Let’s start this with a primer.

Until recently, I must confess that I held no special love for America. It wasn’t a hate, but more a boredom and lack of hope for progress. Having witnessed first hand the incredible amount of history and tradition that forms the backdrop of European culture, anything in America just pales in comparison. Prototypical American practicality and efficiency do not leave much room for what we largely consider to be the frills of society: artistic expression, creative thinking, and serious introspection.

I’ve written before of my desire for the presence of a community that fosters and celebrates these activities. I felt very hopeless about finding anything in common with America, and longing looks to England have been cast many a night. Even more distressing, I began to see that the solution for many of my demographic is to retreat into the Internet, forming communities whose dissatisfaction with popular culture constitutes their most significant shared value. But this isn’t a rant about the foolishness of internet denizens. This is about hip hop.

The seed was planted at an excellent 4th of July party a few years ago (where I first heard Drake, when Drake was the new hotness), and it sprouted when I began creating playlists for parties. The need for new music at the next party arose and I was forced to plumb the depths of the blogosphere for new beats. Even then, I was consuming music faster than my blogs could provide, and I was forced to look at the originals for my myriad remixes. Discographies were scoured. That’s when it got serious.

As you all should know, techno has been my first love for eons, but what makes good techno good is the beat. A great beat demands the attention of your joints – the knees will bounce, the head will nod, and if it’s sweet enough, it might just move your feet. It really doesn’t matter what the chick is ooo-aaaing in the background about – everything outside of the beat is just frosting on the cake. It’s this aspect of most pop, rock, indie, and folk that has forever left me cold on the doorstep; although I can cognitively recognize the musicianship driving these genres, I generally find myself unmoved, physically and emotionally. For me, the beat is the only gateway to listening to music with more than just the ears.

But then, there’s a voice – confidently and deftly busting rhymes, expertly matching the beat. The lyrics express strong and aggressive emotions, always supported by firm convictions and scathing analysis. There is no room for self-pity or tears here; the artists want you to admire them, and nobody admires a pathetic loser. Best of all, it comes in a package of excellent witticisms, making use of fabulously clever metaphor in every verse. This is what the best of hip hop has to offer, and I have found it incredibly enriching.

I thought, for the longest time, that artistic expression is simply a less effective method for making serious statements about serious topics. Academic discourse seemed to be the most logically optimal, but this is inevitably exclusive to the highly educated. Furthermore, academics tend to agree on even the most divisive of social issues (abortion, evolution in schools, torture, war, etc.). The problem is communication – or more accurately, emotion. Art, however, makes its business in communicating, sharing, and inspiring emotion.

In this way, hip hop has given my values the emotional foundation to release me from nonchalance and helplessness. Even as my understanding of the ruthless and gruesome history of our species is enhanced, the greater my desire to see justice done becomes. Then, almost as an afterthought, I realize: I found culture, and it’s been here the whole time.

If you’ve never given it a try, then have a sample of these. If you’re feeling saucy, maybe even listen to the lyrics. There’s some learning to be done. I’ll give a blanket NSFW warning, although I find all of it to be appropriate.

The Roots – Act Too (The Love of My Life) (super smooth)

The Roots – False Media

Digable Planets – La Femme Fetal

KRS-One – Out for Fame

Jedi Mind Tricks – Suicide

Jedi Mind Tricks – Shadow Business (this one is heartbreaking)

September 2nd marks the 7th anniversary of this blog. This is the 699th post (including unpublished drafts).