“I read this thing, 28 out of 30 artists said that the major labels influenced them to talk about women, drugs, clothes and cars”, said Vinnie Paz, one the most high standing underground rappers, in an interview released to the Spanish tv Dos Rombos in September 2012. “I like bitches and money and clothes and cars, I just think there’s more important shit to talk about. This struggle with the economics in the U.S. and in Europe, Greece is so fucked up. My momma comes to my shows, I want her to be proud. My momma IS proud”.
Vinnie Paz, real name Vincenzo Luvineri, raised in Philadelphia but with clear Italian roots, takes his art name from the boxer Vincenzo Pazienza, light weight and light-middle weight world champion. He founded in the early 90’s the group Jedi Mind Tricks, with the other rapper Jus Allah and the dj/producer Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind, lately followed by the hip hop collective Army Of The Pharaohs (Aotp). Of more recent creation is the duo Heavy Metal Kings, with New York rapper Ill Bill, which happens to be Jewish while Vinnie Paz is Muslim.
Born Catholic, he joined Islam when he was at school and started detaching from his original confession. Religious topics are often present in his lyrics, sometimes with resentment against Christian institutions. But in the track In the dark of the night, in Freddy Madball’s album Catholic guilt, he recognizes a substantial equivalence between monotheist faiths, stating “every religion has a God, but it’s the same one”, saving the spiritual side, not sure the clerical aspect, as he wrote “religion is a tool to divide us, and they won”, that happens to be the opposite of the etymology of the word, “bond for people of the community under the same law”.
“Does every muslim in the world come equipped with a bomb/ does every rap video has a chick in a thong?”. This quote, in the song Suicide, recaps Vinnie’s distance from the typical stereotype of the pleasure-loving rapper, maybe ugly but surrounded by hot women. Some other preconceptions are confirmed though. Talking about italian-americans, he got mad respect for his family and mother – who loves to feed him – the passion for boxe, following a legacy which includes Rocky Marciano and Jake LaMotta, made even more famous by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. The music video of Cheesesteak, is the perfect summary.
But wait, rap shouldn’t be a prerogative of African-Americans? It was for long time, with the exception of Latinos with their lowriders in Los Angeles. Vinnie Paz reminds that in the track Animal rap, featuring Kool G Rap: “I’m from a time where every song was righteous/ before rap was just a swarm of white kids”. What happened then? Part of the transformation is due to Eminem. Whatever you think about him, he contributed to the massive following of hip hop by white kids, at first in America, then worldwide. Talking about his mentor Dr. Dre, former member of NWA (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) Eminem says in the song White America “every black fan that I got was probably his/ in exchange for every white fan that he’s got”. No need for explanations.
Sure Eminem wasn’t the first Caucasian to “spit rhymes”, see the Beastie Boys. But he had very similar lyrics to the “back” ones, so he ended up attracting attentions. And now if mainstream keeps having an African-American majority, from Drake to Wiz Khalifa to Lil’Wayne, the underground has ethnical balance. Before its end, the label Plr, runned by Ill Bill’s brother Necro, had Necro himself, white and Jewish, Mr. Hyde (half Italian) and Q-Unique (Italian-Puerto Rican). Not to mention the Irish – German Diabolic, Lord Lhus (German), R.A. The Rugged Man, Sean Strange, Sabac Red, Vendetta Kingz, Slaine, Madchild and so on. We are way far from saying that the underground is white, but who cares anyway?
For sure it doesn’t swim in gold, like those videos you can find on music channels, filled with jewelry, diamonds, champagne, limos and girls. We don’t want to say that poverty is a value, like R.A. The Rugged Man’s track Poor People, but to keep quoting Mr. Thurburn “you all turn pussies once you get that green”. Hunger is the fuel that feeds rage, protest, the willing of a change and redemption.
Since the beginnings rap changed, sometimes got worse like happens when something in a niche gets too popular. If at the end of the 80’s Public Enemy dropped Fight The Power, track used by Spike Lee in Do The Right Thing – to explain the revolutionary sense – now Lil’Wayne sings Lollipop and 50 Cent features in Magic Stick. So, sadly, we must admit that maybe Nas was right when he published the album Hip Hop is Dead, in 2006. Or we can be more optimistic like The Game when he replied that “hip hop ain’t dead/ it just took a couple shots”. Or maybe the REAL rap just took refuge in the underground, where you can still find social-political topics, aimed to better our lives in the community.