It's been 15 years or so that I've been railing against the excesses of the so-called "hip-hop culture." I've found it to be gratuitously violent, misogynistic, materialistic and, perhaps worst of all, unoriginal. However, over the years, I've come to realize that if an urban kid wants to wear a $400 hockey jersey, even though he's never seen a hockey game, c'est la vie. That's just clever merchandising to a brain-dead clientele. What I can't shrug off is the nagging feeling that the music--that which becomes the very soundtrack of our lives--just isn't very good.
I've written about it over the years, and I've received some impassioned responses. This one guy named Molina about has a seizure every single time the subject comes up. He writes these long, rambling letters about how the government and white people and space aliens are all conspiring against hip-hop. At the end of one such letter, he cited as proof-positive of the conspiracy the fact that "the haters" were going to put Kobe Bryant on trial. I pointed out to him that the people who hate Bryant the most--his fellow NBA players--are mostly black.
I stopped corresponding with him, because he started writing these incredibly nasty things about my family, as though my daughter has something to do with the fact that the members of the Wu-Tang Clan can't stay out of prison and/or the cemetery.
Anyway, I'm at the Casino del Sol's AVA Amphitheater recently, attending a concert starring the Baby Boomer Sex God, Tom Jones. I had actually gone to see the opening act, Oakland's legendary horn-driven funk/soul band, Tower of Power.
The two founding members of the band, Emilio Castillo and Steve Kupka, have been together for 37 years. The band sounded as hot as ever. I thought of the Weekly's Chris Limberis, who still does the Oakland Stroke in pressure situations.
I loved Tower's set. Then out came Tom Jones, who's 65, looks 45 and acts 25. He, too, tore it up, performing, among many other things, the Tower's "Bump City (Down to the Nightclub)." That's when it hit me: Certain music is timeless. Heck, most music is timeless. But some isn't.
I can understand why people my parents' age would still want to dance to Glenn Miller. Heck, I'd like to dance to Glenn Miller. It makes perfect sense when I see those sixtysomething doo-wop acts performing to sold-out crowds of seniors on PBS. Kiss can still put on the makeup and have a kick-ass show. I can even imagine, 10 or 15 years down the road, Metallica or AC/DC performing to adoring throngs of people who look like Blank Reg from the old Max Headroom TV series.
But hip-hop is where the string will likely be broken. I don't see it as timeless. (I could even argue that it's not even all that timely, but that's for another discussion.) Who among today's crop of singers will be able to draw crowds in the thousands, night in and night out, 30 years from now? Usher? Not likely; he's got the moves, but not the voice. R. Kelly? He faces years of being the pee-ee rather than the pee-er, a real possibility since he's not going to get that change of venue to the Golden State.
The real test will come with rappers. Thirty years from now, will people pay to see 50 Cent, whom inflation by then will have converted to Dollah Sebenty-Fo', grunt about how he's "into having sex (with my cellmates); I'm not into making love?" I don't think so.
Will a bunch of 50-year-olds, who by then will have kids and, judging by the proclivities displayed by young people these days, grandkids, want to hear about bitches and hos and "skeet skeet?" Chris Rock says that you will always love the music that was popular at the time of your first sexual experience. We're going to have to wait 30 years to test that theory.
Hip-hop has already shown itself to have an incredibly short shelf life. Eminem (who, I must admit, has proven himself to be one of the great wordsmiths of the modern music era) alienated his fan base when his latest CD dealt with adult themes in a decidedly more mature (for him) manner. His fans don't want to know about day care; they want to know if he's really going to rape his mom.
So I plan on being there in 2035 when the Thugz 4 Life Tour hits Tucson. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but I don't think I will be. Just imagine 50 Cent taking the stage and saying "Shake That Ass, Girl!" to which all the fiftysomethings in the crowd would respond, "We have no choice."