Friday, April 4, 2008

I never slip, I never fall

So last year, in the wake of Polow Da Don's takeover of pop radio last year, Noz did a quick post on Polow's previous group... Jim Crow. Just let that sit for a while. I remember in high school seeing one video by them, "Holla at a Playa," and I must admit that I kind of liked it. In some ways, I thought the name choice was clever. Just to be clear with anyone who is not familiar with rap, these guys are very clever and want to make an impression so that you continue to follow their musical output. Why else use a "K" in "OutKast," add an "e" to "Pharoahe" or name yourself after Mussolini or Manuel Noriega? These guys are marketing themselves all the time. While you may say, "the music should speak for them," when people have similar styles or are biting your style, you have to stand out in some way. That said, you could make the argument that a Southern rap group called Jim Crow, made of three young black men, is just trying to get by on the provocative nature of their name. That's a fair point, but then why did that one song get stuck in my head? If they're cruising on history, I should just recall every so often that a few dudes from Atlanta had the nerve to name themselves after legalized segregation and oppression. Instead, I have a much more complicated situation: I actually enjoy some of these songs.

There's another issue going on with their name. As we all know, rappers (and really all musical performers) love to perform in character. With a name like Jim Crow, these guys allow themselves to say what could easily be the most offensive, stereotypical, ignorant comments and lyrics that have ever been released for public consumption. Or they could remake songs from "Dumbo." But, as these guys are loosely affiliated with one of the great rap crews ever, the Dungeon Family, what you get instead are just some guys rapping about life in Atlanta. Let me just be clear and say they are nowhere near the level of the Dungeon Family, though they have their moments. Sure, they've made songs with Too $hort about baby mama drama and the nonsense they get into last night, but think about more serious rap groups and their attempts to be lighthearted. Flavor Flav, "Mind Sex," or "Sunshine." All three of these artists are revered by critics for the depth they show on albums while ignoring the aforementioned examples of crap. I think there is something to be said for remaining consistently ignorant for an entire hour. At least when they try to get "DEEP," you find this closer look at the artist engaging as opposed to a cash-in attempt to score women in headwraps.

So what is a rap fan to do? I'm not inclined to reject these guys outright as I don't support censorship and I genuinely find some songs enjoyable (though "Hot Wheels" is a reach). However, simply being a black person who isn't ignorant of the past, oh, (at least, I'm shaky sometimes) 400 years of history, it's really hard to openly admit that I own an album by a group called Jim Crow. Of course, Dick Gregory wrote a book called "Nigger," though I have yet to read. I still get the feeling he tried to get some point across, while Mr. Mo, Polow and Cutty Cartel sound like a Southern Souls of Mischief/Goodie Mob mashup but without the lyrical finesse of each. Basically, I have to keep my enjoyment of their songs to myself... which I just failed to do. At least I'm not in the position Patrick could find himself in if he said to me in public, "Did you hear that new Jim Crow?!!"

Anyway, I somehow found their first album, Crow's Nest from 1999 online and like I said, if you can get past their name (a big "if," I know) it's a pretty good album. The production is pretty tight, though the lone Organized Noize contribution, "Crow 5," is the weakest cut on here in my mind. Odd, since this was a year after Aquemini and right before Stankonia. Obviously, Antwan and Andre get first dibs. Thankfully, they don't try to justify their name choice, as they would have failed miserably at that. Instead, they put together pretty competent raps. They're all jokesters, and Polow's verse on "Throw Some D's" actually borrows from the song "Can We Do This." It's a pretty smooth album, all truth be told, though when thinking about what was coming out of ATL at the time, they sound just ahead of the 2000-2003 DTP/Youngbloodz sound. Had they come out after "Southern Hospitality," maybe they would have blown up. Of course, they also have the name Jim Crow, with a logo to boot.

I know I've managed to offend someone with this post, probably someone I'm related to/knew growing up/Patrick. I also really hope I don't read this later and say "I defended Jim Crow." Well, Noz did it and he's white, so what could be worse?


Patrick said...

one time my ex-girlfriend saw "sucka nigga" in my itunes and was kind of appalled, even after i explained the premise of the song. i think i'd get a similar reaction from most people if i owned a jim crow album, only i wouldn't be able to defend it in any meaningful way.

i'm also legitimately surprised that they make good music, and find myself wanting to hear more of it now that it has your seal of approval.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

the same thing happened to me with my ex- except she basically hated all rap music. hopefully i'm not prying too much, but was she mad at you for liking the song or mad at tribe for naming the song that?

i was really surprised to hear the album in full. it's pretty consistent in terms of its production, and it's not like they blatantly try to concede to the market, because they must have known that'd be impossible. all that said, they can be some incredible ignoramuses, though it's hysterical. favorite line so far: "never put my drink down/ rehab is for quitters"

Patrick said...

no, you're not prying at all. she was just mad that i owned and liked a song with that word in the title. i can understand that, i guess, but she knew that i listened to primarily rap, and the n-word is in just about every rap song there is, so i don't really know why she was upset.

that's a pretty amazing line.