Is The Word “Real” Holding Us Back?

If I go to the movies, the last thing I want to see is a film about a regular person doing the things that I do day to day. That would be boring. I want a bit of escapism, and sure I want to be able to relate to the characters, but this is largely due to an emotional bond based on the fact that film characters usually have human emotions, no matter how extreme these may be.

So why is it, that many hip-hop fans seem stuck on the idea that everything must be “real.” Sure, sometimes this is good, however, not always. It’s like only watching documentaries; I’d personally prefer my entertainment to have more variation.

This thought came about when I posted my top ten albums of the 2010 list over at my own site. I included Rick Ross’ Teflon Don on the list (it later turned out to be on DJ Premier’s top 25 list also), and received an array of comments and Twitter messages about how the album isn’t real, the album is ignorant etc. etc. Now I’m sure many of you agree with these statements, in fact, I actually do too. Rick Ross used to be a prison guard, and I’m not going to argue that the album doesn’t have ignorant tracks. However, I don’t see why this is necessarily a bad thing. The beat selection was excellent, the tracks are well written (for their purpose, I’m not saying he’s the most lyrical rapper in the world!), the guests are all well-chosen, it is, in my opinion, a good album. The fact that I enjoy this doesn’t mean that I can’t have The Roots on that list too. I bet everyone who complained enjoys action movies from time to time, or has played “Grand Theft Auto” at some point and enjoyed it.

My point is that it is good to have a variation, and by telling stories about extreme situations, that the listener nor the writer would probably ever find themselves in, the writer is able to evoke strong emotional bonds with the listener. I love reading Steven King novels, and think that they evoke fantastic emotion, yet I don’t think that Steven King often comes into contact with vampires, spirits, telekinetic children etc.

Another situation that made me think about the way that fans pigeon-hole themselves was last night (as I write this) when El-P posted on Twitter stating, “then again cam is the gawd and he can do anything he wants in my opinion.”

After a number of replies from fans who couldn’t understand why El would like Cam’ron, he continued…

“Dipset at their peak was some of the last great, new NY rap shit. Just raw shit over very very ill production.”

And when a fan explained that he was a Mos Def fan, implying that the two are mutually exclusive, El came back with, “What makes you think Mos Def ain’t a Dipset fan? Rappers like rap.”

In fact, Mos probably is a Dip Set fan, as he has collaborated with Jim Jones for the BlakRoc project with the Black Keys in 2009.

Toward the end of the night El posted the following two statements: “Man, I must be breaking hearts today. Cats forget I’m from Brooklyn. I’ve been putting out music since before there were ‘genres’ of rap.” Followed by, “I was bumping De [La] Soul and NWA back to back. If they came out now, you’d have to like one or the other, apparently. Not [in] my world.”

I totally agree with what was said, and although I myself am not a huge Dip Set fan, I think that fans would be surprised what a lot of their favorite artists listen to. A couple of examples that have come up in interviews I’ve done. Like, Actual Proof telling me very recently that themselves and 9th Wonder were listening to T.I., Rick Ross and Eve at the studio the night before, and a while back when Doomtree’s Paper Tiger told me he would love to work with Rick Ross.

To me rap is a medium for telling stories, and poetry, and ultimately the more genres explored via the medium, the better. I’m not saying that everyone should listen to and enjoy everything, I’m just saying that it’s much better to have a lot of diversity available than to have a very limited choice, as all limits put on rap and hip-hop are very negative overall. If film had been limited after around 40 years, in the way a lot of rap fans wish that rap was now, imagine where film would be today. As long as there are still relate-able, lyrical, real artists out there, a bit of fantasy to balance things out won’t hurt. Is “keeping it real” always as important as we try to make out?

Category: Words I Manifest

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