by Cadence
Ever since KRS ONE uttered the words, people have become fond of repeating them. "Rap is something you DO. Hip hop is something you LIVE." But unless you're one of the few lucky people who actually pays the bills off hip hop, you might want to put some serious thought in to how literally you want to take them. You can "live" hip hop all you want while you're at home, or rolling around in your car, but try talking about the elements of hip hop at the job interview, or popping your Gang Starr CD in at grandma's 90th birthday party and you're gonna get laughed at like Skee-Lo's hatchback.
That goes double when you start talking about independent hip hop. Most of the people I know who "live" off of independent hip hop are either lying their asses off, living with 15 roommates, or just straight broke - except for the ones who don't make the music, but that's another story altogether.

MCs don't like to admit it, but I will. I have a day job. I've had a series of them over the years - some better than others. They allow me to pay the bills reliably and not worry about where the next check is coming from. Since music doesn't HAVE to pay the bills, I can make the music I want instead having to try to do what will sell. And I've gotten pretty damn good at making music that doesn't sell, believe you me. Yeah, I wonder what it would be like if I could devote all of my time to hip hop. Maybe I would have a bigger name, tour more, have more releases, more recognition, more money, more respect, etc. Or maybe, I would be on the road all the time, have no semblance of a normal life and have to fight with shady night club promoters for enough of the door receipts to even cover that night's dinner expenses - never mind pay the rest of my bills. You never know... As it is, I make music at night and on the weekends and then I get up the next day and trudge into the office, where hip hop is definitely NOT something I live. And believe it or not, it's not the worst thing.
Still, trying to mix hip hop with the rest of my life has it's challenges. At one of my jobs Nancy in Subscriber Sales found out I made hip hop records. - Now, before I go any further, forget for a moment that this column is called "Pack of Lies." I want to emphasize that this is a TRUE story and I'm not exaggerating the facts for comic effect. Okay, I'll admit, the 3rd "Tom" - the one in Order Management - is used as a literary device. The rest of it's all true though. Too true.
A white suburban mother of 3, in her mid 40's, Nancy was about as far from "living hip hop" as you can imagine. Her exposure to the music was limited to those newspaper articles in mainstream papers blaming hip hop for all the bad things that happen in our society. You know the ones I mean. They all contain the sentence "the rapper, whose real name is." and they all maintain a half sarcastic tone, alternating between scoffing at the art and treating it like it's some kind of tribal ritual. The kind of articles that depict rappers as exotic animals from a faraway place - while reminding us that they're all dangerous sociopaths, all the while assuming that there's no one in the world who simultaneously likes hip hop and is smart enough to read the newspaper. You can tell if you're reading one of these articles when they have a hip hop glossary at the end so you can learn how to use the word "def" in a sentence.
That was where Nancy was coming from. But, like most moms she still wanted to look cool in front of her kids, so she decided to try to gather some hip hop information to show off to them. She had never been so close to an actual rapper before and might not ever be again if she could help it. It was almost like going on safari and coming face to face with a lion.
"You make hip hop?" She said - half whispering.
"Like Snook Donkey Donk?!?" She asked, eyes wide with amazement.
"Umm. Not exactly."

"You mean…with the bibbita, bobbita, boobita?" she asked, while - with her head only - doing what must have - IN her head only - resembled the funky chicken.

Here's where it gets tricky, right? I mean, if hip hop something you live, what do you say to a suburban white lady doing the funky chicken in her office chair? Do you smack her? Scream at her? Kick a ill freestyle?
Well, here's what I said:
"That's so cool!" she practically yelled. She wanted to go get Tom from marketing and tell him about it. And if I hadn't stopped her, she probably would've gotten Tom from Customer service and Tom from order management too and I would have spent the rest of the day nodding as Nancy excitedly grabbed every passer-by and said "Did you know we have a RAPPER in our midst????"
I don't have time to help someone like Nancy make sense of hip hop. So, I made a small effort to dispel the worst of her stereotypes and began to tell her that for every Snook Donk - Wait a minute. Did she say "SNOOK DONKEY DONK???" I HAD TO SET THIS BITCH STRAIGHT!
Or did I? At least for the moment, hip hop ISN'T something I LIVE, it's something I LOVE. Love is personal. It's not something you spout off about to just anyone. Part of the reason I still love hip hop is because I DON'T live it all the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder I guess. I go out in the world and have other life experiences that have nothing to do with hip hop at all - until I incorporate those experiences into my music, or this column, or my one-man show - o.k., I don't do a one-man show, unless you count the times when my DJ doesn't show up for a set, but you get the point. If I was all-hip-hop-all-the-time, I would never have met someone like Nancy - mixed blessing, right? But beyond that, I'd have no perspective on what the rest of the world was like and nothing to say that anyone who wasn't in the music business could relate to.
To my way of thinking, people who are obsessed with "living hip hop" are the biggest reason why we get album after album of for-the-love-of-hip-hop, or where-I-used-to-be-from, or this-is-the-glamorous-life-I-lead-now, or the-industry-is-crooked songs. Maybe we can relate on a small level or maybe it makes us feel like insiders, but honestly, if you don't have a record deal, how much do you need to hear about this stuff? You probably don't have a real estate license either - and you don't go seeking out stories about corrupt building contractors, do you?
Yes, there's something alluring about the sentiment that hip hop is something you live. It's a dope line, for starters. But before we get off and running, let's try to remember that KRS needed a hook. Nothing more. Sometimes it seems like there are too many earnest hip hop fundamentalists out there - taking every line of every hip hop song at face value. Funny how that seems to go hand-in-hand with missing the point of the lyrics. It's like watching the religious right bristle at how science appears to disprove the bible. If you're just reading the typing, you're not reading the writing.
So, in a room full of creationists, let me be the guy who wants to teach evolution too. I'm saying the world is bigger than a commandment in a hip hop song. I agree with the basics of what KRS is saying. Hip Hop isn't about making a disposable rap record to cash in. If you claim to be a hip hop artist, yet have no knowledge or respect for the art form, we don't need you. And if hip hop is a persona you're trying on just to see how it fits, do it in private - not on stage. But to the average listener - and even the average independent artist, hip hop should be a part of a larger life. Get a job, get a hobby, get a sandwich, get laid. If you're not dealing with he rest of the world, you're setting yourself up to have nothing say, but rhyme while you say it. If that's not a hollow victory, I don't know what is.
Listen to Mike G (of the Jungle Brothers) & Cadence "State Lines" off the album with the same name here.
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