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Friday, May 7, 2010

Does a death certificate make you a better entertainer?

Seriously...

With respects to Tony Grands on this one. Thought of this while reading his post from the other day just now. Don't judge me, I been catching up on my reading since I got back in town, RSS reader is STILL kicking my ass.

As I think about this, how exactly WERE Biggie and Tupac any better than Guru?
It seems that as Hip Hop observers, we neglect to say that people are what they claim they were while they were still alive. I mean that to say that EVERY rapper claims that they're the best, and as a competitive marketplace I can't say that I blame them.
Parlance on the subject serves it that we would be miss to not stop and think about what it is that qualifies these claims and properly assess what it is that makes them so or refutes them. I have never been a Tupac Stan, but that is more related to my having been turned off of him by the deluge of 'Pac Stans in my high school. The experience was basically ruined on me, I just couldn't see how they could be so gung-ho over a dude who (at the time) had released albums that were actually wack, save for a song or 3 or 4 each. Sure, All Eyez on Me and Makavelli were good and fucking great respectively, but both came at the end of his career life.
Soon as the ink was dry on his death certificate, though... "Man, 'Pac was the best that ever did it," and so on and so forth.

Biggie was no different, with the exception being that he had 2 critically and commercially acclaimed albums in his very short career life. On the way to Atlanta Saturday morning, Brandon and I listened to DJ Gravy's Big Tings 'a Gwan, available there for free download from the nice people over at Okayplayer.com and I had a bit of an epiphany.
"You know, for all the on-and-on, back-and-forth and everything... Biggie wasn't THAT great either!" I know that this comes listening to a mashup mixtape with known Caribbean riddims against lyrics we all know. I am no dummy. What I do know, however, is that with proper quantization and tempo, the lyrics will fit where the fuck you put them, and I was focusing specifically right there. That being said, Biggie's work has NOT aged well in the very least. There are songs that we had at the time that we hold on to for nostalgia's reasoning, but on the whole, the man's catalog of lyrics do not stand the same. One tends to realize that those releasing albums around the same time must have been THAT much worse, but let us not even take it there, as even that comparison fails to hold water compared to the here and now.
I am not saying he -- or either, for that matter -- was shitty, or even less-than-entertaining, just not as great as my 30+ contemporaries are screaming to the deaf-ears reception of the 25-and-under current generation.

One point of comparison to be made, here, is to the plight of a certain Keith Elam, professionally known as Guru or pioneering rap group Gang Starr. Here, we have a dude with more relevant subject matter, better storytelling, social commentary that is just as valid as Tupac's (don't pretend for a second that Biggie EVER pretended to have much of that) and the leg up of having the beatmaker responsible for 3 of Biggie's most memorable songs, all in a career that predates Pac or BIG's by 5 years at least. A genuine musical ear, as demonstrated by the Jazzmatazz compilations and their own VERY considerable personnels, as well as industry-wide respect, as shown by the way people spoke of and to him in life from both sides (underground/commercial) of the industry.
Even moreso in death than EVER in life.

Why, why in the FUCK is it, that we must wait for our entertainers to die to prop them up as "best," or even to profess our love for them when we could not have been bothered to do so in life? I cannot remove myself from guilt over this one. Yes, I admit that I was not a fan of Pac AT ALL, and have not been since his throwaway shit has been corpsefucked forced upon us steadily for the past 13.5 years now. Yes, I admit that what I actually DID like about Biggie was more than likely born of my having been a young and dumb teenager at the time. As I grew the fuck up, so did my tastes, and I have become less of a fan.
I would go as far to say that we would have seen both of their careers go to shit had they lived. Well, had Biggie lived. I am convinced that Pac was such a douche that he definitely would have gotten shot sooner or later, that was more a case of the chickens coming to roost than any isolated unfortunate incident.
[Phlip note - sue me!]

Anyway, back to Guru... Here, a man with the ear, talent and influence that he has, could be left with ONLY critical acclaim for the whole of his career? How is it that that critical acclaim is ONLY applicable to product, and not to his contribution into the creation of such? I mean that to say that there have been HEAPS of praise -- none in the form of record sales, but that is to be expected -- piled on Gang Starr's work, but none shone specifically on that of Keith Elam himself. Say what you will about Premier, we know it wouldn't exist without him as well, but it goes as far as to say one should perhaps sit back for a minute and think "well what if it was Premier and, say... me, on those records?"
Premier DOES NOT cosign bullshit, ever.
It seems that people have, quite unfortunately, waited until the man fell to his deathbed in February to heap on praise and such on Guru for his contributions to hip hop to a generation who I am more than willing to bet had hardly fucking heard of him. Consistent with the short attention span that they've shown, as well as the 24-hour news cycle that the internets has bred, we quickly slough that shit and go right in on "I hear him and that Solar cat were fudges," or "I heard Solar was whooping that ass," or ANYTHING to draw attention from the fact that a man who was, in the normalest senses of the word, a legend in his own time.
"Legend in his own time" is a colloquial that we should probably spend some time on, but I am having a monumentally bad couple of days, so I won't for the time being, just think about that for a minute...

In "Wanna Be There" from AZ's album Aziatic, the next-to-last line of the hook is "Any love you hold inside, let me see/'cause it won't mean a thing when I leave," and never is it any more prevalent than when an entertainer dies. I will not use the term "celebrity" in this case, because it is times such as this one where the person at hand was not celebrated as they should have been in life, even compared to commercial success that may have been deserved but was never achieved. Another would be Michael Jackson... While he was a celebrity, he spent the last decade or more of his life as a 5'11" 120-pound punchline. Again, as soon as the ink was dry on the death certificate, there was this motherfucking ENORMOUS outpouring of "we love Michael," which luckily coincided with the television network awards cycle at the end of the summer as well.
[Phlip note - hooray, more corpsefucking!]

So here we have it, and with plenty more examples that I will not blow any more ink pixels on in this post... We sit on our hands when doling out the praise that someone is due in life, only to wait until the closure of that person's pass on his/her trips around the sun to begin propping them up as more talented than they actually were, FINALLY giving them their propers for their ACTUAL talents, or behaving as if they were a saint of some sort.
Art imitates life, think of what happens around the time that a real fucking douchebag dies, the outpouring of generally undue kind words. No shots, but a motherfucker unworthy of praise in life likely remains unworthy of praise in death.
That also creates the delicate balance, here. Perhaps, maybe just perhaps, we as a whole should dislodge our heads from our asses when we deify what/who we see on TV/the internets. Perhaps maybe, just maybe, a conscious effort could be made to acknowledge what someone is doing in life as what it is, for better or worse, and maintaining some semblance of consistency with that assessment when their life meter expires.
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