Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Collins

Apologies to Bob Dylan, for inappropriately bastardizing one of his song titles (and, on his 65th birthday nonetheless). I know it's dangerous to comment on albums that I've yet to hear. However, I'm curious about larger issues than just this album itself. At least, I think I am. Please read the following quick "review":

Public Enemy, featuring Paris, Rebirth of a Nation
(Guerrilla Funk/Groove Attack)

Hattie Collins
Friday August 5, 2005
The Guardian

Nearly two decades ago, Public Enemy revolutionised rap. Steering the apathetic masses toward a more socially aware sensibility, Chuck D and co turned a nation of millions into fist-pumping radicals ready to fight the power. Today though, the only hype hip-hop fans are concerned with is 50 Cent and Game's on-going beef and whether Eminem really is retiring.

In light of this, Public Enemy's politically fuelled poetics feel depressingly outmoded. The ridiculous raps of Flavor Flav, better known nowadays for rambling appearances on reality TV shows, are no longer irreverent observations, merely ubiquitous non sequiturs. The siren-heavy sonics, meanwhile, sound stale compared with contemporary hip-hop beats. Granted Chuck D is still a convincing commentator, but his resolute rants that governments are corrupt and the police are racist are of little interest to the kids.

I bought this CD in Chicago over the weekend, and I’ll listen to it soon. Luckily for me, I suppose, I haven’t kept up with hip-hop. Thus, I can’t/won’t be comparing to “contemporary hip-hop beats”. Further, the only song of any meaning that I ever remember Flavor Flav providing lead vocals on was “911 Is A Joke”. The others were all “merely ubiquitous non sequiturs”, as I recall. Of course, I’ve missed the last four Public Enemy albums. Perhaps Flavor Flav had somehow become more than the caricature he always was before. Finally, it is very easy for me to believe claims of government corruption and institutional racism. So, Chuck D’s lyrics will likely resonate with me.

I guess it’s that last sentence Ms. Collins wrote that gets me the most. Maybe someone out there reading this can help me understand. Are “the kids” disinterested in social and political commentary? Or, has Public Enemy allowed themselves to become outdated musically to the point that it is preventing younger listeners from being interested at all, regardless of the message? I’m very curious. Again, I have yet to listen to the album, which I bought over the weekend. If it just sucks, well that’s too bad. However, if it’s being dismissed because “the kids” would rather hear about “50 Cent and Game’s on-going beef”, then that’s REALLY too bad.


Blogger Rob said...

Ugh, this is exactly the shit that drives me to drink. Yes, yes, rap is the shallowest art form ever, 50 Cent is representative of the entire genre, "the kids" just won't eat their broccoli anymore.

Well, Public Enemy's audience isn't "the kids" anymore, that part is true. So what? The group is what, 20 years old now? Times change, audiences evolve, and if anything Public Enemy's music today is better for not chasing every microtrend in rap in hopes of boosting singles-sales. Not because there's something wrong with those trends, but because that's not PE's sound.

There is a lot of political consciousness in both mainstream & underground rap today. P.Diddy spent millions on "Vote or Die," Bun-B and Juvenile made post-Katrina songs. The Coup and Mr. Lif and Talib Kweli are all fully on the "conscious" bandwagon, and the most politically resonant statement made by ANY celebrity in this decade was Kanye West's flat declaration that "George Bush doesn't like black people." The ONLY people who consider 50 Cent (or, today, Eminem) representative of all of rap culture are stupid, reductive critics like this.

12:24 PM, May 24, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Excellent. You've helped me see what was *really* bothering me about what Hattie Collins was saying. It's not that "the kids" aren't aware. It's either that "the kids" don't like what Collins thinks they should like, or PE won't change to suit "the kids" (or both).

OK, I knew she sucked. I was just struggling to pinpoint exactly why/how.

It is interesting to think about rap groups being 20 years old. It's somewhat akin to rock artists of the late '60s that still put out new stuff in the mid-'80s. Not many maintained their following, and few (if any) were attracting large groups of new "kids" as fans.

12:54 PM, May 24, 2006  
Blogger rabidt said...

I'm WAY outta my league here, but was PE ever what "the kids" listened to? 20 years ago, I would guess that the critics were saying, "Wouldn't it be better if the kids listened to PE instead of MC Hammer?" Surely, they were not the 50 Cent of their time, nor would they compare now, either.

I'd love to think of an example of a 60's rock band that had a big hit, or even was seen as "ground-breaking," or "cutting edge," in the 80's. I can't yet come up with one, though. Did the Kinks record a hardcore song to keep up with "the beats" of the 80's? Did the kids rush out to buy "Knocked Out Loaded," and "Down in the Groove," as they had with "Highway 61 Revisited?" OK, that's a bad example (and who were those kids, anyway)...but both the Kinks and Dylan had some good material in those times. So, I'm guessing the PE album will have it's moments, at least. Let us know. And, if anyone can think of a 60's band that really shook things up again 20 years later, that would be cool to hear about, too.

2:36 PM, May 24, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Excellent points as well. I think we are in agreement that it would be more likely that a kid in the '80s (such as myself) discovered a '60s artist's '60s material (through classic rock radio, parent's album collection, friend's older brother, etc.) and THEN realized afterwards, "Hey, they're still making music."

Neil Young is a great example. I can certainly state that I had Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After The Gold Rush in the '80s, but I didn't get Landing On Water (released in 1986) until earlier THIS YEAR! There is an album that shows the potential downside of trying to follow trends!!! It's certainly listenable, but far from his best (in my opinion).

PS - Thanks for reminding me. I'm going to listen to The Kinks' Word Of Mouth (from 1984) as soon as possible. It's a decent album, but certainly wasn't "groundbreaking" as I recall! "Living on a thin line...ooh, ooh, tell me now...what are we...supposed to do"

5:13 PM, May 24, 2006  

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