Music News

The Hippie-fying Of Hip-Hop

n Public Enemy's revolutionary 1988 LP, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, head M.C. Chuck D roared through one black-power

anthem after
another, fashioning an aural altar to Louis Farrakhan here and a sonic testimonial to Malcolm X there.

Then came the last song and its in-your-face irony. On this rap, P.E. decided to sample the title line from the Beastie Boys' party platitude, "Fight for Your Right" and rearrange it so it went something like this:

"Party for your right to fight, fight!"
Whether Public Enemy had consciously set up the Beasties and their mindless song as metaphors for the white world and its leaders was debatable. But any way you looked at it, Chuck D wasn't rapping about peaceful revolution or evolution or siblinghood regardless of color. His lines were all about rising up and crushing the establishment. And in case you missed the message, the back cover of the album featured the group's drill-cum-dance team, the S1Ws (Security of the First World), clad in battle fatigues, toting Uzis and staging a jailbreak.

Don't think P.E. was just waving to itself way out on the radical fringe. The hormonally hyper raps of Tone-Loc and the squeaky-clean consumerism of D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince may have had Top-40 radio gently swaying to their sugar-cereal hip-hop, but if you ventured out of the malls and onto the streets, you'd find more firepower from where the S1Ws' Uzis came from. Ice-T rapped about the uselessness of gang-banging in "Colors," but Ice and his posse still decided to arm themselves with pump shotguns for his Power album cover photo. Boogie Down Productions M.C. KRS-One sounded off against violence at rap shows in a track called, "Stop The Violence," but on the cover of By All Means Necessary, there KRS-One is, peering out a window with his Uzi cocked.

There was no reason to expect these drive-by contradictions to stop any time soon. Public Enemy and Ice-T both went gold with their latest guns 'n' glory efforts, and their Uzi fetishes haven't been catching much flack from Tipper Gore or cutting into record sales.

Yet, with all these contradictions to wrestle with, the Public Enemies and KRS-Ones of the rap world apparently decided they weren't so sure they wanted to continue taking their pet Uzis out for walks. So late last year, KRS-One got together with such politically-minded rappers as Public Enemy M.C.'s Chuck D and Flavor Flav, Kool Moe Dee, Doug E. Fresh, and M.C. Lyte, and called the group the Stop the Violence Movement. The all-star posse recorded a catchy and righteous, if predictable, "We Are The World"-style collabo-rap called "Self Destruction," railing against black-on-black violence.

Of course, the group couldn't ignore the omnipresent Uzi issue. M.C. Lyte let loose with lines like "Leave the guns . . . alone" and "You ain't guardin' the door/So what you got a gun for?" And Heavy D added, "I heard a brother shot another/It broke my heart."

The song had an all-star cast of rappers, rhymes, and beats. But a peek at the cover of the single revealed that the group had stored its hardware in the closet right next to the pile of contradictions. And as if to make sure the closet stayed shut nice and tight, the group got more than 45 radio stations across the country to play the song at noon on January 16 in honor of pacifist civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Whether Chuck D, Ice-T, and KRS-One decide to do the NRA thing on the covers of their next albums remains to be seen, but the call to cool it has rap fans in a lather for now. When Billboard's Hot Rap Singles chart debuted March 11, "Self Destruction" was at the top. There it stayed until May 20, when a group called De La Soul came down from either Mars or Amityville, New York (the trio claims to be from both places), and bumped it from the top spot with the individualist manifesto, "Me, Myself and I." The song contained the curious line, "Say Plug One and Two are hippies/No, we're not/That's pure plug bull." Meanwhile, intrigued listeners streamed into stores to score a copy of De La Soul's independent debut LP, 3 Feet High and Rising. When they laid their eyes and ears upon it, they discovered not only were Plug One and Two hippies, but that rap had taken a 180-degree ideological turn. Here was a hip-hop outfit neither waving guns around on the cover nor distributing the message of Farrakhan on the inside. Instead, there were Day-Glo daisies surrounding pictures of the group members, and wedged into the "o" in Soul was a peace sign. It seemed to be the rap equivalent of all those naughty students plugging up the National Guard's guns with flowers. Whether De La Soul was opportunistically catching rap's pacifist wave or just coincidentally happened on the scene at the politically right time, it's clear from the success of the Stop the Violence Movement, and to an even greater extent, De La Soul, that flower power has dropped the bomb on firepower. Strip down for the love-in, take a hit of acid and hug a tree. Hippie-hop is healthy and happening in '89.