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Written by: Phillip Mlynar
Phillip ‘Prime Minister’ Mlynar explains why Rest In Peace is not the word to play.
Mourn you ’til I join you? Not in the spit-on-the-grave world of rap. Guru‘s passing has shown once more than when it comes to death, hip-hop has no idea how to handle itself with dignity and grace. Being a legendary rapper and part of one of hip-hop’s most beloved groups didn’t stop the ex-Gang Starr man from being pronounced dead on Twitter when he wasn’t, having a soap-opera-style drama unfold in the wake of his death, and seeing his life ‘celebrated’ by a stream of rubbish, pixelated YouTube videos. But that’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to hip-hop deaths. Why? Here’s five starters…
5. Rap Is Violent!
Going out on a limb here: No other music in the history of the world has shot, murdered, tortured and maimed so many people in rhymed verse as hip-hop. When you’re being bombarded by songs that refer to the business end of a revolver more often than peace, love and nappyness, it taints the truth of rappers as vulnerable flesh and blood human beings. Instead, the persona projected is that they’re public-housing-raised futuristic killing machines incapable of being destroyed. Sure, you can trot out the usual trickle of titles when it comes to songs that deal with death poignantly, but for every “Dead Homiez” or “One Day” there are a billion songs about impressing nuns with automatic artillery, shooting pro-homo-dudes in the back and, er, gunning down 80 Frenchmen. For most rappers violent death doesn’t become them – it’s been a part of their music all along.
4. Rap Eats Its Elders!
There’s little dignity in being an old rap legend. Maybe it’s to do with the culture’s rich heritage of encouraging its enthusiastic up-and-comers to take down the established icons of the day. Or perhaps it’s because of some sociological theory that posits that young African-America kids are more preoccupied about finding that next shit than valuing the present or past (at least according to the 1998 edition of Haralambos’ Sociology Themes And Perspectives). Either way, by the time most hip-hop idols pass away their stock has plummeted. Most fans don’t care for their contributions of ten or twenty years ago. Few value their back catalogue of classics, even if they’re reissued with previously unseen artwork, new liner notes, and in fancy deluxe gatefold packaging. Newly post-pubescent rap kids want to hear what The Adventures Of Bobby Ray sounds like, not keep Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik or Soul Food in rotation. Rap moves quickly – and that’s the way it is.
3. Fuck A Fact Check!
As a medium for spreading word of news quickly, the internet is amazing. It’s not, however, particularly good at distinguishing itself as being accurate when it comes to relics of the past like ‘facts’. Consider poor Guru: First, he was pronounced dead by artists and fans alike on Twitter when, er, he wasn’t. (Shame on you, rumor-hungry shit-pigs!) Then when he did pass away, his legacy was summed up by a barrage of short obituaries that seemed to crib from a Wikipedia entry. Jon Caramanica appears to be the only writer to have actually, you know, checked Guru’s real age (47-years-old, direct from Guru’s family, as opposed to the near-universally reported 43-years-old). Sure, renowned ladies man Keithy E might have down-sized his years in the game on Wikipedia for vanity’s sake, but large media outlets like Billboard and MTV should know better than to rely on a source based on the fuckwit idea of “user-edited content.” It’s as if they’ve never seen that episode of 30 Rock where Big Frank Rossitano freaks Janis Joplin‘s Wikipedia page and comedy ensues.
And there’s more! Solar may or may not be staking a place for himself as hip-hop’s ultimate pantomime villain, but today’s hungry young news-hounds are so obsessed with his shady-seeming shenanigans that they seemingly couldn’t pick him out of a line-up. You don’t have to be bumping “Le Bien, Le Mal,” to work out that Solar and MC Solaar are two completely different people. Clue one: Their names are different. Clue two: One has been making solo albums with Guru for the last few years, the other hasn’t. Clue three: One probably has no idea who Thierry Henry is. Most brilliantly, those infinite monkeys hunched over their iMacs at AllHipHop.com’s HQ managed to raise the bar by mashing up Solar and MC Solaar, creating the all new and improved “MC Solar” in the process. It’s as if they didn’t realize that Solar is the “super producer”!
According to interviews with turn-of-the-’90s New York rappers, the art of bootlegging used to be easy. You’d set up a wooden bench somewhere on 125th Street in Harlem, display you bootleg tapes, and hope that a rapper didn’t turn up to kick seven shades of shite out of you. But if they did, you shrugged, said it was a fair cop, and moseyed off to nurse your injuries. There was something almost earnest about the whole shebang. Now though, it’s arguable that 90% of daily rap operations are effectively some form of bootlegging – and a rapper’s death brings out the worst in it all.
There are people who genuinely seem to believe that posting up links to YouTube videos somehow correlates with ‘celebrating’ a rapper’s legacy. It doesn’t. And it’s pretty insulting on sonic quality grounds alone. There are people who think it’s respectful to post up back catalogues and archives of ‘rare’ releases that at times seem to break into nothing more than a list of CD singles (you really need the clean version of “Nice Girl, Wrong Place”?). There are people who start selling shoddy, posthumous t-shirts. Have you seen the fantastic array of tat that passes for Dilla tribute tees? It won’t be long before someone’s hawking the broken jpeg symbol on a tee as part of the Yancey legacy. There are mixtapes from people you’ve never heard of (if you’re not Premo you really should think twice about whether what you’re doing with those Gang Starr records is anything other than self-promotion under the guise of a ‘tribute’ – or at least be honest about it).
1. Rappers Are Violent!
Going out on the other limb here: No other music in the history of the world sees getting shot as a beneficial career move. We all know the examples, from ‘Pac posturing in court in his wheelchair to Gravy getting shot outside Hot97 and deciding that going on the radio was more pressing than a trifling thing like medical treatment (though in fairness he could have been a Jehovah’s Witness). When rappers seem to be willingly throwing themselves in front of bullets, it’s no surprise that when death comes calling it doesn’t impact with the cold, stark shock that it should. Instead there’s a shrug: another day, another rapper shot, another rapper dead. Sadly, for a lot of listeners you suspect there’s little difference.
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