"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 11 May 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Strictly for My Wigguz



When Rolling Stone published its

list of hip-hop's top 50

ballers last October, the only

artists representing the ashen

side of the color line were the

Beastie Boys and two pieces-of-

the-puzzle players from groups

(Company Flow and Black Eyed

Peas) that no doubt had Jann

Wenner reaching for his managing

editor's crib notes. A scant six

months later, beat-jacking

cracker macks Eminem, Everlast,

and Kid Rock all have albums in

the highest echelon of the

Billboard 200; hip-hop-

flavah'd Korn and Bizkits can be

found just a little further down

the menu; and most amazingly of

all, hardcore heads are feeling

down-lo wuckahs like Cage, Non-

Phixion, and the aforementioned

Eminem in their hearts as well

as their wallets. While things

haven't really progressed to the

point where, say, a really,

really fat white dude could pass

himself off as the crunkest

beat-pimp to ever step to the

mike, neither is a pallid complexion

an immediate invalidation

of an MC's lyrical prowess.


And yet for all the recent

achievements of the white

rapper, very little flamboastin'

is taking place. "I don't put

myself in the white-rapper

category," Eminem informed

Rolling Stone. "Anybody who puts

me in that category - fuck 'em!"

El-P of Company Flow

apparently feels the same way,

and pretty much every other YTMC

on the scene readily

acknowledges the real sins of

the pale skins who preceded him

before launching into the

standard explanation - grew up

in da 'hood, hung with authentic

black kids, sincerely felt the

music - of why a plain white

rapper is not really the

appropriate packaging for him.



Such attitudes stem, of course,

from the central tenet that hip-

hop is above all else a black

thing, truly accessible only to

those who are "real," those who

have authentic street-level

experience with hip-hop

culture, those who know more about

the genre than what fits on CD

liner notes or the pages of XXL

and Stress. But while hip-hop most

assuredly is a black thing,

born, bred, perfected, and

disseminated from the Bronx,

Brooklyn, South Central, West

Oakland, and hundreds of other

black neighborhoods across the

nation, it's also true that whites

have been rapping almost as long

as blacks have, and that they

purchase more than 70 percent of

hip-hop albums. And while the

history of white hip-hop is

often characterized as a

blizzard of clueless

incompetence, there are plenty

of exceptions to this

characterization, especially

behind the scenes, where white

producers like Arthur Baker,

Rick Rubin, Muggs, and the Dust

Brothers have all played pivotal

roles in the development of new

hip-hop sounds.


So why can't white MCs shake

their carefully negotiated

status as reverent trespassers

who promise not to veer from the

paths black MCs have laid out

for them? Given that

appropriation is so crucial to

hip-hop, this paradox is

especially puzzling. Indeed, how

can a genre that thrives on the

unexpected syntheses of

disparate influences, that taps

myriad musical styles and finds

new uses for old technologies,

place limitations on how it is

practiced? Do South Bronx

b-boys really believe they must

resort to the same sort of

heavy-handed cultural

protectionism in which Canadians

and the French engage? In short,

more assertive participation

from white MCs would benefit all

parties. Hip-hop is a protean,

omnivorous genre, and the reason

so many white MCs have fared so

badly at it is because they

haven't brought anything new to

the turntable. Afraid of calling

attention to their whiteness,

they simply do a lousy job of

approximating blackness. But

it's their whiteness,

ultimately, that's more often

than not the source of their

value. Consider, for example,

Kid Rock. As a lyricist, he can

sound as flat as Chris Rock's

SNL-era haircut, but when

he's sabotaging his joints with

old-school heavy metal or laid-back

Southern rock, who cares if his

rhymes aren't all that great?

And while Eminem might prefer to

be seen simply as a rapper rather

than a white rapper, it's his

amalgamation of white-culture

staples like Howard Stern,

Jerry Springer, and South

Park that elevates him from

facile lyricist to cultural

phenomenon - embodying perfectly

the schizophrenic tenor of these

media-saturated times.



Of course, it's not just skilled

white MCs who contribute to the

hip-hop canon - as Eminem,

Cage, and Non-Phixion win

respect for their lyrical

virtuosity. It's important to

remember that even the worst

white rappers have played a

crucial role in the development

of hip-hop. Indeed, the

unanimously vilified Vanilla Ice,

who sold more than 15 million

albums in the early '90s, may

actually be one of hip-hop's

most important figures. In his

heyday, he was charged with

ripping off black culture, but

really, who were his victims?

Not one person who purchased a

Vanilla Ice CD, we're fairly

confident in asserting, would

have otherwise spent that money

on Public Enemy's or even

Digital Underground's latest

discs. But once the vanilla

rhyme-dealer had busted consumers'

hip-hop cherries, they wanted a

taste of more proficient

practitioners. It certainly

wasn't Chilly Tee or the Young

Black Teenagers who drank from

the hip-hop mainstream that

first started flowing, however

clumsily, from the lips of

Robbie Van Winkle: It was Tupac

and Coolio and Snoop Doggy Dogg.


Without the Washington Generals,

the Harlem Globetrotters would

have been little more than a

bunch of guys running layup

drills. But with the hapless

Generals serving as their

chronic foils, the Globetrotters

were able to demonstrate the

full range of their dazzling

virtuosity: They ran circles

around their lumbering

opponents, befuddling them with

fancy footwork and intricate

passing schemes. And when all is

said and done, what were Vanilla

Ice and his colleagues but the

Washington Generals of hip-hop,

professional fall guys whose

stilted white ineptitude made

the genuine article look that

much cooler, that much more

desirable? And what were more

competent outfits like 3rd Bass

and House of Pain but white

shadows whose mastery of

hip-hop fundamentals signalled

to the trailblazers that it was

time to push forward, time to

make the beats funkier and the

rhyme schemes more complex?



Were it not for white MCs, one

imagines, we might still be

mired in the prehistoric days of

yes-y'allin', party-people

sing-alongs. And thus we feel

it's time to give a shout out to

all the pioneer ofays who helped

make hip-hop what it is today:

Awesome D, Maroon, 2 Live

Jews, Goldo, and all you other

faux-flowing he-bros - peace out!

Brian Austin Green, Balthazar

Getty, David "D'lil" Faustino,

and the rest of you dope

Tinseltown crossovers who did

it up Big Willie style - we got

your backs, dawgs! Rappin'

Rodney, you kicked it like an

O.G. back in '83 - mad respect,

Mr. Mack! Tairrie B., Icy Blu,

Misa - you fine ivory-skinned

schwuckahs were so far ahead of

your time no one knew how to

clock you. But someday, the

white female rapper will reign

supreme! MC 900 Foot Jesus, Surf

MCs, Tony D., and any other

half-steppin' brother we left

out - you might be rotten,

misbegotten, and forgotten now,

but back in the day you had shit

rockin' - and for that you will

always have a place in our hearts!

courtesy of St. Huck


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