Across the divide: Why El-P is splitting Hiphop
Its the debate which gathered momentum last year, and at present time is reaching fever pitch between the contributors and readers of this site, and the general Hiphop public at large…
Cannibal Ox – “The Cold Vein”… the best rap album released in years, or the most horrific sound that underground Hiphop has spat out since God knows when?
I was around when Run DMC broke the rules by SHOUTING over rock riffs. I have the tapes of Cold Crush, Kool Moe Dee, and Busy Bee battling and freestyling. I was one of the first in line to cop LL’s Radio, another change to the Hiphop landscape with its 808 influenced Def Jam sound. You see, being “one of the old school”, I’ve been lucky enough to experience the highs AND horrors of some of the greatest (and lamest) acts that rap music has ever produced. I remembered how rebellious I felt listening to NWA – here was a group who weren’t afraid to spit profanities on the mic, no matter what anyone thought. I remember debating with schoolfriends the pros and cons of Public Enemy, who they saw as nothing but “niggers attacking white people.” I was there when De La dropped the skit laden, anti-gangsta attitude of 3 Feet High…
And so on and so on… all these groups (and many others) made my head spin at times with the incredibly innovative ideas they were throwing out on wax. They set trends via dope music – they never followed the norm. That was something to be admired…
Fast forward to 1997 and the release of “Funcrusher Plus” by a group called Company Flow. Fledgling record label Rawkus dropped an album that was filled with enough attitude to back up the “Independent As Fuck” motto they proudly stamped on the inlay cover. Underground heads couldn’t get enough of the heavily layered production, and the brand new style of rhyming that El-P and Bigg Jus were bringing to the table.
Or so they’d like you to think… you see I always considered myself an “underground” head. I loved my music, and I loved being up on new groups before anyone else, partly because of the elitist, better-than-you vibe it gave me, but mainly because I was making mix tapes and selling them, so I had to come with brand new shit to make the sale. So imagine when I heard the buzz on Co Flow, picked up the joint… and didn’t “get” it.
What was so amazing about this? A couple of mumble-mouth motherfuckers trying to fit as many words as they could into each line, over some pretty dull and uninspiring beats. I got into it a few times with people who thought the sun shone out of El-P’s back passage. “It’s innovative. Its new. Nobody is fucking with this – that’s why its staying in the underground. The radio is never gonna touch this.”
It was hard to counter this argument, this way of thinking. A simple “its wack” didn’t wash. After all, THEIR enthusiasm for Co Flow echoed my enthusiasm back in the day for Jazzy Jay cutting up Apache. But it was also hard to explain WHY I hated Company Flow so much. I loved (and still love) Hiphop music, but I hated Company Flow…
Imagine my joy then when Company Flow broke up. Unfortunately the path they laid has created a bigger division than any I have seen at any time before in my nearly 18 year love affair with Hiphop. You see if you didn’t like Company Flow, and “the rest of the underground”, then you OBVIOUSLY had to be into more commercial shit. You were a fool who was only flirting with the music, and who obviously only listened to Jay-Z and Puffy.
It didn’t help that the commercial side of Hiphop was drawing a bigger and bigger fanbase from the “pop” crowd thanks to Jigga, Puffy and a certain Mr. Mathers. Often combined and marketed alongside teenage “Hip-rock” like Limp Bizkit etc, rap music attracted new fans due to its rebellious image, and the “noise” factor. I’d been through this all before with NWA, when a gang of people jumped on the Hiphop bandwagon due to its “Oh… they said fuck!” attractiveness. But now because I couldn’t stand Co Flow and their ilk I was being lumped into the same pigeonhole as the very people who gave me shit back in the day for listening to “black jungle drums.”
Fast forward again to 2001 and the release of “The Cold Vein”. Once again EL-P has a hand in my torture, supplying emcees Vast and Vordul with a collection of some of the most cold and soul-less beats ever let loose from a studio. Techno has more fucking soul. Couple this with the fact that the emcees come off as some pretencious, super-intelligent, “if-you-don’t-get-this-then-you’re-too-stupid-to-understand” twats and you can see why I had trouble with this.
Imagine my horror then, when others started tossing it around as an album of the year contender. If you tried to explain why you weren’t feelin’ it you were abruptly pointed back in the direction of “jiggy-dom”. After all, if you couldn’t understand it, then that’s all you must be listening to, right?
Wrong. Let me state this now for the “backpacker” types (yeah, I called you that), who wanna play oneupmanship with me. Do you remember the first time you heard ‘Jack The Ripper’, or ‘Rebel Without A Pause’? How about the warm feeling you got when you peeped Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s ‘T.R.O.Y’? Or how your neck nearly fell off through over-nodding while listening to “Strictly Business”? Most of you won’t… and thats why Hiphop is so stale.
The “underground” groups now want to produce more and more obscure shit, intent on coming out of left field the hardest. Its not experimentation anymore – its a game to see who can come off in the most “un-hiphop” style and still get love from the hiphop fans. Meanwhile commercial rap grows more and more bloated with fake thugs who floss rented cars and jewellery, and sing cheesy hooks about their “bay-bay”. In between is where the “real” Hiphop is… some of y’all might wanna try to listen to a bit more of it.
Consider this (probably extremely self-contradictory) rant now over.
I don’t like Company Flow. I don’t like Cannibal Ox. I love Hiphop.
A to the L
(from the heart, fuck the art)