Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For The Funk Of It

Sunday night, Hip-hop Show Buddy and I found ourselves downtown. It was a pleasant night, not quite what you'd call warm, but not at all cold either. You might say it was as close to perfect as the nights here ever get. It was great weather to catch an outdoor show featuring the legendary Ice Cube. I was particularly happy to be out seeing this show since just a few weeks before, I had skipped out on seeing Method Man and Redman due to the boys being sick. In that case, I'd already paid for my ticket, but when your baby boy is covered head to toe in hives, that becomes a bit less significant.

For this night, however, I'd spent not a dime. Austin Hip-hop Scene had held a contest, the prize being two tickets to see Ice Cube. So I dropped my name in the hat, and then forgot about it until one morning I went to work and checked my email, only to find out that my name was going on that guest list. Gotta say that was a good day.

At least, my name was supposed to go on the list. As we neared the door, I started wondering what the hell I was going to do if my name wasn't there. Sure enough, Clipboard And Stamp Guy flips through his various lists and can't find my name anywhere.

"Who was supposed to put you on the list?"

I told him.

"It's not here."

"Well, it's supposed to be."

We looked at each other for a second. Then he says, "Fuck it." He stamps my hand. He stamps Shayne's hand. Whether I was ever on that list or not, we were in for nada dolla. Gangsta, gangsta.

The opening act was an idiot named Trick Trick. I'd never heard of him before, but from the sound of some of his lyrics, he's got a bit of a homophobia issue. This is an ugly aspect of hip-hop that doesn't seem to get addressed much. For years, there's been a lot of talk about the gratuitous violence and the degrading portrayal of women in hip-hop lyrics, but homophobia doesn't seem to have been talked about nearly as much. One of the major exceptions, of course, was the hype that surrounded Eminem a few years back. For my part, I have less of an issue with the violence aspect than I do with the other two. I think the point has been made plenty of times that gangster rap is a close cousin of punk rock. They're raw, scary, maybe a bit mean. And both are intent on portraying the reality of worlds that are too ugly and too close to home to be comfortable enough for prime time.

Of course, both have been somewhat commodified, and have given birth to a number of artists that have become almost caricatures of the music they are supposed to be about. I mean, when you've got artists trying to portray their pasts as being more gangster than they really were, that's just sad. Still that doesn't take anything away from the impact that this music had when it first hit.

Wait, I was talking about homophobia, right? Yeah, the ugly treatment of women and homosexuals in a lot (read: NOT ALL) of hip-hop music makes me sick. I'm thankful that the music's gone in different directions over the years, with lots of artists taking the basic building blocks of beats and rhymes, and innovating them to create something new. It's as if more rappers seem comfortable being who they are rather than trying to portray themselves as some kind of ultra-violent gangster poet. Some artists have even spoken out against disrespecting women and gay people. And just as I think the tide will turn against bullshit like Proposition 8, I think it will turn against attitudes like these in hip-hop music. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if a gay rapper rose to prominence using his or her rhymes against homophobia. Homophobia may not be wiped out completely in our lifetime (I mean Christ, we still have fucking racism), but you just can't win against the power of an idea whose time has come. Still, seeing Trick Trick was a pretty blunt reminder that this problem is still with us in a big way. And the fact that he has him on his tour tells me that Ice Cube, who I've respected for years, must condone his attitudes at least to some extent.

All the same, Ice Cube's performance was incredible. He played some new shit, he played some old shit, he even played some N.W.A. It's one thing to be all Office Space about it and sing along with the tracks in the car, it's quite another to sing along with the dude that wrote it. At one point, I turned to Shayne and said "that's Ice Cube! He's right there!" That's one more "gotta-see" show I can mark off the list.

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