Loaded Lux: Using hip-hop to heal the absent father wound
As far as music genres go, few are as hotly contested as hip hop. It’s middle America’s favourite whipping boy, but one of corporate America’s most powerful marketing agents. In the midst of the cultural tug-of-war, battle rap has returned with a vengeance and today marches unchallenged as the leading movement in the hip-hop underground.
Alongside graffiti, break-dancing and deejaying, battle rap is one of hip hop’s most earliest art forms involving two rappers, locked in a gruelling session of verbal pimp-slapping. Opponents are tossed into a lyrical dog fight, where no personal information about the other is spared from dark, morbid humour and vitriolic attack. Battle rappers make a living from publicly airing their opponents dirty laundry and placing their integrity on full blast. Your opponent is likely to stock up on anything which could scrape the emotional achilles heel, be it a death in the family, or a relationship gone wrong. The more sensitive and volatile the subject, the likelier it is to feature in the long list of unpleasant things he has stored in his arsenal. And surviving the onslaught means taking everything on the chin and going for your opponents jugular from the get go, rhyming equally insulting verses, wrapped in metaphors, double, triple, sometimes quadruple entendres, which evoke the most hideously violent and carnal descriptions the imagination can cook up. And it’s this kind of crudeness which holds sway in the battle rap subculture. The bulk of lyrical content thought up by battle rappers celebrate a philandering, gun-toting lifestyle and survives on a culture of confrontation, a wilfully staged opposition to society and a complete disregard for human feelings.
But recently, the art form which is always tabloid fodder was issued a new lease of life, as diehard fans witnessed the return of Harlem’s rap veteran, Loaded Lux to the battle circuit. Coming off a five year hiatus from the rap scene, he was granted top billing in the genres most publicised event in New York, dubbed “Summer Madness 2”. His opponent was Calicoe, who is currently awaiting trial after an online video of a dog fighting ring in his home went viral. Hailing from a gritty Detroit neighbourhood and a family steeped in crime, Calicoe’s performance was a depressing reminder of the gun-wielding rebellion found in an industry that rarely produces artists who think outside the unending cycle of violent provocation. Every rapper on stage that night reinforced this etiquette of the ghetto and not that they cared, forced battle rap cynics to view the movement along outdated racial lines.
And just when I thought another battle rap exhibition would pass with the predictable motifs, Loaded Lux treated me to something which ventured far beyond violence-spewing entertainment. Neither the fans who had Webstar Hall bursting at the seams, nor the who’s who of hip hop stars in attendance-including P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes, Q Tip and Lloyd Banks- could prepare themselves for the dawning of a new reality in the battle rap community. In reference to Calicoe’s violent alter ego and the criminal lifestyle which led to his father’s imprisonment, the Detroit rapper stood there, poker-faced, but erupting inside with pain, as Lux, with sermon-like cadence, counselled his opponent on the dangers of a thug mentality and the mounting toll of fatherless black children:
Now see, I take in mind your situation. And though I never met your father, I see alot of his ways in your stride,
I mean, you got that “talk it like I walk it” kind of attitude, and it’s real good he gave you pride.
Every son should be proud of his father. And I look at my little one, and I want the same for mine.
That’s why when I look up at you, I see what he can go through when a father don’t take the time.
…What, he too good for a payin job? What was wrong with bein a cable guy, a real estate agent
Why was that nigga to cool to go to flight school and learn how to fly planes through the friendly skies? But nah
He told you he had to do what he had to do to put food on y’all plate to dine.
You mean you tell me all that slangin and bangin was to give y’all greater lives? When God gave him drive?
And that Big Meech backup singin ass n*gga left your mom out here alone for the latest ride?
And with this verse, the genre was sent into sensationalist overdrive, this time, for all the right reasons. By reminding Calicoe of the emotional void caused by his father’s disregard for family life and the sheer stupidity in glorifying his hard-knock reputation, the sober truth seemed to have an infantilizing effect on the Detroit rapper.
Like most rap cynics, I viewed the genre as a scapegoat for declining moral values. Even today, I can’t help making references to battle rap when witnessing the b-boy patois, and angular, bellicose gesturing of so many of today’s youth, whatever race they may be. For me, the typical hip hop enthusiast appealed to a destructive lifestyle which militated against progress and education. Tuning in to a local hip-hop radio station, or watching the latest hip hop video on heavy rotation was a reminder that the genre was nothing other than a grim fatalism of the streets built on a bone-deep dislike for authority. The showy defiance, misogyny and hyper-masculinity which our own British rappers pack into a few syllables definitely provide mileage for this kind of typecasting.
And although stereotypes continue to abound in both the UK and the U.S., Lux offers a refreshing change of pace. His lyrical wizardry aside, what warmed me to him was the daring presence of mind to resist old habits of thought and unearth the buried grief which lies at the core of many young black Americans. And with battle rap arguably hip hop’s most acrimonious strain, I feel he rightly earned the glare of publicity for giving it a culturally conscious dimension and unpacking a burden that falls heavily on his community. Charmalagne was just one of the many hip-hop celebrities-including Jay-Z and Lupe Fiasco-to join the swelling chorus of praise for Lux’s pioneering artistry that night. In a tweet, he acknowledged: “Lux shitted on the celebration of the drug culture, fatherless homes, and the glorification of the gangsta life so effortlessly”.
I look at the pool of talent coming from British hip-hop circles and it doesn’t seem like producing the writing and locution of someone like Loaded Lux anytime soon. But this is where the industry ought to be headed. Lux admitted the culpability and failures of his own community, and has been elevated to the pantheon of battle rap for urging a culture of responsibility. With over half of Britain’s Caribbean children living in single-parent households, the UK’s black rappers are perfectly placed to use their story-telling gifts like Lux and draw attention to the sordid realties of absent fatherhood.
But as Harlem’s rap prodigy lays the blueprint for more enlightened hip hop consumers, I think he may have unwittingly earned himself a fair share of detractors. Lux must be prepared to run the gauntlet of criticism and deal with the objections of those who claim that his appeal to education and family is a less authentic vision for the black ghetto. His battle rap contemporaries are probably plotting their attack as we speak, should they meet him in battle, and the suggestion that Lux has pandered to the ‘system’ for not being ‘real’ or ‘street’ is almost a given.
As things stand, Lux could develop into the catalyst necessary to jump-start a new paradigm in hip hop. With battlers vying for prominence and hoping to attract mainstream record labels, he in my opinion is a worthy candidate for not only landing a major deal, but spearheading a cultural awakening in the process. Whether record labels and execs allow him the scope to set a new trend and lay the groundwork for something which sounds and feels different to the music in circulation, remains to be seen. But having already registered on the radar of hip-hop’s elites, breaking through from the obscurity of rap’s underground is as likely now as it has ever been in his career.Tagged in: break-dancing and deejaying, graffiti, hip hop, Loaded Lux, music, rap
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter