The Line

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First, just to touch upon the question Kyle about where ISWHAT?! lies (“Said differently, does hip-hop/jazz fusion get its own wing in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame or the Jazz Hall of Fame?”) The fact the question has been raised as to whether something is hip hop (or jazz in this case) suggests, to me at least, that hip hop has extended beyond its once, clearly defined territory. Hip hop is no longer separate; some insoluble sound sitting at the bottom of the musical world (as some may have wanted it to stay). It has been absorbed into the worlds of jazz, rock & roll, pop, alternative, etc. While it once may have been considered by some a phase that would pass (whoops), hip hop has grown from the fruit at the top of the musical tree, and now has it’s own branches stretching from it.

Kyle will tell you that I often make quick judgments when I hear something, particularly when that something is displeasing. But I love hip hop and this blurring of boundaries is a positive sign for the music. I think this is especially true in cases like ISWHAT?! I interpret it as contemporary hip hop looking down its own ancestral tree and respecting the history; realizing that where it came from what a pretty damn dope place. And who can argue when you hear a modern beat built around a sample from a trumpeter in 1955? It’s interesting that on The Life We Chose, Napolean dedicates a lot of his effort around poking holes in hip hop, specifically the cookie-cutting that Kyle mentioned. It’s paradoxical – here you have an emcee bringing light to the circus (more on that in a minute) that is hip hop, yet at the same time, proving that hip hop is strong, artistic, individualistic…despite the “tamin’ & trainin'” that goes on. ISWHAT?!’s embrace of hip hop’s past, jazz (even, as Napolean explains, signing to the same label that Thelonious Monk was on), reminds me that hip hop is legit.

At any rate, that brings me to “Circus.” Kyle and I have exchanged a few remarks on the track, particularly the hysterical woman (presumably a mother who has lost her son) that dominates nearly the entire second half of the track. Upon first listen, I couldn’t help focusing on the her crying. My initial reaction was, “ugh, studio acting…” Simultaneously, I was disturbed. It was awful listening to this woman wail about the loss of her son.

ISWHAT?! – “Circus” (iTunes)

I interpret two messages of “Circus.” First, similar to “Writer’s Block,” it works as a commentary on hip hop, likening it to a circus (of course):

“We full of popcorn and pop videos trainin’/
Cotton candy radio to keep the wack maintainin’”

However, Napolean attempts to reach further than hip hop, and infiltrate communities:

“How the hood is self-hatin’ with blatant disrespect/
The world turns and the planet laughs/
And the grown man slips on a banana that’s been left in his path”

Napolean elevates the imagery beyond that of hip hop simply being a circus.

But the most profound imagery is yet to come:

“At a loss for words, no, I’m at edge/
Emotionally disturbed, cause I’m seein’ the lion
Bein’ teased while I’m takin’ a seat on the curb
He roars but it won’t stop the tamin’ and trainin’”

Is he still talking about hip hop? Is he talking about something more sociological in scope?

And then wham…a gun shot, and a woman wailing. I’m rethinking her loss. You?

Musically, the soundscape of “Circus” aligns well with the message(s). I think the bass is most dominant. It sounds foreboding at one moment, and the next, it sounds as if it’s counting down to some unforeseen tragedy…perhaps the “banana in the path”?

Peace

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