Fuck Jon Stewart: I had When The Smoke Clears Vol. 1 when it first came out. I knew about “Stay Fly” before you ever heard it at Skeepers. I’ve had the intro to “Sippin’ on Some Syrup” engrained in my heart since high school.
In short, I love Three 6 Mafia, I’m from Rhode Island and I’m white as fuck.
But how twisted is it that the rap powers-that-be have decided Three 6 Mafia is categorically insignificant and that Memphis’s finest sound wizards are some how not a “real” hip-hop act.
The brunt of this ignorance comes not just from old white people (who, as Stewart wisely pointed out, know absolutely nothing about this new American art), but from anyone who only wants rap one way: their way.
People love Common not cause of his coffee-house uplift, but because he’s “conscious.” That is, his “consciousness” matches their presumed morality.
Of course, people usually want a “consciousness” that’s in line with their own concept of reality. People who like Common probably want their world to be interpersonal niceties and all those very Common-y, Roots-y things. Which is fine. The problem is, some listeners expect and demand that all their hip hop sounds like that.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that even with the unfortunate and misleading label of “conscious,” the genre has produced two astounding, almost perfect albums – Mos Def’s Black On Both Sides and A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory – that, sadly, also cast intense enough shadows some artists have failed to escape (Dear AZ and Black Thought, try something new . now).
Also, as a fairly educated white hip-hop fan, I can say this with some authority: White America, by and large, is about seven years behind rap.
Our parents’ generation is still getting over the whole N.W.A thing, and even now, “pop-rock” radio station billboards on I-94 testify “NO RAP” like it’s a huge upside.
First off, Three 6 Mafia, and they do fit into this paradox, is guilty of nothing. For those who deem them “ignorant” or (the most dreaded of hip-hop assessments) “un-real,” I would ask: What is real?
Yes, Three 6 Mafia is foul, amoral and, most likely, partly fictional. But what about classics like Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange”? Do we penalize their creators for creating their own reality?
And I hate to break it to fellow Three 6 fans, but no matter how much weed they smoke or coke they toot, “Take A Bump” or “Hit A Muthafucka” are fictional songs. But that’s what makes so much of rap so interesting: the use of persona. Most listeners demand absolute truth from their rappers. Jeezy sold coke; he can rap about it. Common doesn’t; he shouldn’t. You see the tension?
And the final question for today: Would America (and our generation) have been happier if Common/Cormega/The Roots had won?
Does hip hop need a counterweight for gangsters? Does America need the most visible MCs to create art that’s moral and uplifting but frequently middle-brow?
Is rap today better for having Three 6 Mafia as Oscar winners? Would Common be better? Could Common have won?
What this signals to me is that hip hop is as incalculable as any other high art.
So for the white kids listening to Three 6, Indian kids bumping 2Pac, Asians, Blacks, Native Americans, men, women, Christians, Jews, Muslims, backpackers, mixtape assassins and especially out-of-touch white people, let’s thank Three 6 Mafia for broadening rap’s spotlight and showing the patchworked American rap audience as perhaps the true most known unknown.
McGarvey wishes he was from Memphis. E-mail him at email@example.com.