Wednesday, November 02, 2005

And Now For Something Completely different:Hip Hop and Vanity Fair

When I was twelve my family moved from rural central California to LA, it was then that I first encountered Rap. This was long before Rap and Hip Hop had its current wide spread appeal. I then knew Rap as very much a street phenomenon, and I recognized it as both expression of the realities of the street, a cry of protest, and longing for a different world. Though I have never bought a Rap or Hip Hop album, nor do I listen to it much. Though I do have an interest in certain artists like Snoop Dog and Ice T. I knew of these two before they became widely popular and household names. They were Rappers and gangsters, men of the streets.
So, it is a little strange to see them in a spread of the Kings and Queens of Hip Hop in Vanity Fair. The entire spread is rich and each artist is dressed and set in the trapping of wealth and power. And I wonder where this fits with the urban streets where they came from and if Rap and Hip Hop have lost what little ethical bearings they had in protesting the injustices of the Urban environment. Not that Snoop Dog or Ice T ever were paragons of virtue, but they were speaking the truth of what I saw on the streets of LA and its poor working class and lower middle class suburbs like Compton and Carson. Rap has its power in its speaking the ugly truths and contradictions of our culture. Paging through Vanity Fair's spread, it seems Rap and Hip Hop is simply caught up in that ugliness, perhaps it always has been.
I have a mixture of emotions on one had a bit of admiration and respect that Snoop Dog and Ice T have pulled off what they, have the way they have made themselves American icons, on the other hand it seems the truth they spoke is compromised, again I could see that this has always been the case.
The other thought I have is what their success says about the American system of consumer capitalism, and its ability to co-opt just about anything into its self, and that if one makes enough money one is by virtue of that worthy of the systems respect, it doesn't matter that you may have and may still critique it or bend its rules to ones advantage.
All I can say that in 1987 I would have never thought I would see Rap and Hip Hop artists in expensive suits and trappings of corporate power displayed in a magazine like Vanity Fair. I can't quite reconcile the two images, it is beyond surreal. I gues I never supposed the answer to the cry of protest in Rap was simply the atainment of the wealth, privilage and status that fead off the realities of the street they described and protested against. Even so I can't help still feeling a bit of respect for Snoop Dog and Ice T.