Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Switching to Dead Prez featuring Jay Z, Hell Yeah.

The track that justifies criminal activity as a form of reparations, or more probably as a means of resistance against a form of economic oppression that has left the inner city of America bereft of hope. “Ain’t you hungry my nigga, don’t you wanna get paid my nigga?” The chorus functions as revolutionary sloganeering: an inducement to embrace the post-revolutionary moment and take up arms in the name of preventing the complete effacement of a people. Dead Prez inhabits the space left by the Malcolm X/ Black Panther vision of the African American predicament. In some sense, it is possible to say that more mainstream rappers, such as Jay Z, Kanye West and 50 Cent present us with an accelerated version of minstrelsy, though not particularly buffoonish, as much as capitalizing and intensifying the ultraviolent and hyper-sexualized vision of the African American male as a caricature of white projections of the end of the civil rights project. As has often been said, the majority of the consumers of hip-hop and rap are white, suburbanites. The glorification of violence, misogyny and materialism found in mainstream rap music not only reflects the lack of developed economic systems in the inner city, but simultaneously reveals the hunger that the white mainstream culture has for sensational images of the other. In some perverse sense of order, the foregrounding of the “ghetto” as a signifier of authenticity reinforces in the minds of the white mainstream consumer the economic and cultural “arrival” of the African Americans in the post-civil rights moment.

The fact that this description conveys a colonized/colonizer dynamic should come as no surprise; rather than seeing the inner city as an important index of intentional and specific political and economic processes, it becomes a field of economic exploitation for the colonizer, and a field of desperation and perpetual conflict for the colonized. In this case, the product isn’t a material good, like a vital crop or mineral, but a set of cultural indicators and experiences whose initial vitality has been reduced to its most banal and libidinal elements.

And unless this set of dynamic interactions is understood, a track like W4 seems parodic at best and potentially absurd at worst.

“My J.O.B is just like a plantation.”

The critic charges that this is the worst sort of “complaint rap,” a parody of genuine revolutionary urge, transmuted into triviality and base simplicity. However, once the situation is perceived in terms of the near total economic disenfranchisement of the inner city (and thus, black and Hispanics) coupled with the simultaneous rigid codification and subsequent commodification of “street cred” and the extremely cynical and oppressive image of the “authentic OG,” the inner city street suddenly is more easily understood as being a kind of post-material plantation, a plantation of information and disembodied signification.