The strange thing about the “Golden Age” of Hip Hop was how quickly many of the writers and fans turned on its artists, even when, in the cases of MC’s like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, they were still relatively young. One of the most troubling things about it was not simply the fact that musical styles change and we all understand that, but also, the “Self Destruction” era thinking of an M.C making a difference was rejected as corny and out of touch by many in the hip hop journalist community. Nobody sufered from this more than the premier group of Hip Hop activism, Public Enemy. P.E’s 1993 album “Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age” was a direct sonic and lyrical antidote to Dr. Dre’s classic 1992 masterpiece “The Chronic”, basically, grown men who were not afraid to teach and preach and who’s music shook you out of your conformity (Get up offa that thang!) rather than lulled your head into a funky nod. The reviews for that album signaled the end of the classic P.E period. But it did not diminish Chuck D’s talent, voice, or his concern for his people and his art. On his 1996 solo album “The Autobiography of MistaChuck”, he struck back at the nihilism of the hip hop generation under him with “Generation Wrekkkked”, a play on the name of the generation everybody was talking about at the time, “Generation X.”
“Generation Wrekkked” features a totally different type of funk than the old P.E funk of the Bomb Squad. P.E created one of the signature funk sounds of the late ’80s and early ’90s alongside Prince, Go Go, Teddy Riley, Rick James, and Cameo. But the recognition of the gold mine in grooves of samples restricted that approach as the decade wore on. Chuck hooked up with a talented musician and singer named Kyle “Ice” Jason, and on this song, they deliver a straight up laid back funk track. The track is very simple and powerful, and it’s straight up funk. It features a classic, high toned rhythm guitar lick, sharp snare drum hits, powerful bass that does little but direct you to the power of the ONE, some sound effects, and Kyle “Ice” Jason crooning his Curtis Mayfield inspired falsetto. Over this funky soundscape, MistaChuck detailed his dissatisfaction with the Hip Hop culture of the times.
The phrase “If I can’t change the people around me/I change the people around me”, is a powerful one and one that has been a part of my thing ever since I heard it back in the ’90s. It’s also one that could be used in the “hood” or any negative environment in which ones associates and relatives stunt their growth.Chuck sounds defensive, this time not from “sucker critics”, but from Hip Hop fans and critics themselves, the very people he was doing it for! He sits “Johnny Cum Lately’s/Who didn’t recognize/how great and clever/some of these rhymes be”, on his knee for a rap lesson. Chuck’s lyrical skill had even been called to question by the new breed critics, seeing him as more motivator than talented M.C! Chuck tells them “Think quick/been flowing over those/mad vocabs and silly crabs/’for metaphors be passing your ass/like taxi cabs”- a clear riff on black mens difficulty catching cabs in New York City. Chuck basically structured his first verse as a battle rap, a scolding battle rap from a hip hop pioneer of whom “mad kids/never checking for what I said.”
Chuck’s next verse directly raises his issues with the hip hop music and culture that had then become the norm. After an extende Kyle “Ice” Jason vocalizing, Chuck talks about a “million doomed consumers” who “traded their medallions for fourty dozen six packs.” These rappers were, like Puff Daddy, “Born under a terrible sign in 1969”. Nobody is safe, as he attacks those “Getting kicks from wack karate flicks”, as well as the mafioso style of the late ’90s rap ethos, realizing “I didn’t know under Fros we got so many Black Italians.” Chuck is basically attacking the conforming non conformity of the late Generation X rap kingdom. In the ’90s, the images of individuality, rebellion, and freedom that were popularized in the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s had become its own stifiling cultural norm. Clothing styles, language, attitudes and lifestyles that had once been a breath of fresh air from “suburban conformity” had become the new “suburban conformity”, and once more, this could mean nothing but harm for the black community.
Chuck’s solo album was like water in the desert for me in the late ’90s. Almost no artist who existed or was popular at the time, from the Notorious B.I.G to Jay Z had any kind of larger social voice or promoted anything beyond themselves. One could say “they were just pure entertainment”, but unfortunately, there was much they talked about that was actually negative and harmful. This would be remedied by the rise of people such as Lauryn Hill. Now, some of the generation of fans who were fans of the Gangster talk are upset hip hop has gone toward pure entertainment. I must say, if its not going to preach a message, I’d rather see it be pure entertainment than preach negativity! If I can’t change the people around me, I change the people around me! Big props to Chuck D!