Sunday, March 15, 2015
LIFE STORY IS A CLASSIC, BUT ARE CLASSICS EVEN A THING ANYMORE?
As far as I'm concerned, there's two kinds of classics: those minted by the mainstream press (Illmatic, The Blueprint, Good Kid M.a.a.d. City, Hell Hath No Fury) and the sleeper classics that earn their status over time (Uptown Saturday Night, 400 Degreez, Thug Motivation 101, Trap Muzik). Call 'em the people's classics.
The latter are usually more interesting cause it's more about the strength of the music than fitting into a critical rubric, kinda like how Escape From New York kicks the shit out of Hiroshima mon amour. Look at Ma$e. He was a popstar on Harlem World, but never a critical darling. Double Up flopped and he became a creepy preacher, then a nostalgia act on Welcome Back. Now people are coming around and acknowledging Harlem World as the imperfect classic it is.
The evolution of an organic classic usually goes like this. When the album drops, critics and old heads write it off; worse yet, they damn it with tepid praise. Eventually the kids who actually bought and bumped the album grow up and realize, "Yo, they were wrong. This my shit." It's a funny formulation, as much about the quality of the music as the attachment developed from growing up with someone's raps. It's also about slaying your elders and goin, "You clowned on me when I rocked the shiny suit, but your fossilized ass dropped the ball on this one. Put on your Karl Kani onesie and go to bed."
It's been 15 years since Life Story dropped. It's now as old as Radio and King Of Rock were in the year 2000, which blows this young seed's mind. Notwithstanding its warts, Life Story is a classic, and probably the swan song of New York's cultural dominance. D-Dot is the backbone of the record: there's a Madd Rapper skit, an excellent Primo knockoff with Charlemagne, and a triumphant post-defection appearance from The Lox. Even an ill-advised crossover attempt like "Spanish Fly" is vindicated as an encapsulation of the period: those naive days when A&R knobs were still fumbling in their attempts to cash in on the Latino market, and Pitbull was still floating in amniotic fluid in a Little Havana laboratory.
I got absolutely no objectivity when it comes to Black Rob, but it's all good cause we anti-objective round these parts. When I first heard "Whoa" I was a snotnose listening to Hot 97 on my transistor like, "Fuck a worksheet, I gotta hear Flex drop bombs." Before that, the edited version of the "Money, Cash, Hoes" on the "Hard Knock Life" cassingle was probably the hardest shit I ever heard (in my defense, this was the version featuring Beanie Sigel and one of the only hot Bleek verses). "Whoa" (and its ancestor "Ha") challenged my understanding of what rap was allowed to be. It was the same effect I got from Ghost's "Cherchez" video: totally over my head, but that's what made it so captivating.
The Black Rob Report was solid, despite an opener that had Rob talking about cleaning his colon. But the world had moved on by then, Bad Boy's marketing department included. BR has since taken a post at the conservative think-tank known as Duck Down. Rap has always been about the Next Shit, but the Innanet makes that attention span even smaller. Word...Life and To Whom It May Concern were once solidly Rap Canon, but IDK if the janitors still dust off their plaques. And that's cool. We ain't gotta read what the nerds say and stew in our voicelessness. If a borderline psychotic wants to call Life Story a classic, he can just get dial up his 56k and yell it to the world. That's a beautiful thing.
But maybe the whole concept of a classic is outdated now that the album isn't a meaningful standard. Was the concept of a classic just a marketing gimmick of the bygone magazine era? "Top 5 Dead or Alive" is a quaint joke, cause there's always something new on the horizon tomorrow. Most artists got the message and adopted a release model that flaunts its disposability. Gucci Mane doesn't have a traditional classic under his belt, but the whole corpus of his work trumps anything Kendrick Lamar has ever done.
BONUS JOINT: Did u know a young Black Rob collaborated with Dan the Automator? This is what it's like when worlds collide!