Teenagers disagree with their parents. It’s a fundamental fact of life. This can apply to decisions about jobs and partners, or things as trivial as tv shows, songs and t-shirts. If the parent likes something, the teenager will not, and vice versa. Since the advent of rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s, music has assumed an integral part of a teenager’s ongoing battle against their parents.
My eldest daughter began listening to pop music in the early 90s, the era of grunge and the slacker. Unfortunately for her, I was listening to the music her peers were embracing – Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Nine Inch Nails etc – which meant she had to work harder to find something new, something that I didn’t listen to. So she went back to the 60s and early 70s and discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles and so on.
My other daughter, L, has not had the same difficulty. She has found a music all her own – hardcore rap. Angry young men with chains and tattoos and leather, singing about bitches and hoes. It is one of the few genres of popular music (along with heavy metal and all its sub-genres) that I just can’t stomach.
Of course, L is delighted by my reaction to her music. In fact, I am sure she deliberately plays it loud in order to get a complaint from me. She almost seems disappointed if I don’t complain. Conversely, she ‘hates’ everything I play. She calls it ‘Dad’s music’ and says that it ‘all sounds the same’ (funnily enough, this is what I say about rap music). I really don’t see how Belle And Sebastian, The Birthday Party, Bjork and The Flaming Lips sound the same, but anyway…
In an effort to try and bridge this generational void of misunderstanding I asked L if she would like to participate in a little ‘project’. I suggested that she give me her ‘Top 10’ rap or hip hop songs, and I would make a concerted effort to listen to them and try to see past the stereotype and cliché. I would then provide her with my own ‘Top 10’ songs and she would spend some time learning to appreciate them.
She agreed, and after much deliberation, gave me a cd of her favourite songs. I’ve made an effort to play the cd – without cringing or moaning, and with an ‘open ear’. And this is what I’ve heard.
1) Hilltop Hoods – The Nosebleed Section
This tune isn’t bad at all. Built around a nice flute/string sample and a catchy chorus. The lyrics are nonsense, of course. I’ve listened to the song several times and still have no idea what a ‘Nosebleed Section’ is. There’s some old fashioned vinyl scratching (surely a cliché by now) and references to ‘peeps’ and ‘bros’, but for the most part, this Aussie hip hop track is devoid of American slang (no hoes or gangstas). After all, Christies Beach (the home of these ‘hoods’) is hardly Compton or the Bronx.
2) Kanye West – Golddigger
The strength of a rap or hip hop tune will often depend on the strength of the samples chosen to drive the tune – their originality, arrangement etc. This Kanye West track uses a piece of old-time gospel (or something that sounds like old-time gospel) as its foundation, producing an unusual rhythm and rhyming pattern. It’s an original sound. The lyrics detail the exploits of the ‘golddigger’ who ‘ain’t messin wit no broke nigga’. She is ‘trouble with a capital T’, using her lover’s money to fund liposuction and dress like Michael (Jackson?).
3) Missy Elliott – Work It
I don’t mind this at all. Lots of squelchy synth, beeps and whistles, some elephant sounds, over a minimal drum track. Quite catchy. Missy seems to be rapping about sex. What else could be made of lines such as – ‘…put the pussy on ya, just like I told ya…’ and ‘sex me so good I go blah blah blah…’ Mixed in with the sex talk is a fair amount of nonsensical wordplay. It’s all fairly light and silly.
4) Nelly – Ride With Me
This has a nice, summery feel, some pleasant rhythm guitar. But it’s so damned repetitive that by the time it fades out you never want to hear it again. The lyrics are a mystery –
Fuck me good
Suck me good
We be them stuck niggas
Wishin you was niggas
Poppin like we drug dealers
Simply cause she bug mackin
Honey in the club, me in the benz
There’s something about drugs, and something about money. There’s a little sex and some violence. Beyond that I’m lost.
5) Snoop Dogg – Drop It Like It’s Hot
I get the feeling that this is some serious gangsta shit! Lots of violent imagery and talk of Crips, pimps and hoes. But then there are also lyrics like this –
So don’t change the dizzle, turn it up a little
I got a living room full of fine dime brizzles
Waiting on the Pizzle, the Dizzle and the Shizzle
It’s all very Dr Seuss. The music is also on the silly side, featuring minimal percussion, cheesy synth and mouth sounds.
6) Pegz – Back Then
Another Aussie hip hop outfit. Starts out with a nice jazzy sample. Like Hilltop Hoods these guys don’t attempt to sound like their US counterparts. In fact, if anything, they seem to deliberately accentuate their Australian-ness. The lyrics list lots of 80s pop culture events and personalities, but I’m not sure exactly what they are trying to say –
Back then wasn’t easy
Back then things worked out
Back then I wish you were now
Do they want then to be now? And which bits? The clothes? The food? Or do they wish they could go back in time?
7) Scribe – Dreaming
Scribe raps about his youth as a poor kid with dreams of becoming a star in New York. It’s a familiar rags-to-riches story about making dreams come true and never giving up etc. It’s a dreary tale over dreary music. Yawn.
8) Tupac – Changes
Whether or not you like Tupac’s ‘Changes’ will depend on your feelings towards Bruce Hornsby’s 80s FM standard ‘The Way It Is’. Personally, I can’t stand it, so that pretty much ruins the Tupac song for me. The rap lyrics are admirable though, in that they at least attempt some insight into the state of black America, rather than simply recount the rapper’s experiences with bitches or guns.
9) Eminem – Marshall Mathers
I’m curious to know who it was that first declared Eminem a genius. And I wonder if it was because of songs like this, which is simply a rant against anyone perceived to have crossed the rapper. Britney Spears is a ‘retarded bitch’, New Kids on the Block ‘sucked a lot of dick’, and boy/girl groups make him sick. He gets stuck into his mum, his ex-wife and her attorney, and doesn’t speak very highly of the gay community (to put it mildly).
And it might just be me, but doesn’t Eminem sound a lot like Donald Duck.
10) Eminem – Stan
This is a ‘story song’ in which one of Eminem’s fans, the titular Stan, kills himself because the rapper does not reply to his fanmail. This guy sure must think highly of himself to imagine that anyone would be so stupid.
The best thing about this (by far) is the Dido sample.
So there we have it. I liked Missy Elliott, didn’t mind Kanye West, Hilltop Hoods and Pegz, and couldn’t stand Eminem or Nelly. The rest fell somewhere in between. I guess, like any genre, rap or hip hop is going to have its good and bad. And determining what is good and what is bad, in the end, comes down to personal preference. I just wish that rappers didn’t do the ‘hand thing’.
Next month I’ll let my daughter dissect 10 of my favourite tracks. After reading my comments on Eminem she might not react with a lot of enthusiasm.