Saturday, March 15, 2008

Owe me back like 40 acres to blacks

The ever-reliable Doc Zeus has a great post about the three videos the Roots have released in anticipation of their new album. Speaking of which, the album art hit the internet on Friday. A quick Google image search tells me the image came from the Raleigh News and Observer in 1900 in response to fears about "Negro rule," what seems like a a sensationalized version of black populism. I will say it's a daring move, and sort of reminds me of KMD's Bl_ck B_st_rds and if Nas's album sees album shelves anytime soon, it could be an interesting year for rap in terms of intended statements by artists. What's odd is that the KMD album was originally shelved as the cover art was deemed too controversial, and I can't say that's something I can argue with. But how is it that now the Roots and Nas are going to be able to get away with images/words that are just as inflammatory? Well, an easy answer is that no one buys albums anymore, especially rap, so the little advance money some artists are given now they are able to use with free reign. That's not to say that there is not the occasional From Nothin' to Somethin', but it seems like rappers that don't really have the ability to score a pop hit are getting a bit more freedom to do as they please with major label money. The examples I'm thinking of are Freeway, Ghost, Prodigy, the LOX, etc. Kind of interesting that a lot of these guys are older rappers, but I'm sure there are exceptions that I'm just not thinking of. The other could be that we're in what a friend of mine so dryly calls a "post-racial society," so those images don't mean as much anymore... But Al Sharpton wanted Esco's head on a platter late last year.

So why aren't the Roots getting any flack? Because they're smart rappers, they would never say anything ignorant, and ?uestlove is probably trying to make some general point anyway. I might've believed that back when "The Next Movement" and "You Owe Me" came out, but now, I am not so sure. The Roots have always been heralded as a rap group thinking outside of their little corner of Philly, though you'd never know it from Thought's raps. Until the last album, Black Thought always sounded most concerned about the happenings of his corner and wanted the listener to understand his world, a place that gets neglected too much. Sure, the cover art of TFA had broader concerns, but the album is pretty straightforward rap. No New World Order, just the 5th dynasty. The Tipping Point did have a young Malcolm X on the cover, but it also was a giant concession to the market. Rising Down sounds like a pretty claustrophobic piece of work so far, but judging from "Get Busy" and "75 Bars (Thought's Reconstruction)," I am not too sure the cover art is some metaphor ?uesto wants us to soak in. I've heard the title track, and it does have this greater focus, but I am not so convinced that the album art and music go hand in hand. That said, I like the cover... a lot. If this album shapes up to be cohesive and focused (and without "Birthday Girl"), that sense of impending doom of the Negroes right around the corner will be a perfect addition to my CD collection. Also, how can you hate artists teaching history through their advertising? Just get rid of Patrick Stump.

Now, if the Roots can do something like this, why can't the N, the a, to the s-i-r? Well, there's his legendary beat selection, his supreme arrogance, and his general knack at pissing people off. Yet I really want to hear this sucker. Hip Hop is Dead was actually pretty good, save a few indulgences, and while most hated the 30's detective accent, I found it pretty novel and definitely something that stuck with me. If Nas can find someone to keep his album on track and focused, then I think we should keep our ears open; Nasty can still put together some tight lines. If his appearance on Ice Cube's "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It (Remix)" with Scarface is any indication, if you give the man a topic, he can easily riff on it effectively. It really just comes down to the beats. That's anyone's guess, as this asshole will literally buy any crap out of a Casio. I know he's going to let me down, but I feel like he knows how much of his respect rides on this album. And not from the mainstream media, but from someone like Premier, whose opinion matters to him (I'd hope). A while back, Brandon Soderberg called Nas out for trying, and failing, to make an intellectual point with the title of this album. Fair criticism, but why not hold the Roots to the same standards? They've been "the next (blank)" for a long time now; you either break through or not. Time to show up or shove off, for the both of the, I say.

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