Next week, Chamillionaire will release his sophomore major label record, Ultimate Victory, next Tuesday. About a month ago, Chamillionaire announced that the record would be "clean" or free of explicit lyrics and, even more of a feat, free of the dreaded N-word. He insists that this change is not in response to the Don Imus backlash, but rather is a matter morals and principles.
If this was any other industry I might believe that.
In fact, it would make more sense if he did it in response to the Imus fiasco. Instead, Chamillionaire cited it was live performances that sparked the change when he would look out into the audience and see a sea of white kids rapping along (you know the kids--rap hands) saying,“I was like, ’You know what? I’m not going to say the N-word on this one because when I go back on the road, and I start performing, I don’t want them to be saying it, like me teaching them.'”
Don't flatter yourself, Cammy.
When you enter the urban radio realm, you immediately inherit (whether you want to or not) an army of white hip hop listeners. They're just that though--listeners. They really have nothing else invested in you except the purchase of a CD. And, these days, that's stretching it. If Chamillionaire was smart, he'd be more careful about the audience he latches onto. At the end of it, he's turning his back on his core street audience, he's turning off the pop listener who relies on occassional explicit material to validate their hip hop listening experience and, what's left, is the concerned mothers and politicians who aren't even buying records. He can be Jesse Jackson's right-hand rapper. Maybe Tipper Gore can cite Chamillionaire in a speech about clean hip hop.
To say this is "going out on a limb" is an incredible understatement.
I wouldn't say that just because a record has explicit lyrics that it's hip hop, however, hip hop is sometimes defined by its explicit lyrical content. If that's true, like Shaggy, Will Smith and Hammer before him, is this new Chamillionaire record actually hip hop?
This is just the next step downward in what has been one of the lousiest five-year string of hip hop releases. The whole game has just lost it's course. What Chamillionaire has failed to realize is that "positivity" in hip hop and that moral high ground that he so badly strives for is not defined by the absence of explicit lyrics, but rather the presence of positivity. It's not addition by subtraction. You have to genuinely believe in what you do. Is Chamillionaire's "clean" content more positive than, say, Common, Mos Def and the Roots because these artists' content includes explicit lyrics? Is simply cleaning up the lyrical content enough?
It's my personal opinion that Chamillionaire is both confused and horribly misinformed. I don't believe him. I'm not convinced. Let's just say that, subconciously, the Don Imus situation impacted Chamillionaire and he made the decision at that point to change the direction of his content and, even more important, compromise his artistic vision in order to produce a product that could perceivably appeal to a larger audience--is that such a stretch for an industry that's on a steep downtrend? To create affirmative and "positive" hip hop that's safe for the Wal-Mart customer?
Only time will tell whether or not the move pays off for Chamillionaire, but I'm predicting it backfires. We'll see, I suppose, once first week numbers are in and we put them up against the projections. One more cup of joe. It's Tuesday. Go listen to Cypress Hill's first record.