KUSH BOYS STUDIOS FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES
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The internet is ablaze with critique and discussion following the recently released music video by French director Romain Gavras for “No Church in the Wild,” the opening track from Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 album, Watch the Throne. As the third song to be made into a music video off of the platinum album, the song deviates from the braggadocio and ego stroking that clouds some of Watch the Throne (and hip hop culture in general) in favor of gritty, visceral visuals.
From the lighting of the first Molotov, the video is turbulent and discomforting. What follows are slow motion shots of open warfare between riot police and disillusioned militant youth, an obvious allusion to the wave of discontent towards establishment that has spread from Tahrir to the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. The video pulls no punches; highlighting the swelling of protesters’ faces as they are doused in pepper spray, and the ferocity in which the mob swarms the police. Statues loom overheard; stoic yet emulative of the chaos bellow.
However, neither side is painted better than the other. We connect the rioters to our modern conceptions of Occupy and the current clashing in Greece and Canada, but nothing is explicitly stated. Rioters loot shops and destroy private property, while police isolate and beat them mercilessly. Neither side shows quarter nor does either side betray motive, making for an apolitical yet totally relevant commentary that conjures the questions of power, hierarchy, and moral accountability that make the track so powerful.
Whatever you take from it, and whichever side of the riot shield you stand on, Gavras set the bar high for hip hop music in terms of what a music video can really be with his incarnation of “No Church in the Wild.”
The biggest problem with hip hop culture today is how close it is to mainstream pop culture. Now, this isn’t hip hop’s fault, the music does the best it can to stay true to where it came from and rap about the real things that people want to hear. But the problem is that fake record executives at the largest labels and media giants hijack the music of hip hop’s greatest artists and distribute that music any way they want to make a quick buck.
Don’t believe me? Watch a rapper’s career grow. See them begin to sell some records and gain notoriety in the underground. And then an exec will see that they can make some money off of that artist. Suddenly, what was once a burgeoning MC breathing life back into hip hop culture is pretending to play a guitar while skinny jeans?
I don’t think one can hate it too much though. More exposure means more chances for hip hop messages to affect a wider audience. I was at Target the other day and suddenly I recognized the music that was playing over their otherwise bland radio system. It was “Niggas in Paris” off of Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne. At first I felt cheated. One of the best records this year was being played for soccer moms and other suburbanites who were just there to save money on bulk toothpaste. But then I got to thinking, maybe this is exactly where hip hop culture needs to be; subversive, penetrating into the complacent living room like N.W.A., Tupac, and Eminem did in the past.
I guess all that hip hop can do is be real to itself. People are going to try and take advantage and we may lose some good talent on the way, but labels like KBMD are where hip hop culture is going to survive. Check out the Kush Boys Music Department, or the newest compilation on iTunes for some real hip hop music, from real artists.