"What you got up your sleeve there, homie?"


One of the reasons I’m biased in favour of buying music is the (often) lavish presentation that comes with the CDs. Unravelling the sleeves of most music albums gives you a damned good idea of the amount of labour ‘n’ love (or lack of) that went into putting the whole damn thing together.


Amongst all the photography, dedications and credits, the main factor that draws me to look at a sleeve, even before I put the CD in the stereo, is the lyrical content. As an aspiring writer, I always like to take the time to see how much thought my favourite artists put into their words. Reading the music press, I find this area of songwriting to be shamefully understated – whilst good lyrics can’t necessarily “save” bad music, they can enhance good music to form great songs, and exist quite solidly on their own merits. This is especially true in the (often) socially-aware and introspective worlds of rock and metal. Whether it’s David Draiman’s ambiguous feelings toward religion on Disturbed’s Believe album, or Randy Blythe’s apocalyptic visions on Lamb of God’s As the Palaces Burn, a well thought out set of lyrics can often be appreciated in their own right, as well as musical accompaniment. The reproduction of such on CD sleeves denotes, in my eyes, a certain pride on the part of the artist(s) responsible – which is often (though not always) warranted.


The story changes when we look at hip-hop CDs:


Seriously, lyric sheets in hip-hop CD are about as commonplace as pre-recorded MiniDisc albums! I open up some rapper’s sleeve notes and what do I see? Not lyrics that’s for sure! Instead I find myself presented with said “artist” posing as if he were a Kays catalogue extra. It’s as if the “badass” image many gangsta rappers peddle is the major selling point with the music as a supplementary extra.

No one can quite sell narcissism like a gangsta rapper!

With that firmly in mind, you’d think that they’d jump at the chance to showcase their poetic talents on their sleeves as well as on CD. So why do they not do this? Are they trying to carry on the traditions of cultures past, passing on their urban myths exclusively by word of mouth? Are they simply too lazy to get their record labels to publish these lyrics? Perhaps they think “freestyle” lyrics lose their value in some way once scribed; or maybe they wish to retain some “element of surprise”.

My favourite speculation however – at least in relation to gangsta hip-hop – is that the majority of mainstream rappers are secretly quite ashamed of the repetitive, generic subjects (or is that subject?) they rap about. Seriously, whenever I choose to play a gangsta rap CD, it’s not because I identify or am overly interested in the actual topics they discuss. One of the things I find insulting about the proponents of gangsta rappers is that they often try to justify their worship of hedo-nihilism as “the Black experience” or “how not to be”. Firstly, I don’t identify with tales of “drive-bys”, “40s”, “hoes”, “gangbanging” and materialistic masturbation, and I’m neither arrogant nor myopic enough to think I’m the only black who deviates from such a blueprint. Also, if the gangstas are personifications of how not to be, how comes you have guys like 50 Cent bragging about how many gunshot wounds they survived? And how comes do you see these guys smearing themselves in flash cars and jewellery, using such items as the passports to their next blowjob?

The claims made by many in “the rap game” stand on weak ‘n’ wobbly foundations.

I mean, you hear all these guys go on and on about how “the rap game” gets them out of the ghetto and all that, but isn’t the incessant glorification of the ghetto thug lifestyle proof that, in their minds at least, they’re still very much there? To be honest, I view the whole genre of gangsta rap the same way I view an episode of Eastenders – as comedy! All the protesting, picketing and whatnot concerning this offensive lyric, or that glorification of violence is a hella lot of wasted exertion and oxygen. What does piss me off about the genre is the cultural appropriation of the “ghetto thug” lifestyle as the face of Black Western society, to the extent that someone’s “blackness” (Ha, ha!) is questioned if they choose not to toe the “ghetto fabulous” line.

I roll my eyes, recounting all the times I’ve been criticized for my musical/aesthetic tastes as a black man!

Of course, the blacks on the street who buy into the group-think are just as much to blame as the rappers and industry moguls who exploit such stereotypes – like drug addicts, they can’t see the harm they’re doing to themselves. White power cuntrags, and similar racist mindsets, feed off this shit to justify such sayings as: “You can take the nigger out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the nigger”. The irony of such a situation is that a WP hardliner, with a hard-on for “racial purity”, and a black who insists that he and his “bredren” follow an unwritten handbook on “acting black” are ideological cousins. Then again, it all ties in with the laws of magnetism – like repulses like and all that….

This post ended up a hella lot more political than I originally intended, but fuck it! I’m not omitting a single word. Unlike the “studio gangstas” who choose not to have printed lyrics on their record sleeves, my words are up for the reading. Over and out, homes….


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