GUNS ‘N’ ROSES – Paradise City(from the album Appetite For Destruction)
Well, first of all, this hip-hop thing. Josh was asking about why we can’t look for a middle ground of conscious lyrics with fantastic production. The problem seems to be that none of the ‘underground’ hip-hop producers have much time for mainstream production techniques anyway, just like Jay-Z wouldn’t be caught dead compromising his thug reputation by rapping about vegetables a la Dead Prez. It’s not the critics that have hardened the debate along these lines, in other words, it’s the artists themselves. Of course I’d like there to be this ‘middle ground’ Josh is talking about, but currently there doesn’t seem to be, and so it boils down to a straight choice between exciting music/cliched lyrics and quality lyrics/tedious beats, with the odd glorious exception. Dead Prez’ “I’m An African” on the one hand, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money” on the other.

Of course, if you want exciting music and dumb lyrics, where better to turn than metal? Josh raised a quizzical virtual eyebrow at my listing of “Paradise City” in my Top Ten list, implying that as a Limey in rainy London town I had no right to be listening to the sun-kissed rawk sounds of Axl and the boyz. Well no, he wasn’t implying that at all, he just thought it was a bit odd. He underestimates the massive cultural penetration of G’n’R here – everyone I knew was into them back in ’88, even if I was too much of a wet indie blanket to like it – and the song’s universality, and besides, there are lots of bits where Axl sounds just like Slade’s Noddy Holder. “Paradise City” is thumping good fun, ultimately.

I do think there’s something a bit narrow-minded about the constant demands for hip-hop lyrics to get back to the good old days of Public Enemy (many of whose best lyrics are gloriously entertaining paranoia-fests which pass as being ‘conscious’ just because that’s the rep Chuck D had), because nobody really makes that claim for rock. Indeed, most of the rock listeners I know claim to ignore or not care about lyrics, or think they’re for girls or something like that, and it’s often those very same people who are shaking their heads over rap’s decline into entertaining bullshit about shooting people. It all harks back to the initial conceptual model for rock critics talking about rap – that this form was ‘street poetry’ of some sort, all about the words and the content. Now that’s a fine way of looking at it, and back then was a neccessary way of looking at it to defuse rockist allegations that rap was creatively and musically worthless, but it still feels a bit limited. If someone can rap well and imaginatively (and yeah, this is the weak point in a lot of mainstream hip-hop), should we really mind so much that they choose to rhyme about the violent, sexy or fantastic parts of life?

And yes, I feel I’ve written this before, too!