Guest Blog: Despair not purists, all the grit, emotion and poetry that birthed the blues is alive and well in hip-hop today
Howlin' Wolf wears a baseball cap now. Muddy Waters are the subject of a rabid environmentalist's grievous concern. Son House is a tanning booth in a San Fernando Valley mall. John Lee Hooker is now John Lee escort.
I could go on, you know I could, but you get the picture. The blues is essentially dead, but not really. It hangs on in the garages of baby boomers dreaming of Eric Clapton's slow hand, while seeking respite from an untidy world and an irksome domesticity.
Aficionados, obsessive collectors and graying bluesologists have all the blue vinyl they need. No new fix, it seems, to appease their addiction. They have downloaded the endless configurations of blues classics. They have been to the digital crossroads a 1,000 times. They are now indeed blue in the face.
I consider hip-hop the new blues. News from the streets. Emotional journalism. Still the dark tales of oppression, still the sexual braggadocio, still clad in flamboyance. Still gritty, carnal, obscene, vengeful, in despair, in love.
Exactly the same human experience that birthed the songs of Lightnin' Hopkins, R.L. Burnside and Robert Johnson. Reportage from the soul. Live coverage of a world gone mad … Glocks and Gucci … John Gotti and the ghetto … connecting the polka dots of the human condition right now. Healing, enraging, provoking, clarifying and uniting.
Lil Wayne has now surpassed the King, Elvis himself, as the artist with the most charted hits. Good! Records (sic) were meant to be broken.
Elvis was a blues singer, Neil Sedaka was not. Elvis and Chuck Berry and Little Richard created rock 'n' roll from the blues and the beats go on … from the wolf to Snoop Dogg or Lion as you wish.
Growing up in London (I use the term loosely), us skinny white boys were obsessed with the dark tales from the other side. Incongruous and extraordinary as it was. It is no different from Caucasian kids grabbing hold of hip hop and not letting go. Why?
Because it's real. You can taste it, embrace it, fight for it, make love to it. The artists that make it, live it. They get into real trouble, have mad affairs, fight with each other's notions of authenticity and credibility. In short, they are alive, exciting … all the while displaying their wealth on every part of their body, even teeth. Putting the old blues men's garish diamond pinkie rings to shame. Such is progress; from Cadillacs to Lamborghinis, same stories, different cars.
Lyrically, no-one could reasonably argue that today's rap artists are not writing the most astounding 21st-century poetry, astonishing in its clarity and perception, to say nothing of the Olympian dexterity of it's delivery.
The blues of yesterday is an iPod away. Grieve not, purists. Different raps for different chaps. I will always have Robert Johnson and Slim Shady.