Sunday, August 05, 2007

Pepperoni Pac

A friend* just emailed me this blog post--625 comments at last count (or make that 626 if you include what follows here)--from a hip-hop head named SY Young who says in his weirdly contradictory post, which has all the literary flair of something that was composed and sent via Blackberry:

Lyrically Pac is not even top 25 maybe even 30, and the man never even made a classic album, fuck it I said it he never made a classic me against the world is his closet but 30 % of the album didn’t age very well, makaveli is probably the most overrated album ever the joint is was one wack song away from being weak. All eyez on me is a damn mess and his early albums or not even worth mentioning. Don’t get me wrong I mean I like Pac, just about as much as a I like pepperoni pizza...


Ooookay.

First of all, I'd like to apologize for even bringing this subject up on my blog, which I'd like to think of as a sanctuary from the boring, inane opinions people sometimes give free reign to on the internet. But I had to say something.

If you're anything like me, you're probably unusually tired with discussions like this, and perhaps of this whole subgenre of criticism. (For the moment, I'll ignore the fact that they probably just posted this to get a lot of hits and to get a lot of people emailing it to their friends and shit as a topic for endless debate.) What I think this amounts to is basically "backlash against the greatest rapper of all time" criticism, and similar articles and blog posts have been written about Nas (too all-over-the-place), Biggie (too superficial), Jay (too derivative), and others. What's infuriating about this guy is that he criticizes a whole slew of people who seem not to know that much about Pac but who still call him the greatest rapper of all time. But then this dude goes off on Pac with only circumstantial evidence, and unsupported opinion, without pulling from other critics or from Pac's music, exactly why he's so overrated. Saying that All Eyez on Me was a "damn mess" is about as helpful as saying I'm allergic to cheese.

I don't buy it, because as soon as you quote any lyric from Brenda's Having a Baby, "she had it on tha/ bathroom floor/ And didn't know so, she didn't know, what ta throw away and/ what ta keep ," then you realize that no one was really talking about the things Pac was talking about in the non-judgmental, plainspoken, blunt way that he was talking about it. He doesn't scold Brenda, or his own drug-addicted mother in the classic "Dear Mama," or the drug dealers that might have supplied her while Pac's sister was in the womb. In Pac's oddly compassionate universe, people still remained people, with the same larger forces that act on them and their fates that act upon me in my daily life. Pac's People weren't caricatures of sadness or poverty or violence. They all had motivations. That, to me, makes him a very special MC.

And as far as lyricism goes, I know that a lot of the punch-line loving rap aficionados--who would put laurels on a Jadakiss faster than they would on a Scarface--might be quick to ask what the big deal is about Pac. I should know because I used to be one of those dudes. It's true: Pac never came up with anything as clever as Weezy's "I can say don't rhyme and it's gon' rhyme." But you can't substitute meaning for wordplay. When Jadakiss came out with "Why," which I respected but didn't necessarily think was great, you can see that being a political rapper is not as easy as talking about partying/drug dealing/jewels/being tough. Kiss's anthem came out a little confused and narcissistic ("Why did Bush knock down the towers?" and "Why my buzz in LA ain't like it is in New York"), as though he couldn't even see to the bottom of the problems, couldn't make out what was really going on.

Pac, however, definitely could get to the bottom of things. He showed how simple things were complex (a son's love for his mother), and complex things were oftentimes simple ("Bill Clinton, Mr. Bob Dole/Too old to understand the way the game is told"). What he might have lacked in wordplay, Pac made up for in clarity of vision. Not to mention, when you take a step back and read some of his lyrics, as I've been doing while writing this post, you realize that Quentin Tarantino might have given his right arm to have come up with something as artful and badass as "now it's on and it's on because I said so."

But to those people who call Pac the greatest of all time, I also think they're full of shit. Why do people get off on giving people titles like that? Any kind of ranking or award system in musical or artistic production is pretty bullshit. You have artists and they will make their art no matter what critics say. So whether he likes it or not, this SY Young cat is a leech. I would even go so far as to call him a leech's leech. He calls All Eyez on Me a damn mess, and I agree with him. But who says that we aren't all a damn mess on some level. Pac just put all of that beautiful messiness down on wax, the way that I think, to a similar extent, The Game does now.

But that's just me....Holler if you hear me.

[*Hat tip to DeMar]

1 comment:

neela said...

i'm late and agreed, the "who is the greatest rapper alive" (or dead) conversation is played out and impossible to answer but...

a) rap is not just about word play
b) pac's word play may not have been an A+ but his flow was
c) how can you ignore social commentary as being a crucial element to what rap is about? you can't.
d) nobody was or is saying what he was saying the way he says it. ex: i bought common's album and enjoy it but seriously, everything he says he's said before & can be found in the PC guide to black "conscious" thought
e)don't know about you but how do you want it still gets me outta my seat every time.
f)i obviously agree w/you.