Those of you old enough to be around during what I consider the best era in hip-hop, the 1990’s, know a little something called the Daisy Age, a particular time during the hip-hop era that emphasized positive themes in music. It was epitomized by several hip hop acts that made up the Native Tongues: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Afrika Bambaataa, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, Common, Black Star, Da Bush Babees, and the Leaders of the New School. It was superseded quickly by gangta rap acts like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, so the good times didn’t last. But the last two members of the Native Tongues were Common and Mos Def, who came on as young upstarts riding the coattails of the previous Native Tongue contributors. These two are undoubtedly the most active of the groups today. They’re not running around doing reunion tours is what I’m getting at. What they ARE doing however is continuing the tradition of keeping the themes of their music based on real issues and problems (including being self-referential to the problems affecting hip hop and the African-American community) and not about glamourizing a lifestyle that probably doesn’t exist. I’m talking directly to you, Jay-Z, and your Money, Cash, Hoes problem.
Interestingly enough, the two are on very similar paths in terms of making albums, doing guest appearances on Kanye tracks, and making some (surprisingly) good films. But in terms of messages, while Common is still keeping the themes of the Daisy Age alive with positive music including songs about break ups and heartache, his love of Barack Obama, and the good ole days of hip hop, Mos Def has done the same, but through a completely different path. He is the Malcolm X to Common’s Martin Luther King, and I’m not saying that cause he’s a Muslim, I’m saying that cause he’s more of an inciter than Common. Dude makes a song about Katrina not to sell albums and perform it at the MTV VMAs, he makes the song to raise awareness to the problem and performs it ILLEGALLY, IN FRONT of the VMAs at Radio City Music Hall. How much more Malcolm X can a hip hop artist get?
His message is more blunt and to the point, whereas Common smooths his out with a Will.I.Am swagger and N.E.R.D. electronic drum/kick. If you don’t believe me, check out these Mos Def videos, which are entertaining, but are more intended to provide you with his political vision more than anything:
If I Were President:
Music video with Immortal Technique and Eminem, intended to shock the fuck out of your ass with the following hook, backed up by some sharp Adobe Flash work, “Bin Laden didn’t blow up the projects! It was you N****, tell the truth N****. Bush knocked down the towers. Tell the truth N****. ”
And come on, how many hip hop artists can say their video was directed by BcB favorite, Wong Kar Wai, with a rare appearance by Faye Wong!?
Thanks Asian American Movement for linking us to the Immortal Technique video.