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Volume 70, Issue 132, Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Life & Arts

Emcees put up bogus fronts to keep it real

Beat Box

Zach Lee

Will Smith is just another example of the countless modern emcees that do anything but "keep it real." The copious ghostwriting on Lost and Found points to a complete dearth of realism in hip-hop today. 

The artists usually made out by their publicists to be gritty realists who describe the streets as they really are only retell the same hackneyed stories, and even Big Will performs the role of a vulnerable man the way the role is expected to be played. 

The artists who truly get introspective on their tracks are ignored in favor of those made out to be larger than life. Of course people want to believe in them, but when do those exaggerated personas just become an assembly line of plastic Ken dolls? What does it take for people to realize that mainstream artists are cut from the same two or three molds, melted down and poured into casts already tattered from overuse?

Iill use Aesop Rock again as an example because he is one of the best known in the school of "intellectual hip-hop." He can admit his similarities to others (after all, we are all human), but he maintains his individuality in the creative ways he writes lyrics and produces beats -- thatis the part that Smith doesnit seem to understand. You canit be the vulnerable Mr. Niceguy if you have a partner writing your lyrics for you. 

Aesop is completely alone much of the time, although even he has help here and there from various guests and his long-time partner in crime, producer Blockhead. Just to make it clear, let me point out that there is a difference when a guest writes the lyrics they will say in the song and when they pen the lyrics someone else will put on the mic.

Smith is just the straw that broke the camelis back when it comes to fakeness in hip-hop. Itis not like itis any surprise that someone in hip-hop puts on a mask when he gets on the mic, but when a mediocre rapper who claims that his real personality (including his refusal to curse in his music) is the partial cause of his mediocrity and it turns out that real personality is just another mask, Eminem wins hands down.

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