Nash Simpson | Throwblack Thursday
Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014 08:02
In 1978, recording artist and DJ Grandmaster Flash assembled the first of hip-hop’s most influential rap groups -- The Furious 5 -- that more than lived up to its name. Until Sir Aubrey Graham, better known as Drake, picked up his microphone and ruined everything, this group’s foundational sentiment provided hip-hop with a contagious aura of fury that stood the test of time. In other words, the Furious 5 set a “hard” precedence for hip-hop: “hard” in the sense that rappers were expected to be rough and tough, fresh of the streets of the poorest and most dangerous black ghettos of urban America. The harder a given rapper’s childhood was, the more popular he could become. Other rappers respected him and eager listeners adored him. Perhaps most importantly, fans felt compelled to buy his records. Why the loyalty? Well, simply because this rapper was “hard” -- that’s why.
Now on to the humorous reality that Chris Rock’s famed 1993 film, “CB4” satirizes: middle or upper class rappers who have always been considered “soft.” There was a time when such rappers had no chance at all for success. This exclusivity embodied the glory days of hip-hop. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily condone the discriminatory practice of devaluing the work of good rappers just because they haven’t been to jail once or twice ... or three times, because good citizens can rap too -- kind of. It’s just that back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, hip-hop had a venerable cause that needed authentic voices to represent specific experiences. Hip-hop provided a creative way for these talented individuals, previously trapped by the perils of the hood life, to publicly vent their opposition to the oppressive system that had actively prevented their success. These rappers spoke the cold, hard truth. Therefore, it was nearly impossible for someone who hadn’t fallen through the trap doors of static ghetto life to rap about certain experiences with true passion.
“CB4” makes fun of the posers that still managed to slip through the cracks -- the Drakes of the rap industry, who beat the odds and got away with pretending to be “hard.” Rock plays the middle-class Albert, who realizes that the only way for him to sell records in the industry is to steal the identity of Gusto, an OG -- original gangster -- brilliantly portrayed by Charlie Murphy. Rock’s character names himself MC Gusto and assembles a rap group of his own, naming it Cell Block 4 (CB4). In an attempt to secure the group’s false identity, Albert overdoes the “hard” act, embodying only the negative elements of what he perceives to be the “hard” life.
Meanwhile, he completely disregards hip-hop’s true purpose of speaking against modes of oppression. In one particular scene, a representative from a record label, ironically named TrustUs, asks CB4, “Do you cuss on your records? Do you defile women with your lyrics? Do you fondle your genitalia on stage? Do you glorify violence or advocate the use of guns as a way of solving a simple dispute?” The rap group affirms all these questions. Then, “Do you respect anything at all?” “Not a goddamn thing,” Albert responds, along with the rest of CB4.
Albert represents the posers who I believe were responsible for hip-hop’s transition from being a venue that allowed for artists to chronicle shared experiences, to becoming ... whatever TrustUs wanted it to be.
An intriguing paradox in “CB4” is that Gusto is the movie’s villain, despite the fact that he’s really the victim. Predictably, the posers eventually win. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what has happened in real life. Hip-hop no longer has a political purpose. The posers have won and, as a result, many would argue that hip-hop is dead. Oh, well. Take the reins, Drake. You got it.