"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Artistic Necrophilia Or Why We Don’t Need Liquid Swords 2

“Although, I do appreciate the sentiment.”

Yesterday, RZA announced through the divine magic of Twitter that he was working with GZA on a sequel to their 1995 masterpiece, “Liquid Swords”. While my inner Wu-Tang fanboy was struck with the giddiness of a thousand shrieking Drake fans, I was torn by a profound realization that one of my favorite rappers of all-time has ostensibly hit a wall of personal creativity. It seems that despite his own personal misgivings on the concept of making a sequel to the album, it seems that GZA is out of ideas. Unfortunately, he’s not the only artist reaching into the well of artistic rehashery as their seems to be rash of sequels for decade-old classic albums on the rise.

The success of Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Lix II” in both commercial and critical respects have lead to a string of desperate, aging rappers to believe they can return to the casino one last time and cash out on the respect and admiration their decade-old classic albums have earned. While this is not a new concept per se, the sheer volume of these half-baked ideas recently is startling. It seems that every, struggling veteran rap act from Capone-N-Noreaga (“The War Report 2”) to Sadat X (“Wild Cowboys 2”) have made plans to produce sequels to the records that made us love them in the first place in one last desperate grab for relevancy. GZA is the latest rapper to hitch his wagon to such an inherently limited concept.

It’s easy to understand why artists feel the need to make sequels to their classic records. It’s easy publicity. When an artist announces they are planning to make a sequel to a beloved album, fans get excited on the promise of a return-to-form for an artist. "Yo, GZA’s making Liquid Swords 2? Oh word? It’s about damn time he gets back to making that classic shit! "
The fan is already invested in on the record before a single line is recorded. From an economic standpoint, this makes complete sense. If you are a veteran artist struggling to maintain an audience, the idea of creating a sequel to your most enduring work is guaranteed to draw an audience out of curiosity. Even if the material has little to no relationship to the original work, the name alone is bound to draw interest. The economics of the music industry are rough enough as is so if your new work is going to be virtually ignored on it’s own merit then grafting a familiar title to an otherwise unremarkable new work is downright smart.

The problem with this practice is that at best it’s artistic necrophilia and at worst, it’s gross commercial exploitation. Raekwon’s “Cuban Linx II” was an excellent album but the practice of wantonly stealing concepts of your older work only leads down a path where neither the genre or the artist can’t grow. Stealing from your older material leads to an endless feedback loop of the same material being produced over and over again. It’s circular. You can’t grow because you are stealing from yourself and you are stealing from yourself because you can’t grow. When a significant portion of artists in the genre continue to try and remake their classic album, the inevitability of stagnancy in the genre becomes entirely manifest. This is a problem that rap music has been assuredly facing for years. While the mainstream market for hip hop has withered from major label artists continuing to compromise their art by making pandering artistic choices to appeal a wider audience, the indie market has been flooded with album after album that sounds virtually identical to each other. Hip Hop cannot sustain itself that way especially when so much of what forms hip hop’s musical identity is the recycling and reinvention of the ideas of other artists. People will simply lose interest if they listen to the same music produced over and over again.

As Raekwon proved with his album, none of this prevents GZA from making a really, really good album when it comes down to actually producing “Liquid Swords 2.” GZA might be able to successfully execute a sequel that is as darkly chilling and brooding as his original masterpiece but the simple fact remains that he will still be trading in on the promise of the original product. However, it will be comfort food designed to soothe the soul of the true school hip hop fan. As hip hop fan, I demand more of my favorite artists than to simply have my favorite album rehashed for me. Say what you want about the bubblegum pop rap of B.o.B or the emo space rap of Kid Cudi but it’s a step in a new direction. Innovation will save the genre from stagnation because liquid swords can’t carve out a new lane for hip hop to flow through. Besides does the world really need "The Hunger For More 2?" (Yes, that's happening.)Be warned.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Memory Of... Guru

This just really, really sucks. Hip Hop has suffered an unimaginable loss as Keith "Guru" Elam passed away this morning after a long battle with cancer. Guru's last days on earth were unimaginably tragic as he was shut off from his long-time friends and family by a particularly exploitative, hack producer looking to capitalize on Guru's notoriety.

However, I feel it's time like this when we shouldn't focus on the way the man died but focus on the achievements that the man have reached. When you think of New York hardcore hip hop and the 1990s, you realize that Gang Starr was synonymous with that iconic period of music Guru's work with Gang Starr stands premier. The chemistry he had with DJ Premier was quite simply impeccable. He had this almost velvet-like baritone that was employed in his trademark monotone delivery that underscored a fierceness to his rhymes. Gang Starr was a group that continued to pump out classic record after classic record; great single after great single; iconic video after iconic video.

Guru did not deserve to be treated the way he was during the last days on earth. He will be missed.

(Here's what I wrote about my favorite Gang Starr record, Moment Of Truth, way back when I started this blog in 2007: Albums You Should Own - Gang Starr's Moment Of Truth)