Monday, September 25, 2006

Life in 1998

By the latter half of the 1990's, Hip-Hop had turned. In 1996, the FCC deregulated the media, allowing for the consolidation of radio outlets and virtual monopolies to flourish. At the end of '97, following the passage of this Telecommunications Act, as an example, Clear Channel more than tripled their ownership of radio stations, increasing from 43, in 1995, to 173. With the presence of any independent voice now significantly silenced, the idea of "programming" had really taken on this Huxleian design.

It should be no surprise then that in this climate, come 1997, with the Clear Channel empire on its steady march, and with Hip-Hop fracturing between what got play and what got ignored, two of the year's biggest LPs, one for the bread-winners, Biggie's Life After Death, and one for the underdogs, Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus, appeared almost at odds with each other: first, there was this multi, mammoth Frank White figure, on speed boats, flanked by girls singing nursery rhyme numbers versus the "independent as fuck" crowd, with production almost jarringly anti-pop, stoking the fire in which you burn. Lines were drawn, boundaries, however arbitrary, were established between "underground" and "mainstream", and Hip-Hop's identity crisis was well under way. As the radio dial grew more and more one-sided, programmers and rap stars alike attempted to mix and match whatever formulas would hit platinum quickest.

Because they bear a "late 90's" sticker so clearly, looking back now, with this context in mind, it becomes an adventure almost to listen to certain rap albums from the period. Take Jermaine Dupri for example. Previously known for boosting some backwards-clothes wearing kids to prominence, he brought his So So Def label to fame during the 1990's and, by 1998, had decided to test his hand in the solo market. The result was Life in 1472, in part, a disposable mix of whoever was winning at the time: California was catered to with Snoop and Warren G; R&B fans were feed their Mariah, Usher, and Keith Sweat; Nas and Jay-Z, along with the anthem-hot DMX, came for New York; the Midwest received their representation in the form of Bone Thugs (similar to LAD's Notorious Thugs); Trina, Lil Kim', and Mase were ready fodder for pop outlets; and JD of course called on his southern So So Def base. The thinking proved two-fold: 1) If you're not a very prolific rapper yourself, bring along some friends; 2) Hope that your friends bring along their fans. And as 1472 reached platinum inside of a minute, the thinking was quickly validated.

Elsewhere on the album, where borderline Miami Vice beats served up heavy doses of corn, the production too seemed inspired by shallow-thinking, e.g. the rather flaccid horns on Money Ain't A Thang or the club reject feel of All That's Got To Go. What's more, the subject matter didn't steer very far from the stereotypical, and the trite hooks (Get Your Shit Right) were rivaled only by JD's incessant background ad-libs. However, Life in 1472 stands as one of those artifacts of the jiggy era that can been too quickly pushed to the side simply because of its outward indulgences. In a weird way, even though it spawned multiple hits, because the LP's been so heavily ignored in recent years, shrugged off as just boring bling music, it's become almost slept-on.

First, JD understood how to put tracks together, taking the emphasis off himself and placing it on to his readied lineup of posse cut players -- regardless of how pandering the guest list might have been. Next you have a historical angle, where Kanye was given his first behind-the-boards break (Turn It Out), and Jay-Z's rep was further solidified. Beyond all these new jacks, old school legends, like Too Short and Slick Rick, were as well allowed to shine, each playing into their respective strengths. Meanwhile, DJ's Premier and Quik were also forwarded some deserving paychecks. Then, listening to the project itself, you'll even find one of Nas' best guest appearances, on the aforementioned Turn It Out. Here Nas utilizes repetition wonderfully, as the word "spit" is effectively recited nine times in just about as many seconds. Following this, the Wild Style nod of a hook, and a manageable JD verse, the track moves into story time, another Nas specialty:

Too much Thug Passion and smoking
Made it outside, mouth wide, vomiting, gagging and choking
From behind, niggas plotting and scoping
Everything was blurry at first, now shit is moving in slow motion
Furthermore, 1472 remains notable for the pre-Neptunes grown and sexy style of Jazzy Hoes, the double-time Krazie Bone bout on Don't Hate On Me, and the energetic Primo rush of Protectors of 1472, where JD demonstrates a comfort over any producer's beats. All in all, while we shouldn't begin to revise history and call the album a classic, just because something was part of a much-maligned and rather plastic time in rap music, we also shouldn't be so quick to shrug it off. Yes, Hip-Hop grew more and more one-sided after 1996, but narrow-mindedness isn't supposed to be a trait any side supports.

Jermaine Dupri f/ Nas: Turn It Out
BONUS: Jermaine Dupri f/ Da Brat & Krayzie Bone: Don't Hate Me
BONUS: Jermaine Dupri f/ Eightball, Too $hort & Mister Black: Jazzy Hoes
BONUS: Jermaine Dupri f/ Snoop Dogg, ROC & Warren G: Protectors of 1472


Blogger neo said...

Hip hop has been so purist-ified sometimes we fail to just look at albums for what they are as opposed to letting obvious bias to blind us.

Good stuff. I'm thinking of getting the album actually. I think it was interesting as a 'compilation' type album of sorts. "Protectors of 1472" finds what happens when Primo laces artists, they automatically just up their 'game.'

Each artist blacks out on this..

September 26, 2006 5:47 PM  

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