Thursday, November 30, 2006

What Dreams May Come

Robots and records come to life in Lupe Fiasco's "Daydreamin," an insightful look into the powerful ability of music to influence our real-life dreams...

VIDEO: "Daydreamin" Lupe Fiasco feat. Jill Scott

In the climactic verse of "Daydreamin," Lupe Fiasco mocks and criticizes every popular contemporary rap video trope, from "making cocaine cool" to "half-naked women in the pool." While the rapper satirically rants on his peers’ artistic choices, his own video slyly adds further commentary on the majority of these male rap videos by prominently displaying the opening of a champagne bottle on the television screens around Lupe. Everything is about male posturing in these videos, and essentially they are acts of public masturbation. What we get with a typical rap video are the messy stains of misogynistic male fantasy.

Yet Lupe, like his peer Kanye West, does not deny the appeal that this sort of "daydream" can have on the susceptible listener and viewer. At the end of said verse he reveals that he himself had these visions of what rap stardom would be like. Furthermore, the video begins with Fiasco pulling a record out which comes to life with the voice and image of Jill Scott singing the song's hook. Music and dreams are directly tied in this work through both the living record and the eventual giant robot that appears in the room.

But the actual lyrics of the song are about the realities of Fiasco's life and the rap industry. As he dreams of his future rap videos, he is also conscious of the sleeping baby in the next room. What the song hits upon is the need to stay grounded in reality, even when living your dreams. The mythic quality that many rap stars take on and actually live, is as far removed from the social struggles of their listeners as you can get.

Thus Fiasco rejects his original "daydream" of "chains slow motion through the flames," but does not forget or ignore it. Instead it manifests itself as a real-live robot, one that he can't ignore, and something that is inherently part of him. It is both a representation of his duty as an artist to avoid the pitfalls of the rap game and a constant reminder of the sleeping babies in the next room - his social conscience.

The video reaches this climax with about one minute to spare, and in many ways it trails off in rather mediocre fashion. Fiasco is aware of the troubles within hip-hop and the responsibility he has as a rising star within it, but perhaps he isn’t fully ready to take the next step. It’s a question that looms large in contemporary hip-hop, especially for artists like Fiasco who have recognized the hypocrisy within the genre. To sheepishly admit the appeal of “money, cars ho’s” and then simply say it is wrong is not enough to actually change things, especially when it is such a dominant force within the industry.

Artists like West point out the problems, but then admit that they contribute to the same ailments in order to make money – and because they enjoy the lifestyle. The popular criticism of “conscious” rap is that the beats aren’t good enough, or that the lyrics are too tame. The fact remains that the best producers are going to make music for the most popular artists, the same ones who promote the “women in the pool” image. And what is considered lyrically “authentic” and what sells records in hip-hop is still tied to drugs, sex and macho mentality.

It is true that to ignore the strife and struggle of street-life in America would be na├»ve and false, and that growing up amidst such poverty and despair one probably tends to dream of affluent freedom. But that still doesn’t mean that it must be the “cocaine is cool” ridiculously sexist dreams we get from rappers currently.

One hopes that supremely talented lyricists like Fiasco can overcome this through purely artistic accomplishment. But part of defeating the silly extravagance of contemporary hip-hop entails figuring out a way of counteracting the public’s lowered expectations, and presenting a viable more positive, yet still daydream worthy alternative. That’s something that is yet to be imagined.

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