Where are we in hip-hop? Hip-hop fanatics who seek “depth” in rap music obsess over this tired ole question. Take Santigold and Lupe Fiasco, for instance. They not only create music to make listeners move, but also to move listeners. In other words, they mean to rouse both your root and crown chakras. When it comes to à la mode Lex Luger trap-rap, there are only a few artists who decide to tackle the beast from within. Lupe Fiasco’s newest video stresses that we should stop making excuses for and start making adjustments to pop rap’s gangsta mentality.
Lupe’s music has always been critical of the genre in which it lives. His calling card is self-reflective meta-rap; after all, “Conflict Diamonds,” his sociopolitical response to Kanye’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” paved the way for his entry onto mainstream radio. Despite fans who claim that post-Lasers Lupe is crying for lost credibility, his “conscious” breed of hip-hop is what keeps them coming back. Regardless, he means to make a point.
In the clip for “Around My Way,” the hip-hop industry (as seen through Lupe’s eyes) is filled with cartoon caricatures, rented wealth, and a missing soul that sunglasses can only temporarily shield. Hip-hop is a self-regulating mechanism that is still forced to bat away outdated stigmas and qualms, and Lupe is ever eager to take on the responsibility. His message is blunt, frank, and obvious – but then again, it’s up against equally overt counterparts (see Big Sean’s “A$$,” 50 Cent’s “I Ain’t Gonna Lie”). This straightforward approach is Lupe’s version of going H.A.M., avoiding ambiguity in favor of crystal clarity.
Santigold aims at a larger target than hip-hop, offering a subtler take on race and class in America. The video for “The Keepers” is an eerie watch. It calls for a vigilant eye to catch all the symbolism — perhaps even a class in semiotics — to fully understand its point. In it, a perfect white blonde family recuperates too quickly from a drive-by shooting that had just interrupted their meal. Wu-Tang’s GZA plays an accomplice to the crime which injures no one but the milkman, and even then, a child is quick to whip out his cell phone and document his agony.
The family’s matriarch is proud of her body, which sports the full lips and robust backside of a stereotypical black woman. On the other hand, Santigold, who is black, rocks a blonde wig in hopes of being part of the “standard” American family. The mother is keen to check her bust after the drive-by occurs; clearly, her looks are her highest priority. Santigold depicts America as a mismatched, race-confused country whose problems are masked by petty but powerful perceptions of American beauty.
Grandma is glued to the television, pilled out and sedated, while the family dances around as if nothing is happening. Perhaps that’s the point: when it comes to pop culture, we can’t allow ourselves to turn the other cheek. “Around My Way” and “The Keepers” both call attention to the issue at hand under the guise of entertainment, so that our subsequent discussions might lead to action. And that is commendable. Lupe provides criticism from within the hip-hop sphere, while Santigold brings to life the theory that America couldn’t see the problem if it was under its nose. Our house is burning down. Now let’s act like it.
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