Recently I was talking with some people when the subject of the David Simon TV series “The Wire'” came up. I expressed that I’d never talked or been privy to a conversation with someone else who lived in the kind of disenfranchised urban environment in which the show — about the gray, self-replicating world of drug dealers and the just as gray system that deals with them — is set. An interesting reply I got was that (such was probably because) it was too close to home. While this person was on to something, I think the relative lack of interest for ‘The Wire” by inner-city communities has more to do with the reason music that qualifies as ‘conscious rap’ is always heralded outside of the places such songs chronicle.
Even in suburbs, the rap that’s most popular is the kind that glamorizes vice and materialism — things that all too frequently became a commodity in disenfranchised communities (without some of the various corporates avenues those thing take elsewhere). The best of hip-hop was about coping with or overcoming such, rather than embracing it. But that’s not easy; maybe what is, is to be swayed by mantras that cast what would otherwise be flaws in a glamorous light. (I genuinely think that one of the appeals “Mad Men” holds for its viewers is that, even while it deconstructs the defaults of the sixties, it glamorizes them.)
Any hip-hop that speaks to life without gloss — sort of the bar for ‘conscious rap’ — is hip-hop that could be challenging its listeners. Once something challenges a person to see his or her place in the world, it’s also asking them to break out of the easier, shallow patterns of our lives. Most people find it easier to just shift locations, but that doesn’t necessarily change patterns.
One is supposed to want to live in a ‘good’ place among ‘ good’ people — on Nice Street. But I wonder sometimes if the interest that people there have for something like “The Wire” is because it’s literally not close to home. And maybe things are prettier on Nice Street (and the sign is done in some fancy calligraphy — and hand-painted!), but there’s also a lot less behind how things got nice.
I suppose one can live in a place, and only have one foot in it. I think about all the people getting lost in fictional worlds, people living on Nice Street trying to align themselves with something ‘real and authentic’ like conscious rap or “The Wire,” and that — one foot here, one foot there — oftens seems be the only way people live. But I hope there’s a foothold into something nice, or good, that also isn’t just some bubble.
To end this post touching on something with the one thing that you just can’t get in a bubble: decent comedy. Dan Harmon, creator of the TV series “Community”
stepped down as showrunner was fired. Since the show is based on Harmon’s experiences unexpectedly connecting with a motley crew, I thought I’d quote a few lines from the show’s theme song, The 88’s “At Least It Was Here:”
“I can’t count the reasons I should stay.
One by one they all just fade away.”
Also, “Give me the hope / To run out of steam” is a good one.