I know this is months old, and it has been months since my last entry for Lesson Six, which I will apologetically note that was initially meant to be bi-weekly and then at the very least, monthly. I am neither an accomplished writer nor artist, my greatest achievements in both being praise I received from being presented in some form or fashion on Lesson Six. This is neither here nor there except for the fact that my confidence in my own abilities allows for turning molehills into mountains.
I had attempted to write an entry earlier in the year discussing the conflict between the message and the messenger in hip hop, for example, 2 Pac’s releasing of the single “Keep Ya Head Up” a month before he is tried and convicted of rape. A juicy topic ripe for exploration, certainly, however I got about 3/4 into it and realised that I didn’t even believe what I was arguing, that all I had written was trash. When you are an unaccomplished writer, thoughts like this are paralyzing and the act of tossing out one piece rather than revising it to better reflect my beliefs infects your ability to produce works, much like being an underground emcee. Sometimes you have to stop polishing the shit, take it for what it is, and release it to the world, let it stink up the joint, for the sake of moving the fuck on. That being said, if Sam and company will have me, I would very much so like to continue to submit entries on my thoughts on whatever relevant to Lesson Six.
That being said, I will explain what I meant by “months old”. In April, there was a Lesson Six original posted regarding Plan B, his Ted Talk and the resulting “satire” of “Ill Manors”. I had never heard Plan B, his Ted Talk or the song “Ill Manors” before, but after reading the post, I was certain I was going to dislike it. Hip hop, whether mainstream or underground, whatever that means nowadays, has always suffered from a ham-handed approach to satire, especially unfortunately, from white rappers seemingly intent on personifying the old canard that whites, along with their lack of vertical, can’t rap or somehow do so inauthentically. Putting all of my cards on the table I will also note that I have a certain bias against rap done in accents other than American English. Admittedly, this is absurd coming from a Canadian, our true-to-life stereotypical twang resembling that of the characters in Fargo, at least in Eastern Ontario, where I hail from.
That Jay-Z & Kanye West released an album so out of touch with the current climate while still broaching relevant subjects of the time speaks volumes of the political environment. Something is broken & it needs to be fixed.
I expected satire, a faux-Public Enemy attempt at a barn-burner, a harking to the revolutionary days of yore. What I was presented with is where I will disagree with the gripe of the original piece. Instead of satire, whether or not that was the aim of the song, I don’t know, as unfamiliar with Plan B as I am save for this song, I was presented with a sentiment which is all to real in the world right now. Cynicism allows us to write-off movements like the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement as temporary aberrations of our body politic, but when one boils either movement down to it’s core, the sentiment remains the same – something is broken and it needs to be fixed. As opposed to satire, I feel as if Plan B is exposing a nerve which has been rendered bare among the underclasses, which in the current political and economic atmosphere is anybody who is not the 1%. That Jay-Z and Kanye West released an album so out of touch with the current climate while still broaching relevant subjects of the time speaks volumes of the political environment. Something is broken and it needs to be fixed.
Instead of satire, which obviously was one of the driving forces behind the track, I heard the same rumbles which I heard in N.W.A.’s music back in my childhood. Growing up in the suburbs it was easy to project your tiny, insular existence on the world and misunderstand events. Rap music, on the other hand, gave me a window into a world beyond mine, where everything that I experienced in my day-to-day existence was that of privilege, that there was a world of suffering beyond and below the life I lived. The hip-hop I was exposed to was both reality and revolutionary, from Ice Cube’s Predator to Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. To ascertain the political climate of the times, we need only to look at the confluence of evidence between the worldviews and grievances being aired on both works. What we find at the core of it is that something is broken and it needs to be fixed, regardless of their political or religious ideologies.
In “Ill Manors”, rather than satire, I see – from my own readings and understanding of the class struggles in the United Kingdom – a personification of the anger and frustration felt by the so-called “chavs”, regardless of the slang, a class we all can recognize in our day-to-day lives. Living in Quebec, Montreal specifically, which has been besieged by student protests against tuition increases and now against Bill 78, a draconian political misstep by Jean Charest in an attempt to dampen the student movement, perhaps I have a different perspective on the matter.
Rather than satire, I see a representation of the outrage generated by current events in the banking and political world, yet at such a base level that rather than giving reasoned, angry critique, it represents the view of those in the thick of it or “the shit” as it’s colloquially referred to as. No matter how the message is interpreted is unimportant, and while this may go against everything else I’ve written for Lesson Six, I stand by it. Art is art and it typically is influenced by current or past strife. Whether or not that message is received as a critique of media, culture or society is unimportant as whether it is taken as an anthem for hooliganism. That the market is there for this type of music is what should concern us as much as the content of the songs or their accompanying video. Art imitates life, as they say, and if we wish for the product of our environment to change, we must change our environment.