Monday, September 08, 2008

JUICE September 2008: Last Word. Guilty as charged, Your Honor.

this month's issue of JUICE Magazine is its Hip Hop Issue. some of you already know this because some of you had to get photographed for the feature article. i approached the editorial team and asked if i could put in a few words, and they let me write a piece for their occasional Last Word opinion column. here's the text; you can go grab a copy of JUICE this month (please do; it's free) and read the rest, and enjoy the piccuhz, they iz velly nice.

props to Muna Noor, Managing Editor; writers Kevin Yeoh and Ili Farhana, graphic designer Euseng and the rest of the guys at Catcha. forward all hatemail to yours truly. bak bak bakdatang.

Last Word

… And That’s The Way It Is

Text WordsManifest

I refuse to give props to a Malaysian hip hop community that has not done enough to perpetuate its raison d’etre. As practitioners of the art form, be it by emceeing, or deejaying, or through breaking, graffiti, running record labels, gig organizing, merchandising, webmastering or what have you, hip hop culture in Malaysia is stagnant and in decline, straight up and down. We might say that we’re still here, that we’re still holding on, but survival alone does not warrant a JUICE issue dedicated to us and what we’re trying to do.

First off, hip hop in Malaysia is not new. The culture has been around since kids were breakdancing on checkered mats in Central Market in the 80s. Stop saying it is in interviews as a way of justifying why hip hop isn’t as prevalent as rock music. The rock scene has a definite sense of history; we don’t. As long as we maintain that hip hop is in perpetual infancy we’ll always be treating the community, such as it is, and the culture like a three-year old who doesn’t know any better. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, and it’s up to the Malaysian hip hop community to accept it as part of its heritage, learn from it, and build on its foundations. You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re coming from. Get online and read something about hip hop, here and worldwide, if you really love it. Then act accordingly.

I’ve complained in private and publicly before that hip hop, here and abroad, suffered from being commoditized too soon after its jump-off point. I take it back. Punk, which originated at around the same time hip hop did, got launched into the world’s consciousness because Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood wanted to sell clothes and told the Sex Pistols to go on stage looking all pissed wearing their gear. Punk dealt with mainstream exposure, and although we’ll never run out of Good Charlottes, there will always be a strong undercurrent of substantial underground punk music and culture to balance things out. There will always be a fair amount of exploitation involved in the development of any popular subculture, and in light of hip hop’s materialistic, everyday-hustle self-image it especially applies to us, but here in Malaysia we’re in danger of believing our own hype. We don’t get driven around in Bentleys, we’re not cocaine-smuggling Nino Browns, we don’t own swank clubs, and we certainly don’t fill out arenas. Taking your rapper persona too seriously alienates people who could potentially be your biggest fans on the merits of your music and craft and just makes them think: he’s frontin’. There’s a fine line between letting yourself be exploited for monetary gain, and exploiting yourself for nothing. No one wants to see a minstrel show.

It sounds hilarious now, but hip hop really is an egalitarian culture: it lives and breathes as a mouthpiece for regular people. Hip hop is a fun, vibrantly cocky celebration of a life spent playing a good game with the chips we’ve been dealt with. We poke fun at life’s hardships and lay down commentary on it; we take a serious look at the stupid distractions everyone gets caught up in and we break it down. From Nas’ dissection of the n-word to Banksy’s scathing report on the British surveillance state to Too Phat’s stark look at imperfect repentance in ‘Alhamdulillah’, hip hop takes everyone’s everyday struggle and waxes lyrical about it. I’m glad that Malaysian hip hop culture now has access to so many commercial avenues, from merchandise to digital downloads to Billboard-charting acts touring in KL to Streething parties. When I started listening to rap music 20 years ago, none of that seemed possible in Malaysia. But hip hop is in danger of losing its link to the kid in the street looking for some way to convey his dissatisfaction with his surroundings and his joy for having what little he has. We’re too caught up in fake posturing and internal hate and country club clique mentalities to step back and see ourselves for what we were meant to be: storytellers who tell it like it is, not a group of people desperately clinging on to a set of fabricated lifestyle myths that sensationalise in the short term but disillusion an increasingly wised-up audience in the long run. In our desire to always be painfully fresh, we’ve become perishable goods. And once that kid in the street finds an art form that better reflects his current state in the world – and I’m guessing he already has – we’re off the shelf.

I love hip hop to the point people look at me like I’m a diehard Trekkie when I talk about it. Maybe because of that, I can’t allow myself to sugarcoat my opinions on where we’re headed with this adopted culture of ours. All the things I’ve said apply to me and my crew too, and I’m not trying to pretend like I have a solution to what’s ailing our community. I’m hoping to be proven wrong on all counts. But right now, from where I’m standing, it’s just like that. And that’s the way it is.


This month Juice ran an article about hip hop and crews in MY. And naturally, we were featured on it. Here it rrr (click for bigger view):

Other crews featured: Diplomats International, Flow Familia, JBC, Kartel, Stylustiks, and Voyeur.

So get to the nearest Club or Starbucks or whatever to get that JUICE and start diggin' some info on the who's who of Malaysian hip hop crews nowadays.