Sunday, April 20, 2008
Just when you thought it was safe
The beginning of 1994, Rudolph Giuliani took office as the mayor of New York City. Running of the position that incumbent mayor Dave Dinkins was soft on crime in a city that was increasingly lawless (which was actually untrue), Giuliani was elected mayor with 49.25 percent of the vote. After taking office, Rudy worked with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton to decrease crime. They focused on a Broken Windows approach to eliminate crime, cracking down on what I'd call "quality of life issues:" graffiti, those guys asking to squeegee your windshield, etc. The two also instituted CompStat, which watchers of The Wire may know and have their own opinions on. Giuliani also was responsible for getting the reducing the number of homeless people in NYC... by simply moving them somewhere else. As you might imagine, some of these people would end up in jail due to breaking these "quality of life" laws. He also displaced a lot of people because of his approach to urban reconstruction to reshape Times Square and even boycotted the opening of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and more generally the U.S. Open. To be succinct, Rudy Giuliani was a bit of a douchebag.
You may be reading this and think, "what the hell does this have to do with anything?" Giuliani's presidential run was a joke, and he's been out of office for almost six and a half years. Well, I just downloaded M.O.P.'s First Family 4 Life and it struck me that the guy was pretty hated by rappers, for good reason. And rappers tried to communicate why the guy sucked so much to their listeners, proving once again that these guys are smarter than Bill O'Reilly or whoever would have you believe. So I want to thank the former mayor for making rap music just a bit more insightful during his two terms.
One of these songs is on the muxtape I posted a couple days ago, the Extra P remix of Organized Konfusion's "Stress." Pharoahe and Prince Po were pretty aware guys on their first album, and Stress kept that theme going, but the things they said can sometimes feel like general complaints. Well, pair those complaints with an explicit reference to the new mayor of NYC and things start to make some sense. Pharoahe's pretty quick with the reference: " Yo it's the verbal assult weapon with words uncanny/ You can fool me but I cannot fuck with Rudy Giuliani." That may not mean much on its own, but paired with Large Professor's image of old high school friends homeless or Prince Po questioning NYPD's harassing him because he's young and black, that line sums up inner-city life in New York under Giuliani. The poor and minorities were of no use/dangerous, especially young people, and they needed to be kept in check any way possible. Of course, the easy solution is strong police force, breeding resentment amongst some pretty smart rappers.
Another good example came out, like the "Stress (Extra P Remix)," the same year Giuliani took office, Nas' "The World is Yours (Q-Tip Remix)." I've always wondered how much OK and Esco hung out during the early days before writing for Diddy or "Oochie Wally," because it seems like they do similar topics in different ways. OK does "Stray Bullet," Nas does "I Gave You Power." Organized does "Invetro," Nas has "Fetus" on The Lost Tapes. It's tempting to say Nas is a biter, but he's doing a different take on the same concept (rapping as a gun, not a bullet) and telling a different, though no less interesting tale. Anyway, I'm digressing a lot. Nas is pretty clear how he feels about the new mayor in the second verse of the remix: "Change the flow speed, I'm getting vexed, Giuliani is six six six." What amazes me when I hear the song is how the "six six six" line is offbeat, which is rare for Nas, especially around the time Illmatic came out. It's tempting to say he felt the message was important enough to say regardless of rhythm, but I won't make that leap. What is awesome, is how brash both he and Pharoahe are in their vocal disapproval of a mayor who has been in office no more than five to six months, when these singles were released.
The most surprising reference to me is by the Firing Squad (cla-clack! salute) on "4 Alarm Blaze," posted above. Songs like this make me so happy because they complicate the "hardcore gangsta rap/soft serve ice cream rap" dichotomy. Talking softly does not make you a smart rapper, you need some flash of insight. And bust-your-shit-open energy. This song came out during the start of Giuliani's second term, March of '98, and Fizzy Womack gives it to you as only M.O.P. could: "In the history of crime and rap we some the baddest/ Word to the mommy, any fool try me/ Get hit wit the lami, FUCK Giuliani!!!!" Can I get a witness?!!!