ERIC B. & RAKIM – “I Know You Got Soul” (from the
Paid in Full)
Black Star – “Respiration” (CD Single)
DMX – “What’s My Name” (from the album And
Then There Was X)
Aceyalone – “Mic Check” (CD Single)
Ras Kass – “Ghetto Fabulous” (from the album

Ah, all of this good ol’ debate about “Street Rap” and “Undie Rap”
brings a tear to my eye, reminding me of those carefree days of
the late 80s when “Street Rap” and “Undie Rap” were one in the
same. I guess, at that point, they had no other choice as most
hip-hop had yet to experience *any* sort of commercial
success. Sure, there was Run-DMC and Aerosmith and the
(yech) Beastie Boys, but where were the chart hits for Eric B.
& Rakim, Chubb Rock, or even the Double X Posse?

I suppose the aforementioned Eric B. & Rakim represented the
paradigm of the earlier form: hot beats and metaphysical lyrics.
As wack as Eric B. is today, there’s no question that the man
had a way with dope-ass tracks: “Know the Ledge,” “Follow the
Leader, “Paid in Full,” “I Ain’t No Joke” — classics all. Now, mind
you, these tracks, viewed today, really aren’t cutting edge — no
bleeps or blips, no jungle-influenced rhythm tracks, just some
good old-fashioned James Brown loops (it should be known that
Eric B. & Rakim had a large role in making the J.B. sample what
it is today). That doesn’t change the fact that these songs blew
up the clubs, much like the Street Rap of today does.

And Rakim? Shit, there’s *never* been an MC as deep as the R
and I doubt there ever will be. Here is a man whom, in “I Know
You Got Soul,” when describing the writing process says, “I start
to think and then I sink into the paper like I was ink.” Dude,
that’s *zen* right there. This is really just the tip of the iceberg
when it comes to Rakim, though — I’m sure a great exegesis
could be put together about his introspective, poetic rhymes.
Oh, and I’m not going to end this paragraph without mentioning
the fact that no one in the history of the art form has had the
sort of mic control that Rakim possesses.

So what side do I fall on in this whole debate? Neither and both.
That’s right, *neither and both*! HA HA!

What I mean is that I’ve listened to the Black Star album and,
yes, it contains some brilliant rhymes, but the beats were far
too bland for my tastes. And yes, I’ve listened to DMX’s
“What’s My Name” and thought, “You know, that’s a pretty
fly beat, but TOO BAD I CAN’T STAND DMX!” I think that the
snobbery exuded by the defenders of Undie Rap is just as
odious as the mindless fandom displayed by the Street Rap
clique (mind you, none of this applies to my distinguished
fellow bloggers!).

Great beats and thoughtful rhymes aren’t mutually exclusive; for
a recent example, I can name several tracks from the first
Aceyalone album that combined the two. It seems, though, that
in order to achieve the kind of success that Street Rap has
these days, you can’t get too deep; and in order to get the
critical praise and street cred that are the only rewards for
your typical Rawkus act, you can’t put together a beat for
the club (look at poor Rass Kass, for example). Sadly, it
seems that as a result of hip-hop’s massive success, this
polarization has come to be. But, as long as rap has been
around and will CONTINUE to be around, I see this as just
a growing pain and something that will work its way out as
the music continues to expand.