n the current issue of Blender magazine, in response to an interviewer questioning him on his vocal distaste of hip-hop, Jack White said, "In black music, you used to see a new thing every two years. First there was blues, then jazz, rock & roll, Motown, funk...It regenerated all the time. But hip-hop hasn’t regenerated itself for the last 15 years. People criticize our band for having our head in the ‘60's, but hip-hop artists are considered cutting-edge even though they’re doing the same thing that was done in 1986. It’s a confusing double standard."
From the above statement, I can draw only two possible conclusions:
1) Jack White is altogether ignorant of modern hip-hop.
2) The only rap record he’s heard lately is Northern State (who, for the record, I like a lot, as I do the White Stripes).
I first feel compelled to call into question the dubious term "black music." As we all know, rock & roll originated with artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, who drew liberally upon the riches of rhythm & blues and gospel music. But, in the decades since "rock & roll" was used to describe Berry, Elvis Presley, and the Rolling Stones, I think the form itself has become so utterly debased that to still bother labeling it "black music" seems a stretch. Call it a semantic argument if you want, but acts like Creed and Nickelback, which typify popular rock today, are about as black as I am. (I’m a young, white Midwestern male.)
Hip-hop, right now, isn’t one-eighth at widely homogenized and derivative as rock. Just listen comparatively for an hour or so to your local rock and rap stations, if you don’t believe me. The formulas present in most of the current rock artists consistently lauded for breaking ground can be traced back to obscure, willfully arty bands of decades past; the sort that might appropriately have been labeled "avant-garde." The rest are generally so goddamn MOR that I can hardly listen to a whole song without being bored half to sleep.
So, what’s not boring, you might then ask? Well, for starters, how about that Streets album? If something just like it was made in 1986, I certainly haven’t come across it, and if we’re not currently witnessing a legitimate hip-hop renaissance, then Jack White isn’t a curiously conservative technophobe. Take a look at the tremendously varied array of modern classics hip-hop has produced in the past several years: OutKast’s last three records, Eminem’s self-titled trilogy, pretty much everything Missy’s made, Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, Original Pirate Material, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, The Coup’s Party Music, Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele– to name just a few. I’d add to that list Bubba Sparxxx’s Deliverance, the first hip-hop record I’d recommend to Jack White, considering that, in another interview, White cited Johnny Cash as the musician he most admires. In a year that’s produced first-rate albums by OutKast and Lucinda Williams, Bubba, a self-proclaimed redneck from rural Georgia who most people pegged as a probable one-hit wonder three years ago, has beaten the odds and made both the hip-hop and country album of the year.
Make no mistake: Bubba is country. Don’t get the wrong idea. He’s so country, in fact, that he went so far as to title his sophomore album and its lead-off single Deliverance; so country that the man can rhyme about moonshine (moonshine?!) the way other MCs rhyme about Cristal and get away with it.
He’s also one of the most phenomenally skilled rappers in the game today. His good ol’ boy drawl provides his flow with an assurance and personal immediacy equaled by few of his peers. His rhymes are consistent and clever, and, best of all, Bubba actually cares about what he’s rapping about–the "New South"–and even if you don’t particularly, Bubba’s one hell of a compelling spokesman.
Bubba believes in the power of rap as an everyman’s poetry, and knows that isn’t limited exclusively to those living in the inner-city on the East or West coast. He’s as unpretentious as artists of his caliber come, and his words strike nary a disingenuous chord. On "She Tried," a falling-out-of-love song as sad and poignant as anything in the Cat Power catalogue, he raps, "It’s been six months and still no word / I try to carry on like it still don’t hurt / Hoes come around, but I still won’t flirt / Drinking worse, and the pills won’t work / Last I heard she was in Birmingham / living with a good, hard-working man / and looking back on it, that’s exactly what she wanted / not a rebel with a passion for the moment." Earlier in the song, Bubba blames himself in his failed relationship ("I did my thang, and she did hers / but my crimes were a wee bit worse"); he feels guilty and lonely, two emotions rarely conveyed so palpably in rap. (Jay-Z’s "Song Cry" is another rare example.)
Of course Bubba doesn’t deserve all of the credit for Deliverance’s success. It is very possibly the finest LP Timbaland has produced to date (though Organized Noize helm a few of the more rocking numbers), precisely because he has never before stretched himself (even if, with his genius, it might seem effortless) musically to match the persona of the artist he’s working with. On Bubba’s first album, Dark Days, Bright Nights, Timbaland’s beats were pretty customary, even sampling "Get Ur Freak on" for Bubba’s breakthrough single, "Ugly." Here, he mostly foregoes or, more accurately, radically reimagines his trademark touches to fit perfectly with Bubba’s backwoods style and Southern Gothic imagery.
On "Comin’ Round," my favorite song on Deliverance, Tim samples a bluegrass song by the Yonder Mountain String Band, accompanied by what sounds like a harmonium and, yes, a fiddle, while Bubba opens with, "There’s a portrait of the South in the spirit of this song / keep followin’ the fiddle, it’ll never steer you wrong." The effect is so disarmingly wonderful that I think I grinned for an hour straight the first time I heard it. No less stunning is "Warrant," on which Tim relies primarily on a persistent snare beat and some understated strings to score Bubba and guest rapper Attitude’s vividly described outlaw yarn. The most indelible moment on Deliverance, however, comes in the inadvertently lachrymose "Nowhere." For Bubba’s final line in the song, he says--simply, beautifully–, "If I’m nowhere, let that nowhere be nowhere near a worry," followed by a multi-tracked angelic choir intoning the song’s chorus of "I know what it’s like to be nowhere." It’s utterly sublime, and so moving that I bet even Jack White might need a tissue.
Reviewed by: Josh Timmermann
Reviewed on: 2003-12-11