DMX – Bugout
Eve – Do That Shit (both from the Ruff Ryders Compilation “Ryde or Die Volume 1”)
Hot Boys – Help (from the album “Guerilla Warfare”)

One of the problems with dissing the gangsta ethos which thoroughly rules street hip hop today is that the boasts, threats and graphic violent details are vital to make these widescreen beat-popping frightmare soundscapes relevant. Swizz’s hotwired synths and pounding beats are what drive both “Bugout” and “Do That Shit”, but the former’s woozy keyboards would sound like meaningless toytown schlock without DMX’s incoherent shouts and hilariously crazy delivery over the top. Fred hates DMX, and I can understand why – he’s the most unpoetic of rappers, with plenty to say but without the requisite craft to make his message lyrically compelling. Thing is, his sudden mood swings, grunts and dog impersonations have that same crude-but-effective cheap thrill as the wondrous backing music, his instablity perfectly matching the destabilising nature of the beat.

“Do That Shit” is one of the hardest things Swizz has produced, with hyperventilating sirens, stabbing beats and a brutal electronic mentasm whir (further proof that the hip hop producers are down with Belgian techno) both subjected to his trademark “stuck on the beat hammer pound” trick (which suggests he’s down with gabba too). Obviously if Eve rapped some Lauryn Hill social-consciousness essay over the top the entire momentum would be lost. It only makes sense that she would make it a paen to sex, drugs and herself.

I suppose people will here cite Public Enemy and Tricky as examples of artists who match scary hip hop with an individual lyrical style, but the entire nature, the sheer velocity of the post-Timbaland and bounce-influenced hip hop sound requires the raciness and menace of graphic and scary first-person accounts. In the same way that the panicky world of current r’n’b is in no way suited to the warm, syrupy sentiments of TLC’s “Unpretty”, but rather only meticulous, forthright ice-divas, rappers have to match the sheer bravado of the music with suitable lyrics.

Tricky must know this, as the two most stylish tracks on “Juxtapose”, “I Like The Girls” and “Hot Like A Sauna”, whether ironic or not, sound like gangsta rap lyrically as well as musically. This horror-requirement is especially true for Cash Money’s bounce style. On “Help” the swirl of the brass and string blasts is smooth and precise, but also dangerous, like Barry Manilow’s backing band playing at the Mos Eisley Cantina, while the timekeeper hi-hats evoke a sort of black Bladerunner dystopia. The production’s so sharp, so detailed and focused that anything but an all-out rapping blitzkreig will fall short. There’s no room in this music for equivocation, deepness or irony. Of course the boys are gonna come up with something violent and melodramatic – what else should they do?

The other thing that baffles me about this criticism of street rap for its overly violent portrayal of black culture is that it’s hardly the only representative of all of black culture. Blues, jazz, r’n’b, soul, house, detroit techno, and of course underground hip hop, are all “black styles” which show a different facet of black culture. Gangsta hip hop shouldn’t bear the full weight of social criticism just because commentators are too lazy to investigate the representations of blackness in other genres. It’s the equivalent of suggesting that sports metal, punk or heavy metal are “false representations of white culture”. Which may seem obviously misguided to yer Rolling Stone audience, but what about The Source’s readership?