The People Vs. Drake
Where are you hip-hop?
It’s 2017 and the Klan is dumping fuel on a seven foot cross in the Jones’s lawn. Hip-hop is hype though because the lighting from that cross is going to look dope in his music video, and the Snapchat…Eww-wee.
“Yo, have the crew get the tools out of the back of the Bugatti and help these mother f*ckers out!”
“Hell yeah I’m serious. Turn the music up.”
The first paper, in fact the very first thing I wrote as an assignment in high school was for a Catholic priest named Father Vincent. He was a thin, fair skinned man with light eyes set behind silver wire rimmed glasses. He had light hair, a soft kind voice and he dressed in a white priest’s cassock. Every single day.
I was as I am now, Black. And I knew it. I was 14 with a high-top fade that some nice lady had asked me to cut so that I could qualify to be photographed on Freshman class picture day. I knew they wanted every black kid that year in that safe all-even Bryant Gumble cut. I knew that to some, that box of curls on top of my side-shaved head was a colored kid’s equivalent to a punk kid’s Mohawk. But the hip-hop heads on the east coast had it, so I had it. When I refused, she booted me from the line, and while she was measuring the length of some Catholic girl’s skirt, I slipped back in at the front and got my picture taken anyway.
…nowadays Beyoncé is more hip-hop than hip-hop.
I was one of five black kids in a class of over four hundred freshman students at one of the largest catholic schools west of Chicago. It wasn’t the first week but it was early. However, by then I had been called a number of things and asked a number of ignorant questions by kids who only knew black people or knew of black people from television, radio and sporting arenas. I was doing the sign of the cross on my forehead and across my chest as if I was a catholic. I wasn’t. I was fourteen and when everyone did it, I did it. I tried to blend in.
That lasted a short minute then a black upperclassman who’s family was close with mine steered me back to that thin line of living that ran like a wall alongside the basics of what was required by a baptist in attendance a catholic school and guarded against loose flung arrows that came flying in from ignorant archers.
Most comments were centered around sports and why considering my black skin, if I wasn’t there to shoot, catch, hit or dunk …well why was I there. I mean all the other black kids balled out, but my jumper was broken beyond repair.
But Eric B. and Rakim, NWA, X-Clan, KRS-One, Poor Righteous Teachers…they were not fucking around.
The assignment in Father Vincent’s class was simple. Pick a song, any song and explain what that song meant to you. What was the artist saying? How did it speak to you? How did it make you feel?
Now most of the songs the girls choose were shades of New Kids on the Block and the boys, I can’t quite remember. For my paper, I chose the music that gave me comfort.
Public Enemy’s Burn Hollywood Burn featured Big Daddy Kane and Ice Cube on a track from Fear of the Black Planet that railed against the lack of black faces in Hollywood productions along with their disgust over the shuck-and-jive characters being offered up on screen. It was my song. But not just because the message of distorted representation directly addressed the images and ideas that had my fellow students seeing me stereotype. The Bomb Squad produced beat itself was a downhill collision of aggressive sounds, a chorus on twisting noises that exploded out of the blocks alongside Chuck D’s booming voice and kept running full speed directly at a idea….directly at a problem.
An eruption that commanded you to hear this song, this entire album in fact, with your ears pried just as wide open as Malcolm McDowell’s racing eyes were in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Either way, it was coming at you whether you wanted it to or not. The beat was chasing, swiping at your achilles and the sound was all around you.
In my tape holder, I already had two Ice Cube albums: NWA’s Straight Outta Compton and Cube’s masterful first solo album AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. His Jackin’’ for Beats video was a classic and one I recorded every time it came on Yo, MTV Raps? one summer so that I could watch it on a loop without rewinding the VHS tape. And Chuck D, man…Chuck D was a prophet. Everything Chuck spit was truth. Chuck was an intellectual wordsmith who’s message was game-changing and direct like a trash can through the window of Sal’s Pizzeria.
We are here and we can’t be stopped.
Big Daddy Kane was a bonus. I mostly associated the Kane with his cool words about women and that late 80’s NY swag bravado that let you know that nobody’s flow was smoother. But on Burn Hollywood Burn, Kane wasn’t playin’.
During that time rap wasn’t playin’. Yes, everyone to a man thought of themselves as the dopest MC, with the best DJ and the dopest producer providing an untouchable beat. But Eric B. and Rakim, NWA, X-Clan, KRS-One, Poor Righteous Teachers…they were not fucking around.
When I stood up in front of Father Vincent’s class and read the lyrics to Burn Hollywood Burn, I did what was asked of me. I broke down the lyrics and symbolism, what meant to me and with an extra note on what they should mean to you. Father Vincent played the song in class. All of it.
Burn Hollywood Burn
Burn Hollywood burn I smell a riot
Goin’ on first they’re guilty now they’re gone
Yeah I’ll check out a movie
But it’ll take a black one to move me
Get me the hell away from this TV
All this news and views are beneath me
Cause all I hear about is shots ringin’ out
So I rather kick some slang out
All right fellas let’s go hand out
Hollywood or would they not
Make us all look bad like I know they had
But some things I’ll never forget yeah
So step and fetch this shit
For all the years we looked like clowns
The joke is over smell the smoke from all around
Burn Hollywood burn
Ice cube is down with the P. E.
Now every single bitch wanna see me
Big daddy is smooth word to mother
Let’s check out a flick that exploits the color
Roamin’ through Hollywood late at night
Red and blue lights what a common sight
Pulled to the curb gettin’ played like a sucker
Don’t fight the power … the mother fucker
As I walk the streets of Hollywood boulevard
Thinin’ how hard it was to those that starred
In the movies portrayin’ the roles
Of butlers and maids slaves and hoes
Many intelligent black men seemed to look uncivilized
When on the screen
Like a guess I figure you to play some jigaboo
On the plantation, what else can a nigga do
And black women in this profession
As for playin’ a lawyer, out of the question
For what they play Aunt Jemima is the perfect term
Even if now she got a perm
So let’s make our own movies like spike lee
Cause the roles being offered don’t strike me
There’s nothing that the black man could use to earn
Burn Hollywood burn
Written by O’shea Jackson, Keith Boxley, Eric Sadler, Carlton Ridenhour, Antonio M. Hardy, George Clinton, Jr. • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC
In that assignment, I believe the lesson intended for us was to be able to interpret verse and think critically about symbols and ideas, so that we could then gain an appreciation and understanding of God’s words as they were written and taught in the Bible. My parents and the preacher at my church had already beat Father Vincent to that lesson but what the assignment gave me was an opportunity to stand up in front of those white kids and say this is me. I don’t shoot a ball well. I’m not Catholic. (I was done crossing myself at that point.) But I’m here and I wasn’t going anywhere. While you guys were interpreting love songs from boy bands and trying to solve the mystery of the kid struggling to dribble with his left hand, I wasn’t playing. Like Chuck D, I wasn’t fucking around.ywyHyOU
My parents gave me the tools. The education and the experience. Hip-hop gave me a voice. It was and has been my savior for years. I don’t fit a lot of stereotypes. I took a bit of heat from all sides for that. But, I’m privileged and I knew it because of what I learned from them, my parents, Public Enemy, Chuck D. and Big Daddy Kane.
Too bad the View(s) only look one way
My only question is, where is that now? Where are you hip-hop? While you’re inside holding your dick and drinking expensive shit, the world outside is on fire. In this new class of MC’s, where the fuck are you? Drake’s life is hard because everyone is after him and he has so much money that he can’t trust anyone. Half the class is still getting high and having sex on top of sex because, who doesn’t want to do that. Besides, you can build a whole album off of that nonsense and not have to leave your private plane.
Donald Trump is the president elect and you’re rapping about the club. Well done.
Who do you look up to?
“Shit man, Pac. Pac was a god. “
On September 2, 2005, when Kanye West looked America in the eye on live TV and told the nation that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people“, jaws dropped, DVR’s rolled in reverse and revolutionary 90’s hip-hop pumped a fist. It was a action that shook a few folks and woke many others up. But modern hip-hop is different. Modern hip-hop is that one friend who’s dancing in front of the TV while you’re watching the news trying to hear about how Trayvon Martin was shot.
I like Drake. I like his music. I just wish he would stop dancing for a minute and turn around. Dude started from the bottom, now he’s there. Too bad the View(s) only look one way. Yeah, I know I’m old. I know that watching me plead for a hip-hop that has eyes and ears not just a mouth, is like watching your parents search for naughty words and naked photos on your Snapchat. “You need to accept that it’s just not there anymore. Maybe it never was,” my friends say.
I guess, there are just some images I can’t shake. I picture Drake sitting down to write a verse. His crew on the other side of the glass bobbing their head to an undoubtedly dope beat, or maybe he’s sitting at the foot of his bed with a pen and a pad, three beautiful women curled up asleep in back of him. Or maybe, he’s alone. But what does he see? Where does he start? Does he start from where he is or is he seeing something else? Something beyond that moment? Something beyond himself?
Anyone who has read a few of autobiographies has come to realize that in general they come in two types. One is a honest account of a life; good-fortunate, poignant moments, choices and actions both good and bad while the other is the literary equivalent to watching a drunk person masturbate in front of a full-length mirror while standing on a pile of gold coins.
Modern hip-hop has a big mirror and a shitload of gold coins.
While thinking about Drake, I reflect on Kendrick. I think about Killer Mike. I honestly didn’t think about J. Cole much but then I heard 4 Your Eyez Only and I listened to him think. I could hear him constructing stories written in a room where he could see himself while still being able to hear what was going on outside.
So it is possible. To some the studio is a playground, to others, it is a confessional, a pulpit, a podium. Hell, T.I.’s new album Us Or Else: Letter to the System is so damn good and so poignant, it might even make people sign up for Tidal. But some of these dudes need to turn around, stop and listen to the people scream because nowadays Beyoncé is more hip-hop than hip-hop.
While I was in school, California passed a three strikes law that crippled impoverished communities, made it legal for poor kids to be charged as adults, ended affirmative action in schools, freed 8 dudes with badges who beat the shit out of one black dude on the side of a road and hip-hop was pissed. They weren’t fucking around.
I was privileged and hip-hop changed my life. That song and a chorus of others told me it was alright for me to put down the basketball and try something new.
The summer I quit basketball I took a film class at University of California, Irvine. I was the youngest kid in the class by five years. My final project was about race and hip-hop was the soundtrack. At Mater Dei, I was fortunate enough to take a Television Production class that refined my raw skills and gave me a platform to tell stories inside of a well-composed frame. I am grateful for that. I was privileged and hip-hop changed my life. I am a filmmaker by profession now. My jumper is still busted but I have a voice.
Thank you to my parents and thank God for 90’s hip-hop. Hip-hop today…get your head out of yo ass and yo ass outta the club…we need you. I need you.
Shout out to Father Vincent.