The eternal debate about the genre of music simplistically labeled “gangsta rap” is often over whether the musicians are merely creating accurate snapshots of inner-city life, reporting “from the streets,” or whether they are playing up the violence and toughness because that is what sells, because middle [white] America loves to buy the concept that “black” is equal to “gangsta”.
“It Ain’t Easy,” a track from Willie D’s latest album Loved By Few, Hated By Many, fits squarely in the former camp; it’s a portrait of the effects of institutionalized poverty on society, using people’s stories as examples. He touches on spousal abuse, drug use, black-on-black crime and a host of other topics. Using a soulful chorus as backup, Willie D raps about life in the projects in vivid detail, while turning a critical eye toward the societal factors influencing the tough conditions: “Growing up in the projects, where you can buy sex, and there ain’t no telling who could die next / We wet our foes up consistently / I didn’t make this .45, why you pissed at me?” A few other tracks follow similar patterns, especially “Dear God,” a reworking of the XTC song of the same name, where Willie D turns his blame for inner-city living conditions towards God. The anger beneath the surface of these two songs blasts out to the front on “If I Was White,” a snarling, blazing cataloguing of racism in daily life, from encounters on the street to larger issues involving police brutality and the criminal justice system.
If you listen to just four tracks on this CD (the above three and “U Special”), you might think that Willie D has something to say, or that he truly cares about people and the conditions in which they live. If you just listened to the other 14 tracks, you might throw this CD in the garbage without a moment’s hesitation, depending on your tolerance for guns, machismo, egoism and more guns. While Willie D spends four tracks explaining, in a seemingly sincere way, how society has led his people to murder one another, he spends most of the album talking about how much he loves doing just that, murdering anyone who looks at him funny.
Willie D speaks with his guns, likes that the younger “killaz” look up to him as a role model, and has no time for women unless they’re down on their knees. He spends over an hour letting us know how much of a man he is, all to flat-out boring beats. Of course it’s possible to rap about inner city violence in a way that is descriptive instead of critical, and to do so well; the examples are endless. But Willie D relishes his role as a “killa” so much that when he tries to be some kind of social critic or attentive journalist, it’s completely laughable, and his rhymes throughout the album are so unimaginative that they are equally laughable. It doesn’t help that his skills as an MC are mediocre at best. His years with the Geto Boys built him enough of a reputation that he can keep making albums with major label distribution, but lord knows why. His persona is too cartoonish to be believable, too disturbing to be entertaining, and too dull to be either scary or the least bit worthwhile. To me, anyone who can say “I let my nuts hang to the floor cuz I don?t care!” and expect me to take him seriously is out of his mind. Leave this one on the shelf, unless listening to somebody brag about how big his guns are turns you on.
// Notes from the Road
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