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KTW vs ETC: Jean Grae vs Kanye West vs The State of Hip-Hop


A versus by Kyle T. Wilson and Ernessa T. Carter

First the songs:

Then Kyle’s Take:

Ernessa decided to shake up our weekly throw-down by suggesting that we exchange songs that we can’t stop listening to. She picked Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown,” so I thought I’d stick with the hip-hop theme and pick “My Story” by Jean Grae. I discovered Grae thanks to a review of her new CD, Jeanius, on NPR.  Just let that sink in for a minute.  How fierce and nerdy is that?

Jean’s been around a while, although there were rumors earlier this year that she’d quit recording altogether.  I’m glad she didn’t, but if “My Story” is an indication of how confessional she is as a songwriter, I can understand why she might need to take a break.  The middle verse of the song takes place in an abortion clinic.  It’s so intense she ends it by admitting “I can’t finish this.”  Most rappers wish they were this tough.

As for “Love Lockdown,” it makes sense that ETC would be into this song; I recently read an item where New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica called it “the biggest TV on the Radio song of 2008.”  I get his point, although I’d listen to TVOTR singing “Feelings” before this mess.

I should’ve warned ETC of my ever-growing disdain for Kanye and everything he stands for.  Actually, I’m not sure what he stands for exactly, except for this avant-pop poseur bullshit he’s dishing lately.  He didn’t always do this, did he?  Honestly Kanye, congrats for discovering Takashi Murakami and all, but please just give me some mediocre attempt at straightforward hip-hop and stick to sampling songs better than you can actually write instead of your bad vocals, boring keyboard plunking and lame Cher-Effect autotune.  AARRRRRRGHHH RAGE against the Kanye!  I can’t finish this….

Make the jump for Ernessa’s take — she has some pretty strong feelings about my pick.

And Then Ernessa’s Take:

I just found out that tonight’s B.E.T. awards will feature no nominations for female rappers, and that they’ve even pulled the “Best Female Rapper” Grammy. Bascially, it’s a bloodbath for female hip-hop artists, and the item I read blamed a tougher industry and the astronomical cost of hair and make-up to launch a female artist (no seriously). As a former hip-hop devotee, this seemed like just another blow to what is increasingly looking like a doomed love affair with the genre.

I have extremely open ears, but every day, there seems to be less and less new hip-hop that I actually like. Happily, Jean Grae’s latest album doesn’t fall into that category. “My Story” is nothing less than lyrically brilliant, raw to a point that I haven’t heard from any hip-hop artist in quite awhile, and the first abortion track I’ve ever heard that really “gets it” on an emotional level.

However, it’s not going on my “Best Of” list, because though lyrically stunning, the jazzy production seems like a throwback to the 90’s and not up to today’s current standard.

Though, I understand your antipathy towards Kanye, Kyle, I do think you might be judging him on the basis of his public persona as opposed to his actual movie. I also think that Kanye West, (early-millenium-era)Mos Def, Common and Lupe Fiasco excel at what Jean Grae does not: saying interesting things over appealing beats.

I often find that a lot of good rappers think a great flow is all that you should need to get by and don’t put as much work into make sure their production really showcases what they can do. I don’t think every track needs to be overproduced by Timbaland, but I think beat should really be labor over. A great example of this in my opinion is “99 Problems” by Jay-Z, which has a clever rap set to an almost spare (but stellar) beat.

However, this brings us back to my original upset, as I doubt that Jean Grae, with her unadorned looks and gender has access to a beat on the same level as “99 Problems.” I think the only solve for this industry stalemate would be more Missy Elliots: great female producers deciding to get in front of the mic.

But getting back to my can’t-stop-listening track of the week. I’ll just say that I love that Kanye West decided to switch it up, and that I was sold on this song after watching the below video, which is brilliant to the point that I felt i was going through a bad, vagueish break-up while watching it. And I love the idea tribal figures warring or stomping around in your head — though I could have done without all the gratuitous sexy female shots — not because it’s a gratuitous, but because it takes away from the video’s originality.