Some reflections on hip-hop (and a first playlist of hip-hop favourites)
I absolutely love hip-hop, and if I would analyse my listening statistics, hip-hop and (acoustic) contemporary/classical music would probably take the top places. Here are some initial reflections on hip-hop, and the first of my hip-hop favourites playlists (more will come).
Hip-hop can still be quite polarising, although not like when I was a young black-metal kid in the early 90s. Metal-heads just didn’t listen to hip-hop, at least not where I came from, but from very early on I decided I had to constantly challenge my listening habits. Whatever music was hated by the scene I was a part of, was exactly the stuff I had to check out and try to understand it. So, I started buying hip-hop records.
Needles to say, I’ve never lasted long as a card-carrying member of any scene, as these are usually founded on including something and vehemently excluding something else (again, less so today than in the 90s, but there are still many situations where some music doesn’t fly).
I’ve always disliked the simplistic link between music and narrow-minded concepts of identity, and today these are found less along genre-lines and more along other aesthetic dichotomies (minimalist/maximalist, introvert/extrovert, theatrical/“realist” etc etc). I see music as a way of experimentally being in the world, and I don't expect it to conform to my sense of identity. Rather, I relish the opportunity to enjoy how someone else sees/feels the world.
To me, hip-hop is a broad concept, ranging from old-school to experimental, East Coast to West Coast, super hard to super mellow, gangsta to conscious, from US, UK to anywhere in the world. I have to be honest and say I’m biased towards the harder stuff, but I do try to check out everything.
What is it that speaks to me in hip-hop, especially the harder gangsta stuff? I find that it is one of the most honest forms of music there is. I might actively disagree with some attitudes and behaviour, but the music does show sides of humanity that I believe are equally present in all of us, but are often either denied or hidden away, rather than confronted. The absolutely worst music/art is that which pretends to be nice/caring/conscious/revolutionary/experimental/new or any other buzzword, whilst in reality being cold, bland and cynical.
In a way, there are three kinds of art/philosophy (the following is a very rough and incomplete categorisation). I’ll call them, for now, Cold-Realist, Blind-Idealist and Hopeful-Utopian.
The first category accepts the world as it is, with no illusions or idealisms/concepts having greater status than the experienced reality. But it does not have any interest in changing the state of the world, only to win the game. This is maybe related to a Hobbesian, super-materialist view. And this is where gangsta-rap (at least partly) is, although hip-hop can of course accommodate all kinds of attitudes.
The second category has some ideal that is placed above the experienced reality. If experience clashes with the idea, the idea wins, and “reality” is shoehorned into a limited and distorted shape. The parts of reality that do not suit the idea are deemed lesser/immoral/evil/impure, and sent to 'hell'. This is often accompanied by the concept of some kind of place of purity. Maybe this is a kind of Cartesian/Platonic view? The ideals can often be very laudable/good/nice/correct, but history is full of examples where this kind of thinking has led to horrible behaviour or even atrocities. Any kind of music purporting (consciously or unconsciously) to be good or idealistic can fit here. Often, the "truth" in music isn't revealed by what the music is saying on the surface, but what the sound reveals of the hidden/unconscious currents in the creator. Just like the character/timbre of a human voice often reveals more about a person than they would like.
The final category is one I think we all should aspire to (and as with any aspirations, one will fail, but it is important to try). This view attempts to see the “reality” as clearly as possible, letting actual experience modify and improve ones ideas (because everyone has ideals/assumptions/biases that can do their work in hiding). Nothing is shoved under the proverbial rug, but problems are acknowledged and as best as possible, fixed. And since the world is full of unsolved (unsolvable?) paradoxes, these must be embraced, and allowed to loudly proclaim that we humans are limited beings. We can never know everything, let alone create a system that solves every problem.
This is a rough and preliminary set of thoughts, and these categories are probably not watertight, nor very well developed. I think any system of classification should never be fixed, but always welcome anomalies, always change. I will most certainly revisit, develop and modify these thoughts, and I would love to hear your opinions!
The direct analogies with hip-hop in this text have long since broken down, so, please enjoy this first playlist :)