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Hip-hop, Year Two AJ

Still no Jigga, but Kanye, some lovable limeys and a great Beyoncé substitute held it down

Whew. And the beat goes on…Meanwhile, the angels at Murder Inc. (home to Ja Rule and Ashanti) were indicted on money-laundering charges involving '80s drug lord Supreme McGriff; over in Texas, UGK's Pimp C remained behind bars for brandishing a firearm; and up-and-coming Miami rapper Dirtbag returned to jail for violating his probation.

But it was Lil' Kim's perjury case that took the cake. During her trial, she denied being at the scene of a crime despite numerous eye witnesses and a surveillance tape that clearly demonstrated otherwise. It was the tragically logical conclusion of the "Stop Snitching" campaign that has become hip-hop's unofficial motto.

But it's too simple to throw up your hands and declare that "rappers are out of control." The truth of the matter is that rap listeners are just as culpable as rap artists. What qualifies as bad behavior for most of the world is considered proof of authenticity by an increasingly jaded hip-hop audience. Do you have multiple bullet holes on your body? A rap sheet longer than Infinite Jest? Do you wear a bulletproof vest and carry a firearm at all times? If you want to be in the hip-hop industry, you might consider moving all these things to the top of your to-do list. After all, it's a lot easier to blast a cap in some fool's ass than it is to write a classic verse.

What Kanye said. Yes, we know. The subject of Kanye and Katrina has been covered ad nauseam, and nothing that we're going to say here is likely to change your perception of it. But regardless of how you feel about what he said, you have to give West credit for reintroducing mainstream hip-hop to politics. (Or is that politics to mainstream hip-hop?)Sure, hip-hop's underground ghetto is a breeding ground for scorching polemics -- this year alone saw the release of the Perceptionists' Black Dialogue, Immortal Technique's Revolutionary Vol. 2 and Sage Francis's A Healthy Distrust-- but their messages are generally either convoluted by an esoteric and self-defeating focus on "inside baseball" hip-hop politics or lost in a choppy miasma of bad beats and/or nonexistent distribution.

In contrast, what Kanye said was clear, simple and nearly ubiquitous. And while most of the focus was on West's condemnation of Bush, it was perhaps more important that he confronted the still-taboo issue of race in America. It's revealing that for the West Coast rebroadcast of the program, his comments were edited out. To paraphrase Ice T, we have freedom of speech just as long as we watch what we say, and when rappers step out of line -- when they stop talking about bling, bitches, pimpin' and hoin' -- then the censors will swoop in. And as hip-hop grows more violent and restless, West may very well be the music's last, best hope and the most dangerous man in the industry. -- Sam Chennault

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