The Mood of the Times

One of hip hop's old guardsmen, Raekwon, presented me with a contradiction that I had to turn over in my mind for a while in order to understand. He made a comment on one of today's hip hop stars, Soulja Boy Tellem, saying that while he thought Soulja Boy was lyrically "garbage," he admired the teenager's tenacity--his hustle--in managing to promote himself and garner recognition without the aid of the record industry. In time, I found Raekwon's words to be a profound statement regarding the contemporary hip-hop scene and Black youth culture in general: our generation is well versed in the methods of attaining riches and the avenues for attaining those riches are more open than they ever have been for black young people (I hate saying things like that, I can only imagine a Negro/Nigga in 1926 Alabama saying, "Well, least nowadays they gone have to take you to court 'fo they lynch ya!").

I took Raekwon's words and also thought about some writings by Baudelaire (1821-1867) who (very quickly) said something about finding what was "beautiful" and timeless about the current times. For instance, he thought that a painter should celebrate the black suit and hat in his work as opposed to being nostalgic and painting people in togas. Baudelaire wanted to see what was dope about the current times and find out why it was dope and then celebrate it in the arts.

So back to Raekwon and Soulja Boy--obviously Raekwon finds something admirable in Soulja Boy's work. And I won't lie... my college educated and "cultured" ass has definitely danced to some of his music and others like it. We often talk about the "state of hip hop," we complain about the superficiality or the misogyny etc. but there are parts of it that we also enjoy. What has Soulja Boy isolated in his works that we feel? We have to go beyond saying "Aww nigga, it's that beat he got" because no on has better beats than James Brown, yet we do not dance to his music on Saturday night. What I'm getting at is this: There is something in Soulja Boy and other rappers like him that is speaking to the current times. Of course those of us born before 1990 remember more complex hip-hop, but there is something to be said about why we decide to still fux with hip hop today. What is Soulja really saying... if anything?