Remember when Coolio released Gangsta’s Paradise? Remember how absolutely hardcore it was?
Remember how there wasn’t a single four-letter word in it? No N-bombs? No F-bombs? Not a single word needed censoring, bleeping, or splicing? Remember how it had a message? (“Tell me why are we so blind to see/That the ones we hurt are you and me.”) Remember how it won the 1995 Grammy for best song?
All this occurred to me today as I was driving home from church and the song came on my iPod. How clean it is by today’s standards. I miss 1995’s pop music. It’s the year I really started to love it. Spin Doctors aside, the genre hadn’t quite sunk into inanity yet. Songwriters still tried to communicate something at least semi-intelligently. (See: Dave Matthews, early/middle Mariah Carey, Alanis Morissette, etc.)
Fast-forward to 2003, the year I graduated, the year I pretty much stopped caring about pop music, the year the 90s actually ended as a trend. The 2nd biggest hip-hop hit that year was 50 Cent’s In Da Club (second to Outkast’s Hey Ya, a pinnacle of inanity). Right off the bat, (the part that everyone remembers – “Go shawty, it’s your birthday”) he drops an F-bomb, and in the chorus informs said shawty that if she’s interested in some X and some f***ing to come find him in the club. She will apparently know him by his bottle of champagne. During the rest of the song, he talks himself up (“Been hit wit a few shells but I don’t walk wit a limp” – he’s clearly a big deal), name-drops (“N****s heard I f*** with Dre, now they wanna show me love”), throws out at least ten N-bombs and a few more F-bombs. I’m surprised this got on the radio. I’m even more surprised it won a Grammy.
Note: I have nothing against these words in and of themselves. They’re very effective when used well. (Again, see Alanis Morissette.) But beating us over the head with them is counter-productive, especially when you’ve got nothing to say in the first place.
Just for comparison, how about today? One of last year’s biggest rap hits was apparently Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind. It seems the trend of talking yourself up has remained, and the name-dropping has increased. There aren’t nearly as many censor-worthy gems, but judging by what I hear thundering and blasting by on the roads (n**** this and n**** that and f*** you n****), I know it exists. I give Jay-Z credit for not going there (at least in this instance).
Now here’s the thing. I’m assuming these guys thought they were being progressive and edgy, but they sound like cavemen. ME BIG DEAL! ME AWESOME! ME DANGEROUS! ME HAVE IMPORTANT FRIENDS! YOU STUPID! ME IMPRESS YOU WITH BAD WORDS!
Oh. I am overcome. Allow me to bask in your presence.