Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer of ’88—Bring That Beat Back!

A few years back, I was itching to write a book about the summer of ’88. It was supposed to be about four high school friends who had formed a rap group but were about to graduate and go their separate ways—that pivotal moment when the future lies so breathlessly ahead, filled with excitement and trepidation, and the dread of leaving the familiar behind. But mostly, Summer of ‘88 was supposed to be about the music—hip-hop. I mean, damn, look what came out between May and September that year:

Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions…
Eric B & Rakim Follow the Leader
Boogie Down Productions By All Means Necessary
EPMD Strictly Business
Big Daddy Kane Long Live the Kane
Schoolly D Smoke Some Kill
Jungle Brothers Straight out the Jungle
Marley Marl In Control
Biz Markie Goin’ Off
Run-DMC Tougher Than Leather
De La Soul “Potholes in My Lawn”
Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock “It Takes Two”
MC Lyte Lyte as a Rock
Salt N Pepa A Salt with a Deadly Pepa
Doug E. Fresh The World’s Greatest Entertainer
Stetsasonic In Full Gear
Kid N Play 2 Hype
Audio Two What More Can I Say?
Eazy-E “Eazy-Duz-It” EP

My original thinking was that, while there have been great moments in music (1968-72 in all genres; the birth of jazz, be-bop, punk, etc.), but rarely—if ever—have so many important records in any given genre had been released in such a short time.

But ultimately, nobody seemed terribly interested. I started to think that I was deluding myself. I mean, I know music is associative—that we often imbue songs with meanings they don’t necessarily have—we often associate what’s going on in our lives with the music we love. I heard Sting once marvel that couples considered his stalker ode, “Every Breath You Take,” their song. Reactionary patriots’ heads explode singing the protest song, “Born in the USA” on the Fourth. Booker T & the MGs’ “Green Onions” was a Civil Rights anthem, and that’s an instrumental.

So, maybe the summer of ’88 wasn’t all that. After all, that was the year I graduated from high school. I was on top of the world, full of optimism, going off to the college of my dreams. It was a great time in my life. The soundtrack had to be great, too.

Or, maybe I was just being nostalgic, pulling that annoying, “You kids don’t know music. Now, back in my day, that was music!” Hopefully not. I’m hoping that summer’s music was really as great as I remember it.

I feel that nostalgia is a trap. It looks at the past through a distorted lens, harkening back to an idyll that never existed. We forget the bad and mediocre and treat the extraordinary as the norm. The ‘80s Reaganites always heralded a queer, Leave It to Beaver 1950s—conveniently forgetting the segregation, sexism, homophobia, and HUAC of the era. Baby Boomers still drone on and on about how they “changed the world” like they were all on that bus, got shot at Kent State, and high at Woodstock. They never seem to mention that the rates of crime, divorce, and pretension were never higher than in their heyday (they also forget that W. is a Boomer—well, he definitely did change the world).

Doom and gloom are telltale signs of middle age. No longer optimistic about their own futures, folks start condemning the present and lionize their own past. Reality, statistics don’t matter. You can’t tell a WWII vet that it was his generation that started the divorce boom because “you kids just don’t respect the institution of marriage.” You can’t tell a Boomer that these American streets haven’t been this safe since 1910 because “you kids just don’t respect the rule of law.”

And now we Gen X hip-hop heads are starting to do the same with our own experience. We are walking three miles uphill to school each way, calling ourselves the “Hip-Hop Generation” and the music we listened to “the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.” Now, we decry the detritus on the radio. Yeah, I think it sucks, too. But that’s because I’m 38 and their target audience is 12-25, not because it necessarily does. I just don’t get most of it. Neither do my compatriots, but they won’t admit it. Instead, we talk about how degrading the music is to black people, black women, and how it glamorizes gangs and drugs.

As though all the music before 1995 was one, big P.E. concert.

Well, it wasn’t. If you care to remember, Eazy E’s “Boyz N The Hood” came out in ’87. Before that, Ice T, Schoolly D, and ultra-conscious KRS-One were celebrating the “gangster” lifestyle (“Listen to my 9mm go bang!”). The Geto Boys were around. Eric B & Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” video was an ode to Capone.

For misogyny, what about LL’s “Dear Yvette” or the entire Just-Ice catalogue? How about a little Slick Rick? The Beasties said foul shit about women and boasted of shooting folks—just like EPMD.

All the things that the “Hip-Hop Generation” lambaste in today[‘s music, we ourselves consumed. How many of us danced to “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.” or “Bitchez Ain’t Shit?” And we all loved Digital Underground, didn’t we?

Sure, we had more “happy rap,” like Kid ‘N’ Play and Kwame, and we had sisters spit instead of swallow Sprite cans; but this is of our own making. Yeah, we liked our Digables, but we went ape-shit over The Chronic. Common Sense was cool, but he was no “thug” like Tupac. Those afrohippy Roots wer nice—but damn! Did you see the ice on Biggie and Puffy.

Corporations heeded our call and modeled their future acts on the stuff we bought the most of. That’s what corporations do. Kids went crazy over the Beatles; we got the British Invasion. People loved disco so much the Fatback Band was replaced by Abba, and even Queen and the Stones came out with disco tracks. The early success of Van Halen and Motley Crue gave us the hair band. So, our love of Dre, Snoop, Tupac, and Biggie has given us the blinged-out thug in all his regional variations. We middle-aging heads have no one to blame but ourselves.

But wait! This is not how nostalgia works. Rewind, Selector!

The music today is just total bullshit! All that bitchez and hoz nonsense! We used to respect our women. We called them skeezers and strawberries. Not that foul shit these fools are saying! We treated them like prostitutes not tricks! Where is the respect? Where is the love? Where are all the positive messages we always used to listen to back in the day?!

Hm … all this sex talk …

Jane! Yvette! Roxanne! Latoya! Let’s go! Me so horny, me love you long time!

But seriously, folks, in a fit of nostalgia, I put a whole bunch of Old School hip-hop on My Booty Radio on

That's four and a half hours of gems from the Golden Age and Silver Age of rap and absolutely
nothing from the current "Tarnished Age." Enjoy!

1 comment:

Grant said...

I've always disliked the "kids these days" mentality as well. After all, who was responsible for raising these kids?

As for nostalgia regarding the music from the summer of '88, I don't have it. I completely missed and feel little connection to the hip-hop generation. And no, it's not because I grew up in Iowa. The music was there but I was getting into Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter at that time.

I think I need a primer so I can at least be conversant in "old school" hip-hop.