Archive for October, 2011

Hip Hop Stars And Their Author Equivalents [Part 2.]

And we’re back with some further theories of hip hop and literature. And why not? Here’s five more hip-hop stars who also have an eerie taint of some classic authors…

 

GURU and WOODY ALLEN

If ever we had two souls with such a bent for one topic, it would be Guru and Woody. The topic? New York, of course. For years, Woody Allen has been placing his emotionally repressed characters in the beautiful city and letting them get on with it, and there’s no doubt Guru is cut from the same cloth too. Dark street corners, well lit avenues and the hustle and bustle of New York life run through both writers work almost constantly like the River Hudson itself. More than that, though, Guru and Woody have most certainly made New York the central character in all of their work, the city coming alive to remind characters who they are, who they’re up against, and where they’re from. Frequently they hate it, often they bemoan the state of it, but they know for sure that nowhere else are you allowed to simply ‘be’, in such a way as New York.

“Yo, it doesn’t make sense, for you to compete against
This new york vibe that gets your whole body tense
Calm down, listen to a brother who knows
Cause the rappers out here come up with mad different types of flows”Guru.
“Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes…and I live here. ” – Woody Allen
 

KOOL KEITH and CHARLES BUKOWSKI

No two have ever done so much for their respective fields..And yet, they remain completely glossed over in their respective histories. Bukowski was first and foremost, a gritty realist, a poet, a short story writer, and of course as everyone knows, a complete dickhead. That doesn’t stop his artistic output from being universally brilliant though, as he ploughed through brilliant poem after brilliant story after eccentric public appearance.  Same goes for Keith (though, from what I’ve seen of him in interviews..he seems a relatively cool [KOOL?!]  guy, who is albeit, absolutely insane). From his early years, slogging away in Ultramagnetic MC’s to the years as Dr. Octagon, Keith has released consistently brilliant albums, and has never seemed to get anything but a passing mention in the footnotes of hip-hop. It also helps the case for similarity when you consider the following these two have in ‘indie’ and ‘underground’ circuits, they’re practically gods to hipsters, and why the hell not?! They’re brilliant! What the hell?! When will these two giants get the respect they duly deserve?!

“I crank up lyrical flows, spit spats, what’s that
The pattern records, don’t touch the DATs, yo
Check out the pro skills, medic fulfills
Contact react to style I’m back you lack
Channels and handles, Automator’s on the panels
Turnin knobs you slobs suckers like Baskin Robs
Carvel don’t tell your whole crew is ice cream fudge
Rappers that budge, makin moves step in grooves
And ride the pace like at thirty-three dark shades
Now you seein me
Rap moves on to the year three thousand!” Kool Keith.

“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.”  Charles Bukowski.

 

OUTKAST and H.G. WELLS

From their dizzyingly fast futuristic raps on Aquemini to the down to Earth soul shuffle of Love Below, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that Outkast are one of the most beloved of all hip-hop acts of, well, ever. Belying their intelligent production and insane technicality, though, there is a message of humanism and pride, the possibility that everything could change, just that no one seems too bothered about changing anything at all. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s perennial British Sci-Fi favourite, H.G. Wells. The man who deliberately shrouded all his work with a tint of the future and impossibility really was one of the most basic examples of a humanist ever. All his stories, short and long contain a fairly obvious message of compassion, love for fellow man and above all else, the defiance of the human spirit. Plus, they’re both pretty brilliant? If that counts for anything..

“I met a gypsy and she hipped me to some life game,
To stimulate then activate the left and right brain.
Said baby boy you only funky as your last cut,
You focus on the past your ass’ll be a has what.
That’s one to live by or either that one to die to
I try to just throw it at you determine your own adventure” Outkast

“..”We were making the future,” he said, “and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making. And here it is!”..” – H.G. Wells

 

WU-TANG CLAN and HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Sometimes it’s boring as hell to hear people constantly talking about drugs. Blah blah blah. Yes, I know. But seldom, there’s a person who does this, who also happens to have an intelligent view on the world that is absolutely worth exploring. On the surface, Hunter Thompson comes across as an idiot drug addict..And yet, he totally isn’t. After reading quite a lot of his work, I’ve come to the conclusion that he might have been the only person in 20th century America to know a fuck about absolutely anything at all. His drug use (At times, even by his own admission, ludicrous and excessive) was his own self medication for what he saw as a failed culture, a society doomed to become consumers, live uninteresting lives, and die near penniless. Though he didn’t necessarily fit the mould of ‘hippie’, he embraced the culture and ideologies to such an extent that he was embraced back by everyone who ever met him. Wu-Tang are one and the same, their whole ethos is surrounded by growing/making, selling, buying and consuming drugs. So what? Idiot drug addicts who somehow got a record deal, and ended up becoming the greatest hip-hop act of all time? No, that doesn’t just happen. The Wu’s lyrics were not only incredibly poignant, intelligent, and totally affecting, but they also represent the exact same view point as Hunter S. Thompson’s, the quest for the origins of the American dream, and where they lie. Do they lie externally? Do you have to find them yourself? These two artists realised that the beginning, and end, of the journey lay right inside of themselves all along, how they unlocked their potential and unleashed it on the world, are different, and fairly arbitrary footnotes on the careers of absolutely extraordinary artists.

“Yeah, my pops was a fiend since sixteen
Shootin’ that shit in his blood stream
That’s the life of a crimey, real live crimey
If niggas know the half is behind me
Day one, yo, growin all up in the ghetto
Now I’m a weed fiend, jettin the Palmetto”Wu-Tang Clan

“The streets of every city in America are filled with men who would pay all the money they could lay their hands on to be transformed, even for a day, into hairy, hard-fisted brutes who walk all over cops, extort drinks from terrified bartenders and roar out of town on big motorcycles after raping the banker’s daughter.” Hunter S. Thompson

 

NAS and JOHN STEINBECK

It’s pretty odd when a writer makes you yearn for a place they have deliberately written to look like hell on Earth. But Nas and Steinbeck are two who you could most definitely level this accusation at. To be fair, both men were from cities that were in the middle of social crises (Steinbeck’s Salinas valley in California at the stage of huge migration during the economic depression of the 30’s, and Nas’ gun and drug ruled streets of New York in the late 80’s and early 90’s) so you can forgive them for maybe romanticizing their respective locales. Steinbeck’s sprawling masterpiece ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is an extremely detailed and upsetting portrait of a whole country gone insane, a family leaving their ancestral home in favour of money, which will buy them just enough to eat, the constant imagery of picking oranges off the trees to consume fresh, and the inevitable failure of whatever warped American dream the protagonists had held on to unflinchingly. Nas’ masterpiece, ‘Illmatic’ (his first release) is of similar tone, the man sees his familiar childhood streets run crimson with the blood of his friends, family and associates, and he blames the war squarely on another poorly controlled economic problem – drugs. Both men don’t mean to romanticize their work, but it’s an inevitable bi-product of such beautifully controlled writing, perfect metaphors, fitting puns, and just general passages so gorgeous that you can scarcely believe the horror they’re depicting. For sure, Nas and Steinbeck are the two Gods of their respective fields.

“King poetic, too much flavor, I’m major
Atlanta ain’t Brave-r, I’ll pull a number like a pager
Cause I’m am ace when I face the bass
40-side is the place that is giving me grace
Now wait, another dose and you might be dead
And I’m a Nike head, I wear chains that excite the feds
And ain’t a damn thing gonna change
I’ma performer and professional, show the mic warmer was born to gain
Nas, why did you do it?
You know you got the mad fat fluid when you rhyme, it’s halftime” Nas

“The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.” John Steinbeck

Hip Hop stars and their author equivalents [Part 1.]

It may be hard to believe, but hip-hop and literature are more closely linked than fans of both would probably ever care to admit. Each literary movement gives birth to new and exciting writers who push the boundaries and expand the horizons of the English language, and hip-hop is no different, here are some of my favourite rappers, and the authors who they seem to be spookily channelling on some level.

SNOOP DOGG and BRAM STOKER.

If you’ll recall, Snoop released an album 18 years ago (I fucking know, right?) called ‘Doggystyle’. Quite frankly it was very good. So good, and so damned influential in fact, that Snoop has been essentially living off the legacy of it ever since, while consistently churning out poor quality material that attempts to ape it. Remind you of anyone? Yep, Irish novelist Bram Stoker is sadly a classic example of the burnout of artistic excess, forever synonymous with his classic Dracula, to such an extent that his later works are slightly boring gothic tales of sexual perversions and oddly inhuman situations, while he still enjoyed top billing as the creator of the gothic age of literature. Reports of Stoker’s favourite tipple being either Hennesy or Dry Gin and juice are however, unconfirmed.

 

“As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me… a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which, do what I would, I could not conceal.” Bram Stoker.
“So turn off the lights and close the doors
But, but what? We don’t love them ho’s, yeah
So we gonna smoke a ounce to this
G’s up, hoes down, while you motherfuckers bounce to this” Snoop Dogg.

MF DOOM and JAMES JOYCE.

For anyone who has either read Joyce, or listened to DOOM, you will be all too aware of the bafflingly quick pace of both writers, the insanely detailed yet somehow extremely obvious cross references to pop culture, the ridiculous level of knowledge [of ALL spheres of life] required to truly ‘get’ each of their work. Yep, it’s pretty clear that DOOM is channelling Joyce in a big way. Aside from the style of writing, both men have a wickedly black yet hilariously earthy sense of humour that’s a joy to read and listen to again and again. Also, was the eyepatch a disguise? Slick Rick actually needed his, and I am pretty sure that DOOM’s mask is the biggest disguise of all, so yeah.
“Plenty to see and hear and feel yet. Feel live warm beings near you. They aren’t going to get me this innings. Warm beds: warm full blooded life.” James Joyce.
“As you call em, they call you when they need somethin
Trees for the bluntin’, to g’s for the frontin’
I found a way to get piece of mind for years
And left the hell alone, turn a deaf ear to the cellular phone”
DOOM.

JAY-Z and WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

Jay-Z didn’t invent rap music, and William Shakespeare certainly didn’t invent the English language.But no two artists have done more for their respective craft. Honestly. Jay-Z might be a bit overrated as he reaches his twilight years, yet his first record, off the bat, is one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. Across the pond and a good 400 years ago, Shakey hit the ground running with Romeo & Juliet. Each man’s craft and pure skill in taking language and tossing it on it’s side, before adding puns, rhymes, allusions and as much pop culture and mean humour as possible is still breathtaking to be hold. Enjoy Jay and Will, they might not be the best of their fields, but they’ve done more it single handedly than almost anyone else you could care to mention.

You pay a great deal too dear for what’s given freely“. Shakespeare.

“She said the taste of dollars was shitty so I fed her fifties
About his whereabouts I wasn’t convinced
So I kept feedin’ her money ’til her shit started to make sense” Jay-Z.

BIG L and D.H. LAWRENCE

From the off, Lawrence was a homosexual. Big L is not, if anything, he’s sadly one of those rappers whose casual and at times disgusting homophobia is nearly enough to negate his value as an artist altogether. And it is in this tiny detail that the two unlikely bedfellows meet. Lawrence is probably most famous for his graphically explicit novels detailing (for the first time ever, really) sordid sexual affairs in startlingly unabashed, and at times slightly gross terms. Big L, then? The rapper who said ‘you can kill me I was born dead’, also found a safe home for himself in telling shockingly offensive and lurid stories of murder, rape, infanticide, and much worse. Now that would be enough, usually, that the two men were content to court controversy, and use it to carve out a niche for themselves, yet the connection goes deeper. Born in the fledging industrial hub of Nottingham in the late 1800’s, Lawrence saw his beloved countryside laid barren by coal mines, industry and pollution, a message of desperate sadness and a need to cling to the ways gone permeates all of his work strongly, and same with Big L. The New York he knew and loved had been transformed from a cultural hub where you could hang out on the street corners with your friends and have innocent fun, to seeing his best friends murdered, the increase of AIDs, and life wrecking drugs like crack cocaine taking root in the poorest areas. On the surface, both men are controversial and unashamed, but look deeper and you find two desperately sad men who were terrified of the places they loved so dearly changing without them changing with it.

“..‘Th’art good cunt, though, aren’t ter? Best bit o’ cunt left on earth. When ter likes! When tha’rt willin’!’

‘What is ‘cunt’ ?’ she said.

‘An’ doesn’t ter know? Cunt! It’s thee down theer; an’ what I get when I’m i’side thee, and what tha gets when I’m i’side thee; it’s a’ as it is, all on’t.’..” D.H. Lawrence

“Yo ever since I was young, I ripped mics and I killed beats 
And I’m known to milk freaks and hit em on silk sheets 
No dame can give me a bad name, I got mad fame 
I’m quick to put a slug in a fag brain ” Big L.

NOTORIOUS B.I.G. and LEO TOLSTOY.

Pretty much the safest answer to “who is your favourite author/rapper?” would be Tolstoy and Biggie, respectively. With flawlessly natural styles, insanely well written pieces that detail everything from ‘everyday struggles’ (had to be done) to preparing yourself for death, these two giants have covered it already, and no two artists on this list represent the eternal conflict for any fledging artist, namely: ‘why the hell should I even bother? These two men have nailed it in a way that is unlikely to ever be beaten’. Unlike a lot of rappers and writers though, these two dudes nailed it from the off, they knew they were good, and damn it if everyone else knew they were the best too. This isn’t just a downer though, the achievements in the brief life of the artists have proven, if nothing else, that working to better yourself, and pride of your place in life yields visible results. Biggie may have died young, but his staggeringly vast impact on hip-hop is so plainly obvious to see even today, as is Tolstoy’s in literature, that each man’s legacy will live on way after all of us reading this are long long dead. And that, is brilliant in itself.

“Just as in the clock the result of the complex action of innumerable wheels and pulleys is merely the slow and regular movement of the hand marking the time, so the result of all the complex human activities of these 160,000 Russian and French – of all their passions, hopes, regrets, humiliations, sufferings, outbursts of pride, fear and enthusiasm – was only the loss of the battle of Austerlitz, the battle of the three Emperors, as it was called; that is to say, a slow movement of the hand on the dial of human history” Leo Tolstoy.

“Four drunks trying to stop my flow
And what they don’t know will show on the autopsy
Went to see papi, to cop me a brick
Asked for some consignment and he wasn’t trying to hear it
Smoking mad Newports ’cause I’m doing court for an assault
That I caught in Bridge Port, New York”  Notorious B.I.G.