two songs are dissimilar in style and approach, but nevertheless “b*tch” undergirds both.

Crooked I- “Ratchet Heauxs” | Psalm 82:06 | 2012

Steady shit talking, bitch get walking. You know I’m pissed off, I don’t talk like this often. You say I’m on the chauvinist tip, when its 40 below snowing and shit, there’s still nothing cold as a bitch!…You a ratchet ass, reality show wanna star in ass, always looking past a good hard working man ass b*tch! See a broke nigga, the hoe is laughing, knowing damn well your account is over drafted. Fuck a regular nigga man, she’s looking for a draft pick. Her goal is to marry him then divorce him on some half shit.  – Crooked I

So as hip-hop and media always do, those songs got me thinking. Let’s be honest. Men call women b*tches and vice versa, and we’ll even address the same sex as a b*tch if warranted. The rampant, all-inclusive use of the word suggests that “bitch” really isn’t that bad. What is profane to one is justified to another. I personally see the word as unacceptable, but its use is quite understandable. Hip-hop uses bitch in various contexts, from song titles like “Life’s a B*tch” to “B*tch Sickness.” But why is b*tch so prevalent in entertainment? Apparently we see b*tches in different forms, colors, and sexes. The truth is we’re all some bitches.

Freddie Gibbs ft. Devin The Dude- “Stray (Remix)” | The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs | 2009. Originally recorded by Devin The Dude as “Stray” from the studio LP, Landing Gear (2008).

That’s why I see the bitch in you. I call some women bitches, but most these niggas b*tches too– Freddie Gibbs

Men and women who have been decried b*tch share a standard set of typical behaviors. Unfortunately, bitch has become synonymous with or related to a woman or girl, and given the word’s literal definition, the sex association is clear. When we call someone a bitch we are often the witness of emotional turbulence or childish behavior. This generally takes the form of temper tantrum or “b*tch fit.” If a man’s emotions chronically supersede clear and rational behavior, don’t be surprised to hear “man stop being a b*tch!” But we primarily attach this type of behavior with that of women (even though we have all done it).

Side note: Have you ever examined an anti-man attitude that maybe comes across as misconstrued pro-feminism? This attitude includes, but is not limited to, expressions like “I don’t need a man,” or “all men are dogs.” When women say those things you may actually be relegating yourself to a b*tch. Hip-hop has confirmed.

Outkast- “Mamacita” | Aquemini | 1998

She nigga bashin sayin you don’t need em in your world. Niggas all dogs? If niggas all dogs, then what you call broads? Felines in heat, meowin for some yawn balls?” – Andre 3000

You also may hear a selfish and/or unfaithful man man referred to as a dog. Assumedly that is because we tend to act like one. This is when intrinsic, physiological drive dominates behavior and “higher order” thinking takes a back seat. In regard to the human man, the libido acts as chauffeur with conventional wisdom at standby. The stereotype paints a sexually piloted, uncommitted, dishonest man. Interestingly, an untrustworthy woman has been aptly referred to as bitch [see “Ratchet Heauxs” above].

It is not uncommon to hear a man refer to an enticing woman as a “bad bitch.” The bothersome part about this is that a woman might braggingly lay personal claim to this. Men will typically find this type of woman as a suitable sexual partner. Again and by default we have minimized ourselves to canine species.

Lupe Fiasco- “Bitch Bad” | Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1 | 2012

Just like that, you see the fruit of the confusion. He caught in a reality, she caught in an illusion. Bad mean good to her, she really nice and smart. But bad mean bad to him, bitch don’t play your part. But bitch still bad to her if you say it the wrong way. But she think she a bitch, what a double entendre– Lupe Fiasco

As humans we sometimes succumb to both sets of behavior, particularly in our sexual relations. When those attitudes or behaviors become so consistent, unyielding, and almost trait like, we’re appropriately called dogs. The common factor seems to be the temporary abandonment of logic and pragmatism and the embrace of emotionally dominated action. Human adults are usually expected to use reason and clear judgment and children are expected to eventually learn it. Other animals, such as dogs, are thought to be unable to do so to the extent that of a human.

Logic and reason is the evolutionary crown that represents dominion over others in the animal kingdom. But what about when we kick that crown around on the floor? Well that “queen” just might not be acknowledged as one. If she is, her court may at best recognize her as Marie Antoinette, or “b*tch.” So I wonder.

2Pac- “Wonder Why They Call You B*tch” | All Eyez On Me | 1996

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Let’s Forget About Trayvon Martin

Forget about Tayvon Martin. George Zimmerman, forget him too. Both individuals are irrelevant. I don’t want to bombard you with my perception of two gentlemen with whom I will never become acquainted. Instead I urge you to turn the hands of time back to the 90s and turn your volume knob clockwise. These next few individuals are much more noteworthy in examining the conditions causal to Martin and Zimmerman’s renown.

In 1999, Nasir Jones released his fourth studio LP, Nastradamus, where on its album art he ostensibly depicted himself as a prophet. The album received critically unsatisfactory marks, and its theme showed to be short of groundbreaking.

No, that is not a Trayvon hoodie. Or is it?

Nas appears to be hooded

From just a few years earlier, apparently some other rap fellows could justifiably claim prophethood. Well before Trayvon Martin was conceived in 1995, Sadat X, Grand Puba, and Lord Jamar (comprising the group Brand Nubian) released their the album, Everything Is Everything in the fall of 1994. They advanced their brandishing of social-political consciousness with the track, “Claiming I’m A Criminal.”

Recorded between 1994 and 1996, Tupac Shakur and The Outlawz archived “They Don’t Give A Fuck About Us,” which was formally released in 2002 on Tupac’s posthumous, Better Dayz compilation.

These recordings are political cartoons effectively similar to The Jetsons as they projected Trayvon Martin’s impending future. Peculiarly these emcees very well could be regarded as Renaissance men, embodying both artists and clairvoyants. Somehow they knew Trayvon’s fate, before he knew the world. How could some rappers spewing that damned hippity-hop sneak under our noses as soothsayers? Well, truly they weren’t even anybody special in that respect. No special powers, no “Papal-esque” clothing, and not even a glorified snow globe were present. But they were likely only telling us what they experientially knew to be true. Their occupational skill is rooted in mastering what we all do best: talk about ourselves in the vein of an autobiographical narrative. Almost eerily, when we share what we think are experiences unique to our own lives, we draw back the curtain on another’s lifetime and indirectly provide an audience for someone we may never meet. In essence we give that person a voice, sometimes unbeknownst to the story teller and/or the person actually living the account.

Here on Earth, tell me what’s a black life worth?
A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts.“- Tupac Shakur. “I Wonder If Heaven Got a Ghetto.”  R U Still Down? (Remember Me). 1997.

To bring this full circle, this is not so much about the slaying of a 17 year old. When a justice system seems to heed murder with nonchalance that of misplacing an ink pen, we are rudely reminded of our historical and seemingly endemic disregard for a black male’s life in America. Trayvon Martin’s death is simply indicative of a cavalier indifference to African-American male occupancy. Relative to other demographic groups, black males seem to be recognized no more than silhouettes amongst intricate, sapient beings.

“Bitch you lying you say we aint hanging from a tree. Frederick Carter Greenwood, Mississippi. . .When Medgar Evers got killed in front of his family, body froze. When Al Johnson, Andre Jones, and my folks in these jail cells. They call it suicide cuz it’s just another black male [dead]”– David Banner

The outrage and controversy is broader than “presumed phenotypical white man murders school-aged black kid.” Fury and frustration run ablaze because it required both fatality and Anderson Cooper just for America to wake up and smell the coffee and realize the “Post-Racial Gazzette” is not coming to our doorstep any time soon. Can we be honest with ourselves and at least consider if such bias and apathy can sear through a legal bureaucracy, then they may very well fester in the minds and hearts of actual people? We should not think, because we have merely chartered human rights and elected a member of a racial minority as President, that we are not prone to prejudices that serve as the forerunner to such accomplishments. Of course we don’t need CNN or any other news outlet to tell us that. Hip hop has in part fulfilled that lane of journalism.

An individual’s story has the power to preemptively forecast threatening storms ahead. For those who can muster primary and secondary accounts of systemic inequity in spaces spanning the classroom to the coroner’s room, it is almost as if America’s Secretary of Health, “Dr. Goodwill,” diagnoses them as a hypochondriac. In this instance, art certainly reflects life. Imagine an oracle peering into an orb backed by an ominous tempest. Now picture a few of them interpreting the same premonition. So sure “Gnozir” (or Nas), you made Stillmatic‘s “Ether” a genericized trademark for scathing diss records, but you can’t take all the credit for being a prophet just one album prior.

Follow me on Twitter @iNoBetter_4.