Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

Hard Times and Dope Rhymes

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: music, rap, hip-hop, media oversaturation, DMX, Pharoahe Monch, arts, The Believer, City Pages, Will Wlizlo, Will Wlizlo,

pmonchDMX—the alias of the vitriolic, platinum-selling East Coast rapper Earl Simmons—has more problems than he can rhyme about. Simmons has been in and out of jail for much of his life, despite his unprecedented commercial success. Negotiations between his record label, lawyers, promoters, investors, publisher, and manager are byzantine and slow-moving. Marijuana and cocaine exacerbated an over-the-top celebrity lifestyle. On a spiritual level, Simmons has had trouble reconciling his penchant for excess with a hunger for Christian meaning in his life. Really, reading the biography of rapper DMX is like watching a man fastened to a post at the intersection of a crossroads by a giant rubber band—every time he tries to venture down a fresh path, he’s disastrously yanked right back to the center. Or, as Niki D’Andrea exclusively reports for City Pages, it’s

Like politics, the world of hip-hop and rap suffers from media oversaturation—Simmons’ delinquent behavior, issues with chemical dependency, and financial headaches notwithstanding, his ongoing struggles for renown, oblivion, and salvation can’t be understood apart from the omnipresent, reproachful eye of media.

Pharoahe Monch—an artful, underground MC recently interviewed by The Believer (and pictured above)—explains another dark current in hip-hop music brought on by pervasive media influence: the self-imposed suppression of experimentalism and echo-chamber-like proliferation of radio-friendly beats and rhymes. “A colleague of mine played me some stuff from a guy who gave him a CD and was like, ‘This is my group. And this is what we do,’” Monch told The Believer’s Adam Mansbach.

Forced paternalism is another institutional limitation stifling creativity in contemporary rap and hip-hop. “These days, you don’t get development,” says Monch.

Not to be confused with a doom-and-gloom prophet, Monch maps out a plan for young rappers to rekindle their own innovation: get back to your roots.

Sources: The Believer, City Pages 

Image by miss.libertine, licensed under Creative Commons.