Hip-hop was born of racial consciousness. You can’t divide hip-hop from the social and political circumstances from which it came. There may be new occupants in this house called hip-hop. Most of the people who built this house of hip-hop would say, everybody is welcome in this house, but the people who built it were people of color… you go into somebody’s house, then you gotta respect that. If you don’t have that [racial] humility, you won’t have the foundation that provides.
I’m not sure that Eminem and Asher Roth occupy a healthy space in the “house of hip-hop,” as Dan Charnas calls it in Jay Smooth’s latest video.
Eminem’s new album, rehashing his ‘Slim Shady’ persona, is another narcissistic ode to hyper-violence shot through with a strong dose of misogyny (he calls Mariah Carey a ‘cunt’). Roth’s debut “Asleep in the Bread Aisle” is a celebration of the apathetic college slacker lifestyle. He recently joked about Don Imus’ racist tirade against the Rutgers women’s basketball team before performing there, then made some asinine comments criticizing “black rappers.” I think both of their albums suck, frankly.
Charnas is right. White folks need to have, at the very least, some humility before they claim space in hip-hop. Creative talent ought to be a requirement too. Unfortunately, a lot of people are talking about Eminem and Asher Roth, who arguably aren’t showing much of either right now, as if they’re the only white emcees in the game. Here are a few white (male) rappers I’ve been listening to (and broadcasting on KVRX) for a while – each producing positive, quality hip-hop. I’m from the West Coast, which I guess explains the bias to that part of the country in this selection.
This guy from Tacoma, Washington put out an incredible mixtape two years ago with DJ Reign (go download it now!). I don’t know much more about him beyond that. He says on his Myspace that he’s hard at work on his debut album. “Dirty Clean,” his tribute to street artists everywhere, is one of my all-time favorite songs.
Brother Ali is probably the best known out of this bunch. He’s an albino, nearly blind Muslim born and raised in the Midwest. His critically-acclaimed 2007 album, “The Undisputed Truth,” is an in-your-face mix of political and personal declarations about life in America. It reached #69 on the Billboard charts. Here’s “Uncle Sam Goddamn.”
Toby, with Tunji (who is black), make up the Los Angeles group Inverse. I caught an interview with them on KUBE 93’s Sound Session earlier this year and was struck by how down-to-earth they both were. Their latest EP (download!) has a deep, rich sound, with the two of them showing love for L.A. and the Cali sun. Here’s “Spark My Soul” featuring Substantial.
They might talk slow in the Southern heartlands, but R.A. Scion, who grew up in Kentucky, has the fastest and densest flow here. I honestly can’t follow him half the time, so I visit his blog to read through his complex and profound lyrics. With DJ Sabzi he forms ‘Common Market.” Here’s their latest song, “Tobacco and Snow Covered Roads,” produced seemingly on a whim during an especially snowy day this past winter in Seattle. He’s a far easier to follow on this track than usual.
Grynch quotes Langston Hughes In the first line of the first song I ever heard from him. So I knew immediately this 23-year-old rapper, also from Seattle, was on point. Apparently Dr. Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ hooked him on hip-hop at age 10 and he released his first album during his senior year in high school. Here’s the song I mentioned, called “I’m A Dreamer” featuring Geologic and Thig Natural, off his recent ‘Something More’ EP (download!).
“Helping people understand the things they can’t see” is his motto. Portland-based Braille spits what’s on his mind and you can tell he really means ever word he says. His latest project involves raising money to donate 30,000 copies of his latest record to at-risk and incarcerated youth. “That Feeling,” which describes his ever-changing but always strong relationship with hip-hop, is below.
These guys are also from Los Angeles. Don’t know much about ‘em except that they met in college and make smooth, accessible music. Here’s “Higher (Breathe).”
Made it this far? Here’s a mix to download of the tracks listed above.
I want to mention that I hesitated to publish this post at all. Jay Smooth interviewed a white guy for his thoughts about Asher Roth, now I’ve published a list of white guys as an alternative to Roth, Eminem and their ilk. What started as a conversation about whiteness in hip-hop is now… a conversation by white guys about other white guys in hip-hop, at least on this part of the Internet. The voices of people of color should to be central here and they’re not.
So I’m not saying you should listen to the guys listed above instead of Roth and Eminem. Listen to whoever you want, and if you like good hip-hop, odds are those artists will be people of color. I don’t think the house of hip-hop needs white people at all, in fact it would probably be better off without us. POC built the house and they’re keeping it strong, despite what Nas said a few years ago.
On the other hand, the reality is there are probably more white consumers of hip-hop now than ever before. I’m one of them. And I feel like it’s important for me and Jay Smooth and anyone else to say to other (white) folks, “If white people are going to be a part of hip-hop at all, they ought to be humble about it and play a positive role.” I think the guys above are generally doing that, so they deserve the spotlight more than Em and Roth – but not necessarily more than anyone else.