In the chapter Sampladelia of the Breakbeat from Kodwo Eshun‘s interesting book More Brilliant Than The Sun the author highlights a development from Public Enemy’s militant paranoia to the slowed-down, full-blown street life hallucinations of Cypress Hill’s Illusions and Sunz of Man’s Soldiers Of Darkness. These are the two first stages of paranoia in rap music.
Eshun’s prose is more than ten years old by now. Today a third paradigm is visible; from the political, to the mystical, to another set of politics. The enemies have remained the same – the government, the police, the record industry, traitors. Chuck D, Ice-T and Ice Cube feared for the loss of their freedom, artists in the next decade fought a battle for their soul – the biblical 2pac, Biggies bleak visions of Life After Death, a praying DMX, the existensial angst of Big Pun, the battle-ready mysticism-futurism and sad soulfulness of Wu-Tang, the post-Native Tounges spiritualism of Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Black Thought. Most popular rappers these days seem to be more concerned with their money being taken away from them.
The struggle for economic independence and creative control (Company Flow, The Arsonists, Non Phixion) that closed of the last millenium was quite effectively recoded into a quest for dollars (50 Cent, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and the underground rappers following them). Both the political and the spiritual-cultural has been pushed to the side. (Of course, we’re not talking definite categories here, but paradigms.)
In the bigger picture we can see that the initial call for social change (MLK, Malcolm X, The Black Panther Party, etc.) was persecuted and beat down and transformed into religious, criminal and antisocial activities. This immense energy invested in bettering ones life and reaching for freedom and independence was rehabilitated into the capitalsit system through self-employment, the hustler gestalt, the propaganda for private profits and a preferance for surface, not substace… swagger, not skills, storytelling, ultramagnetism.