By Paul Russell
1/25/2003 4:57:23 PM
Tags and topics realted to this article include 2Pac.
When folks like Ja Rule get described as "bland" and "manufactured" so often, it can be hard to remember that hegemony itself implies a sort of uniqueness, but at the same time enough generality that the broadest number can identify. So the tough question in the rap world lately, when everyone is keepin' it real, is what it means to be exceptionally authentic. Back in the day it was neatly mapped out—2Pac and Biggie, the real and the escapist, the heart of gold and the Benz plated in gold. Pac was all about contradiction, a voice which rested uneasy with the urban gangsta ugliness it emanated from. While both became martyrs, only 2pac gets courses at Berkeley. And while folks tried to assume Biggie's mantle, only 2pac got pretenders to his throne. The two serious contenders were Nas and Ja Rule. Nas never seemed more than a wide-eyed romantic with a notepad to me, a talented character actor pantomiming his version of "the real" in broad strokes, but dissolving into formalistic tic and pretense up close. He's always been a genre exercise man, and it's fun to treat his whole career that way—one long fashion spread trying on Pac's mystique, banking on the misguided hope that his audience would care enough about him as a person that they would give a damn if he "sold out" or not. Pac knew he was from a lost tribe, but Nas still insists he's God's son.
Ja Rule, on the other hand, copped the more (ahem) subtle stylistics from Pac—his bare chest and bandanna, but most importantly his flow. The big rolling phrases shouted too fast, the gaping vowels rising at the end of each line and holding desperately until the beat catches up. A man sounding like he has more to say than time to say it, even before the observation became a tired eulogy. But as long as race was the story, a crossover audience didn't wanna hear it from someone still alive enough to be threatening. Enter Ja Rule's breakthrough insight—Pac died a mixed-up streetcore nationalist and was reborn a sex symbol. Everybody loves a thugmuffin. But don't go blaming the messenger—like Rule sez in the intro to "Emerica": "The press be talkin' like I make the kids take E/ The kids made me take E."
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