Ah. Gangsta Rap.
My long-lost love, my teenage fascination, my guilty pleasure.
If you’ve listened to much of the Picky Bastards Podcast, you’ll have heard me heaping praise on modern rappers such as Oddisee, Loyle Carner, Saba, and Sampa the Great. You’ll have heard me admiring their conscious hip-hop. Their lack of songs about guns, the absence of misogyny and homophobia in their music, their success in moving one of my favourite musical genres away from the stereotypes of bling, bitches, and big butts in the videos.
I promise that not all of that is fake. But it would be a lie if I said that I don’t still sit down sometimes and stick on ‘Fuck You’ by Dr Dre, ‘Hit Em Up’ by Tupac, or ‘Bitch Please’ by Eminem. I grew up on this music and it’s hard to let it go.
But for me, gangsta rap died with the introduction of 50 Cent. Suddenly talent didn’t matter. If you’d been shot nine times you could have less ability than Biggie’s little toe and someone would still sign you up and help you make millions. It was even okay to have lines as bad as ‘I love you like a fat kid loves cake’ in one of your songs.
I was done.
It’s been refreshing, then, in some ways, to spend a couple of weeks with Blu and Oh No and their collaborative album A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer. Because these boys have talent. And tunes. And there can be no arguing with the fact that they are full on gangsta rappers; if it wasn’t obvious from the fact that nearly every song in the second half of the album is about going to jail, Blu and Oh No make sure to reference songs from Nate Dogg and Warren G, Snoop Dogg, M.O.P., and at least five other superstar gangsta rappers in whose footsteps they would like to follow.
And the album starts impressively, with the slick and laid back ‘The Lost Angels Anthem’. The song sets the scene for a story that will run throughout the LP’s seventeen songs; a city in which crime is inevitable, in which avoiding your part in the melee is almost impossible, in which jail looms largely over a certain section of the population.
So far, so good. And on an initial couple of listens to the album in its entirety, it is difficult not to get into the groove. Polished beats, powerful MCing, and a tale to tempt us from song to song.
But then I listen more closely.
‘When them shots pop, pop, pop.’
‘I’m kinky/I’ll hit it even if it’s stinky (Uh)/Put em in the shower (Uh)/make the pussy brand new.’
‘Scopin’ on me the whole time at the party/I thought he was a faggot/four-fives gon’ let ’em have it.’
And they keep coming. Guns, homophobic slurs, endless objectification of women, glorification of violence. I. Can’t. Do. This.
Teenage me wants to keep on listening, to push those things to the back of my mind, to ignore the morals and values that three and a half decades on earth have provided. What’s the difference between this and the old songs I still listen to?
Well, one difference is nostalgia. Another, more important, one is the fact that the world has moved on in the last twenty years. Surely we’re at a point when we can stop using the word faggot in songs?
It seems not.
So thanks Blu and Oh No, for giving me a couple of days of fun while I took in your album on a basic level. I enjoyed it. But I won’t be listening again.
Words by Fran Slater.