I’ve devoted roughly
half of my journalistic career to writing rapturous, garbled panegyrics about so-called “conscious rappers.” You
know who I’m talking about: the dudes who claim you should like their music because, damn it, they’re not blingin’
or gat-totin’, and they’ve got a whole arsenal of fifty dollar words, even if their rhymes ain’t about shit.
A couple months ago I started to get fed up with the whole conscious spiel, in general. I was tired of spitting out other
people’s mawkish platitudes about upliftment for the hood, and, while I agreed with most of the anti-Bush and anti-Viacom
rhetoric that found favor with so many emcees in 2003, I kept badgering them to tell me something I didn’t already know.
So it was disillusionment, and general restiveness, that inspired me to write, in a recent East Bay Express review
on The Procussions’ Iron Sharpens Iron, that I wasn’t feeling the album because it wasn’t gangsta enough.
Attempting to mitigate my position, I announced in the second sentence of the review: “Why a self-proclaimed feminist
would prefer dickslingers over do-gooders completely eludes me; I can only say I like gangsta rap's pastiche of Italian mafia
and blaxploitation personae, or maybe I'm just intrigued by the taboo nature of the lyrics.”
Granted, the “dickslingers
over do-gooders” part was kind of a joke, and The Procussions were a strong enough group, musically, that they didn’t
really deserve to be my sacrificial lamb. At the time, I doubted I’d even manage to push that line past the Express
censors. My point was merely that a lot of underground cats were getting away with putting out sissy-knucklehead albums in
which they’d spend too much time trying to out-big-word each other, if they weren’t expounding Utne Reader-style
spiritual homilies, or spitting derivative “life in the hood” testimonials. Hip hop journalists were devoting
so much ink to moralizing about hip hop, and gushing about anything that fit into the purview of “underground”
or “conscious,” that they weren’t willing to step back and look at it with critical eyes.
the word “dickslinger” made it to press, which is how I garnered my first-ever fan, a gangsta rapper named Chioke,
from the Richmond/San Leandro group The Real Pac Dime. In retrospect, I imagine he was sitting on the couch with his pants
hanging at his ankles, reading East Bay Express, while one girl sucked his dick and another girl turned the pages for him.
He hit on the word “dickslinger” and got one of those ice-on-the-brain epiphanies, like “oh wow, that’s
me!” To make a long story short, Chioke e-mailed my editor and said he wanted a review in the Express, and could Rachel
Swan please write it.
I was flattered when I got the news. After all, how many fans does a fledgling writer ever have
or, if she has them, find out about? So far, my experience of journalism has been that it’s a totally profit-losing
operation: you’re working all the time, you’re broke as a joke, a whole slew of rappers would like to see you
tarred and feathered, and the rest would like you to please swing on their nuts as you’re writing that review, thank
you. So I wrote back to Chioke and said, sure, anything for a fan.
The next day I received an e mail that said: “What's
right, Mommy. A lot of writers/journalists I see be writing strait garbage, but you got what they call 'it,' PLUS you know
your music and that's gonna take you a long way – believe that. Know that you are appreciated for yo style, so keep
doing your thang thang.”
Okay, so there’s something extremely fishy about this, already. Whether or not
Rachel Swan’s penchant for sallying and swinging her own dick over the pages of East Bay Express has anything to do
with “what they call ‘it’” is definitely a point of contention. Nonetheless, I was flattered, and
eagerly awaited my personal press copy of The Real Pac Dime’s The Perkin Experience: Hand2Fist Edition, which came in
the mail a week later. On first glance, the album looked like something that 2 Live Crew might have produced during its demo
days, except a lot less fun, and a little more chilling. Perusing the song titles – “Bitch”, “Negotiate
the Dick”, “BustANut”, “Cockstrong” – I began to wonder why Chioke hadn’t just written
on the envelope, “Suck my dick, bitch! (and review my album).”
Pretty soon, it became apparent that that
was exactly what the group wanted: for Rachel Swan to suck their dicks through the medium of print journalism. They wanted
a review that fit cozily into their collective fantasy of themselves as “cock strong” barrio Lotharios. But Rachel
Swan wasn’t feeling it.
I won’t waste time, or space, reifying everyone’s platitudes about misogyny
in hip hop, or chiding these rappers for what I consider to be their biggest fuck-up: rechanneling hip hop’s traditional
hatred of the white man into unproductive, and utterly misguided, hatred of women. I will argue, however, that there’s
such a thing as artistic misogyny in hip hop. Misogyny that, believe it or not, enhances the lyrical quality of a person’s
rhymes. On the other side of the coin, there’s also bad misogyny, the kind that’s bland, boring, and overall discomfiting.
For the most part, Hand2Fist represented the latter strain.
As for good misogyny: rappers always sound better when
you can tell they really are personally invested in what they’re saying. Unfortunately, most rappers – like most
people, for that matter – aren’t all that invested in politics, even if they try to sound like they are. But when
you hear their sex rhymes, you can tell they’re really feeling it. For instance, when Tupac rhymed about his relationships
with women, he sounded like a man torn apart, sometimes embittered and lusty (“Thug in Me”) and other times fawning
(“Dear Mama”). So when he spat a verse like “Love fucking in the mornin'/I get you wet, bust a sweat /Then
I'm gone/Left you on your own, girl/Tell me what you feel like/Blindfolded I'm cold do it real nice/That's if it feel right/Maybe
it's the thug in me” (“Thug in Me”), you could tell it was coming from a deep, heartfelt place.
can also be palatable, if not inspired, when you feel like the rapper’s using it to communicate an interesting idea,
or tell a story. Ice Cube’s “Get Off My Dick, and Tell Yo Bitch to Come Here” is probably the best example
of that. In that song, Cube raps: “I'm not saying this to dis each and every fan/ Women you can ride but man be a man/
Shake my hand and make it a firm shake/Say what's up Ice Cube and then break.” For anyone who has had to ward off an
unwanted suitor (and I don’t claim to speak from personal experience, here), Ice Cube has coined a very economical way
of saying, “unless I’m gonna fuck you, please get off my nuts.”
Unfortunately, there really are
only so many ways to say “suck my dick.” So if that’s the thesis of half the songs on your album, it’s
really hard to still sound fresh on track six. And that’s the main shortcoming of Hand2Fist. I’m not saying it’s
totally void of inventive turns of phrase. In fact, I rather like Official’s suggestion, in the first verse of “Negotiate
the Dick”, that “You need to pull up to a dick with a proposition/ grab him in your hand looking like you’re
bout to kiss him/ give him lip service and I’ll bet that cock’ll listen.” And in fairness, some of the beats
are deliciously come-hither: “Alcoholism” and “Negotiate the Dick” both overlay glacial boombap with
dissonant, spine-tingling piano. The best tracks sound like veritable West Coast gangsta rap, even if the group’s rhymes
Trouble is, Real Pac Dime’s lyrics aren’t creative, or interesting enough, to save them from
allegations of outright misogyny, in its most banal form. It’s hard to say, at first, from whence stems this intense,
venomous anger towards women, because in the case of this album, it seems non-specific: every female is a bitch, and every
bitch serves one purpose only. After listening to Hand2Fist a couple times (which was all I could really stomach the first
day, but I’m gradually getting sensitized to it) I’ve decided the group sounds really young, overall. It’s
the same assessment you’d make about Fifty Cent and Jah Rule if you saw them bitch-slapping each other on HBO: these
guys are basically the same dudes who used to beat me up in grade school, but with rap careers. In the case of Real Pac Dime,
misogynist lyrics just seem like a front that they’re using to authenticate themselves as bastions of “the thug
It’s pretty obvious that espousing a wack and retarded gender philosophy isn’t gonna set
a brother free (but in truth, I don’t think that’s what Real Pac Dime is seeking). I much preferred the days when
Rass Kass wrote long diatribes about the evil of white people (“Nature of the Threat”), which, however incendiary,
were far more enlightening than Real Pac Dime’s “suck my dick” incantations.
As for me, I’m
not ready to recant the “dickslinger” comment, even if it isn't always true. Call it navel-gazing, if you will,
but I think it’s important to constantly be reflecting on your relationship to the thing you write about. And, as a
female navigating in a space that’s rife with hyper-male signifiers, I can’t just dismiss all the stuff that makes
me uncomfortable – after all, some of the best rap, artistically, is the worst, politically.
Then again, sometimes
when I pick up the pen I’m looking for an eloquent way to say: “nah, suck my dick, this time.”
can find The Real Pac Dime at ZEBOX