Revisited: Hip Hop and ya don’t…stop?
The upcoming Labor Day weekend marks the return of the annual Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle. This year is no exception because the venue was selected by none other than the Wu-Tang Clan, one of the festival’s headliners. In anticipation for their performance, I came across an article about their comeback which, surprisingly, speaks to a topic recently discussed here on BOSCT.
The following excerpt was especially interesting to me:
…Which brings him [the GZA] to the topic that really turns his blood to battery acid: mainstream hip-hop today. “Don’t get me wrong. Some of us [in Wu-Tang] rhyme about cars and clothes, and that’s what the current state of hip-hop is,” he explains. “But you can have a radio hit today and it’s gone tomorrow and no one remembers it 10 years from now. But you take a song like [Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 hit about street life] ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ and it’s telling a story, and so many people can relate to it.
“Hip-hop is going to be what it is, but, as lyricists, it’s time to lay it down. It’s not about being preachy or being a professor and saying don’t smoke and don’t party. But it’s about educating and entertaining. … I don’t knock material rappers, but let me hear it in a different way. How many songs do I have to hear about rims on a car? It’s ridiculous. There’s no substance. It’s a hollow shell.”
(Article courtesy of The Seattle Times, via the Bumbershoot Festival website)
It’s appreciated to know that such a mainstream entity in the industry is able to recognize the direction today’s artists have brought the music and genre. The history of the Wu goes back well over a decade, and they are one among few who have seen the good and bad sides of life in the mainstream.
So why do I care about this topic?
Having been a contributor (as a scratch DJ) for the past 11 years, I’ve seen the exact same thing happen in my own experiences. When I started out, few knew what scratching was becoming, but it had already made an impact within the disc jockey industry. DJs were inventing new styles of scratching, and it seemed as though someone was showcasing a new technique every day. These innovators soon became popular through competitions, and they were taking this new form of music to the masses.
Jump forward in time to the present day, and there are scratch DJs everywhere. There’s equipment specifically tailored for scratching, and kids everywhere have convinced their parents to spend money on a relatively expensive hobby. While it’s nice to know there has been a lot of interest these past several years, I think the motivation is steered in the wrong direction. Like mainstream rap, scratch music/composition has reached a plateau, and it seems as though creativity has become stagnant. Most of these DJs lack any sense of soul in their music, and tend to imitate more than concentrate on creating their own unique sound.
At one point, the art was coined the name “turntablism”, and some DJs proclaimed to be “turntablists”. These terms seem insipid to me, almost insulting. It’s to the point where I would call
fake ass toys like-minded enthusiasts turntablists, and dedicated artists scratch musicians. Some scratch DJs in recent times have even gone as far as to keep their styles to themselves, including myself. A sad irony, because the whole community is one founded on sharing ideas.
Admittedly, I’ve been very reluctant to share my art with others. I’m a purist when it comes down to things, and feel that it’s important to learn from the ground up. In other words, understand how to count bars, mix songs together, and play in front of a crowd. I hate the fact that people try to cut corners; taking what truly is an acquired artform, and turning it into the after school trend it has unfortunately become today.
In light of this, as the popularity among newer DJs dies down, many long-time contributors are coming out of the woodwork in attempt to breathe new life into the scratch scene. Some performers are integrating the art with live instruments, others are trying to exploit new ways to push techniques even further. In the end, there’s plenty of opportunity to bring our art back to what it once was before.
Truth be told, don’t pick up a DVD that teaches all the cool scratching tricks and techniques, then pretend to be a badass like this guy.