“Why do rappers lie in 85% of they rhymes?”

Hip Hop music and culture is at an interesting place, in an interesting time.  It’s perhaps more diverse than it’s ever been, and while there’s a lot of whack shit out there, I feel like it’s recovering from it’s lowest point of ringtone rap and the McDonald’s style mass production of copy cats beats and empty rhymes. I’m on the verge of turning 30, and I realize that there is a whole generation of Hip Hop kids under me, who’s reference points are much different. While I was a teenager during the height of Rawkus Records, birth of Bad Boy, and rise of Roc-a-fella, some of my younger counterparts aren’t familiar with the Razorblade, missed out on the brilliance of Ma$e and Craig Mack, and only know the Jay-Z that is represented by dead-fucking-presidents.  I feel like it’s time to recognize a new batch of classic Hip Hop records that can sit next to “Today Was A Good Day”, “’93 Til Infinity”, “Paul Revere”, “Don’t Sweat The Technique” and countless others.  This column is my contribution to that discussion, and a look at newer Hip Hop songs that should be in the running for classic status. Feel free to join the debate…

In the previous edition of The New Classics, I wrote about Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar“.  Today I want to take it out East, and back just a couple more years with 2004’s “Why” by Jadakiss featuring Anthony Hamilton.  Much like Lupe Fiasco and “Superstar”, Jadakiss was on his second solo album when he released “Why”, a song full of questions both practical and rhetorical.  Jadakiss questioned the streets, the music industry, the political and legal system, the fans, and even himself.  Perhaps the greatest thing about “Why” is the range of issues that Jadakiss covers, along with the balance and way that he does it.  For every question about politics, there is one about street-life, pop culture, or just human nature.  That balance and brilliance comes early and often, as he raps in the first verse:

Why they sellin’ n***as CD’s for under a dime?
If it’s all love daddy why you come with your nine?
Why my n***as ain’t get that cake?
Why is a brother up North better than Jordan
That ain’t get that break?
Why you ain’t stackin’ instead of tryin’ to be fly?
Why is rattin’ at an all time high?
Why are you even alive?

Jadakiss doesn’t put himself on a pedestal either. He asks questions from a standpoint of the everyday man trying to figure shit out, not a know-it-all preacher pointing out societal ills.  It was also extremely timely.

Released in 2004, “Why” impacted at the tail end of vinyl records, large music sales, and the bling era.  The song provided some voice of conscious at a time when Hip Hop was beginning to really lose its balance.  It also came at the end of George Bush’s first term, and was an early soundtrack for Rock The Vote, Vote or Die and the League of Young Voters. Common was one of the earliest supporters of Barack Obama’s run for president when he suggested Bush be impeached and replaced by the young senator from Illinois on the record’s remix.

The song’s production was handled by Havoc, who provided Jadakiss with a soulful and contemplative instrumental.  It was a hardcore joint by a mainstream artists that backpackers could stand behind, and even the Hip Hop hippies embraced for the way Jadakiss called out the Bush administration and an uninformed general public.  He grabbed Bill O’Reily’s attention and criticism when he asked, “Why did Bush knock down the towers”, and later asked “Why they’d let the terminator win the election? Come on pay attention.”

The song also served as a release for anger, and frustration that people of all races felt.  Anger and frustration with a political system that seemed more corrupt than ever, a war on terror that seemed pointless and never-ending, a president that continued to get dumber.  It provided hope as well, hope that enough people would wake up and vote Bush out of office.  And lastly, there was hope that more people would listen to Kiss, as one of his more memorable questions pertains to himself. 

“Why sell in the stores what you can sell in the streets?  Why I say the hottest shit but be sellin’ the least?”

I think about this song at least once a week, and have no problem deeming it a classic record.  The remix was really ill as well.  To this day, Jadakiss is one of your favorite emcee’s favorite emcee.  And regardless of sales, hype, etc… “Why” is a classic and should be considered as such.  See it below for the first time or the 500th.  Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments as well.