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OK, so I’m looking at the front cover of this past week’s Washington City Paper “2010 Music in Review” edition. Wait, or is it “2010 in Music Review?” I honestly don’t know. It’s a little confusing to me. Still, I get that this is in some way the “tastemaker” issue on D.C. area music as compiled by the Washington City Paper staff.
What’s also confusing to me is how in the world it’s printed, right there on the front cover for the entire world to see, in what is to be taken as an authoritative assessment and conclusion on the state of the DC hip-hop scene this year:
Hip-Hop: We’ve got plenty of good MCs. But D.C. still lacks a great one
Pardon me, but of course I have to chuckle at that statement. Chuckle.
Reading the piece written by my colleague Andrew Noz, there are actually a few great D.C. MCs mentioned: Kokayi, Oddisee, yU—-and I don’t know why the piece doesn’t focus on them more. It would be exponentially more helpful than this blanket declaration that D.C. lacks a great M.C., because it’s the furthest thing from the truth.
What’s more accurate is that D.C. lacks a great commercial rap/pop star. I’ll give brother Noz that. I’m not into commercial pop rap, but maybe I can agree that D.C.’s representatives of American pop culture don’t compare with their counterparts in other cities who are interested in pop-music success. I say maybe because I really don’t know. I’m not into pop rap music, personally.
In the article, Noz mentions how one of D.C.’s national offerings as an urban commercial artist, Wale, is on a track with the national pop-rap artist Waka Flocka Flame. Family, I’ve heard Waka Flocka before, and through word of mouth I know he is considered to be the reigning village idiot of pop-inspired commercial rap. Let me tell you, this association and collaboration is not complimentary to Wale, and I have a hard time even believing that Wale really thinks Wocka Flocka is a great MC—-but he is a commercial pop rap success. I don’t know if Wale is out to be a commercial success, or a great MC. Only a few artists are able to merge both distinctions effectively. Kanye West comes to mind as the prime example in today’s times—-a great MC who enjoys mega commercial success—-and an argument can be made that he has paid a considerable price for it. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” one year, and the next his mamma is suddenly dead at the hands of a plastic surgeon on an operating table. Hey, I’m into conspiracy theories.
No, D.C. does not have a Kanye West yet, but we do have great MCs, and with a more supportive gatekeeper and tastemaker community our great MCs would enjoy greater success on the national stage. Take the mighty Asheru for instance—-my favorite example when talking about a great D.C. MC who I think should be enjoying mega success as a professional artist.
Asheru, not mentioned in Noz’s DMV piece, is a hip-hop legend here in D.C., throughout the region, country, and—-yes—-the world. Famous for penning the theme song for Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks cartoon show, Asheru has been an active musician producing hip-hop classics since the ’90s. He’s spawned heavyweight digital/live music ensembles like the Black Lincolns and The Els that everyone in the scene knows are monster show-rocking outfits. Asheru is a leader on national progressive and community circles in arts-based education techniques with his H.E.L.P programming. He’s received numerous awards from prestigious institutions and orgs for his work in our D.C. communities as a foundation. All that, and more, plus some: Asheru is a great M.C.—-and everyone knows it. In fact, as is the case with dozens of other great MCs in this town, that Asheru is a great M.C. is indisputable.
The question is: Why don’t more people in the region better know about our great MC’s? Well, it isn’t for the lack of effort on the part of the artists who have persevered through the years to establish careers for ourselves. We do our jobs. We create, publish, and perform music here and all over world. It’s nowhere near accurate to say D.C. hip-hop artists aren’t known beyond the city or region. D.C. hip-hop has been putting in work and has been on the move for 20 years now; it is well-seasoned and world-traveled. Dozens of D.C.’s great MCs and DJs have magnificent stories to tell of their journeys. Ideally, in the scheme of things, it’s the job of the gatekeepers and the tastemakers to gather these accounts for reporting and endorsement to the local entertainment community.
Who are the gatekeepers and tastemakers in ours and every music scene? They are the DJs, promoters, event planners, venue booking agents, and the press. These are the elements within our community who are responsible for popularizing to the entertainment public who’s who and what’s what locally to look out for and patronize. I agree with Noz that oversaturation—-everyone and their mamma wanting to be rapper—-is a huge problem. But it would be much less of a problem if our “qualified” gatekeepers and tastemakers did their jobs of weeding out the garbage from the gems in our area.
I put the qualifier “qualified” in there because too many of the current stock of gatekeepers and tastemakers, commercial and independent, know little to nothing about D.C. hip-hop and go-go music. Many of the people who actually sit in positions where they could make a difference in the scene are not actually from or “of” the scene. Oftentimes, from what is written and printed and espoused to be an authoritative word, a D.C. music-community participant can tell that the author actually has very little knowledge and understanding of the D.C. music scene and development. And yet, there seems to be no shortage of articles being published these days about both forms of D.C. funk music—-giving the reading community an improper analysis of what’s really going in our DMV music scene.
The words “Hip-Hop: We’ve got plenty of good MCs. But D.C. still lacks a great one” requires at least a little response. I hope other vets chime in.