By Eric K. Arnold, East Bay Express
So this year, the California Music Awards added a hip-hop category. And a rap category.
Furthermore, Sunday's award show/free concert in Oakland's Ogawa Plaza will feature a live performance from Night Ranger. And E-40.
Anyone smell a Judgment Night-esque duet cookin'? Picture the scene: the '80s hair farmers trading songs with Blackhawk's most ghetto-fabulous resident. After warmly embracing, they collaborate on a moving rendition of "Sister Christian." Mothers cry. Fathers hug their teenage sons. Hoochies hurl their thongs onstage. It's the ultimate rap-meets-rock moment, one surely worthy of a VH1 segment.
Night Ranger: Sister Christian, oh the time has come ...
Night Ranger: And you know you're not the only one to say, okay ...
E-40: Uh, izza, shizza, should I save her?
Night Ranger: Motorin'!!!
E-40: Burn rubber!!! We're going sidewayz!
Night Ranger: What's your priiiice for fliiiight?
E-40: Outsmart the po-po's! Hope I don't go back to selling yayo!
Night Ranger: In finding Mr. Right!
E-40: Mr. Flamboyant, oh boy!
Night Ranger: It'll be alright, tonight!
E-40: One luv, fa shiggedy!
Unfortunately, 40 draws a blank when asked if he actually will jump onstage with other CMA live acts like Night Ranger or AFI. "Them new rappers?" he asks.
Um, no, actually. They're rock bands.
But that's okay -- everyone is confused about musical genres this year at the CMAs. The former Bammies, revived from the (gratefully) dead zone a few years back and now established as an annual free shindig in downtown Oakland, are trying to keep the rock 'n' roll tradition alive while still reaching out to the brave new world of urban (read: nonwhite) music. But while putting 40 on the same bill as Night Ranger and A.F.I. (the lineup also includes Tesla, Hieroglyphics, Lyrics Born, members of Grandaddy, and an all-star jazz jam with Dave Ellis and others) might seem like the right thing to do for posterity's sake, the CMAs are still trying to figure out the difference between "hip-hop" and "rap."
In case you missed it, hip-hop is a culture, and rap is the vocal performance aspect of that culture. According to Casual, one of the MCs of Oaktown's Hieroglyphics (nominated for two awards this year), "Rap is an element of hip-hop culture, like breaking, and graffiti, and wearing baggy clothes." In other words, all rap is hip-hop, but not all hip-hop is rap.
It seems simple enough, except to the CMA's nominating committee, which, according to publicist Kerry Silverman, includes CMA staff, radio station MDs, newspaper columnists, retail employees, and record label personnel. Silverman explains the selection process: "There are a bunch of people, and then the names that come up the most are selected."
Uh-oh. Sounds a bit imprecise, which could help explain why neo-bohemians Aceyalone and the Marginal Prophets were nominated in the Outstanding Rap Album category this year, along with E-40 and thug icons Westside Connection and Too $hort. Whoops. This credibility-dampening move not only puzzled C2tE, but confounded some of the nominated artists as well.
"I don't know what criteria they judge by," admits Paris, whose Sonic Jihad rounds out the category. "I have different ideas as to what the differences between hip-hop and rap are. I would have assumed I would have been in the hip-hop category, 'cause rap to me denotes kind of a commercialized offering."
He isn't really tripping, though: "Shit, man, you know, you get in where you fit in." The rapper emphasizes he's happy to be acknowledged, especially for an album as incendiary as Jihad (whose album cover features a plane flying into the White House). "I've been up for Bammies before, but this is especially important in an age where there's been such an attempt to stifle legitimate forms of dissent, people that speak out against the system," Paris adds. "With that project, with my anti-Clear Channel stance, with the fact that major labels are basically going for the lowest common denominator with their releases now, it's nice to be recognized with that, especially in your own hometown. So it feels good."
Moving on to Outstanding Hip-Hop Album, the nominees include Lyrics Born, Gift of Gab, Black Eyed Peas, Jurassic 5, and the Hieroglyphics (also up for Outstanding Group). But while Casual appreciates the nominations ("Definitely, I feel honored"), he isn't down with the separation of hip-hop and rap either. "That's wack," he says. "I think it should just be one category. I think it's all one thing."
Rap isn't the only category whose nominations seem somewhat funny-style. The Outstanding DJ field includes Dan the Automator (for the 2002 mix CD So You Wanna Buy a Monkey) and Mixmaster Mike and Q-Bert (who are legendary, but don't have anything new out either), along with Mark Farina, Miguel Migs, and T-Ski (no argument there).
"This is a broad category which can compromise performers who DJ live, record, mix, or remix," CMA staffer Queenie Taylor explains. However, she admits, "most of the DJ-related business people don't respond to our requests" for input. Hear that, unrecognized turntablists and mash-up maestros? It's your fault for not answering the phone.
Still, by creating all these separate categories, we get that many more deserving winners, and at least the CMA folks are attempting to move in an urban-friendly direction, even if they're playing catch-up. "Hip-hop really is popular culture," Paris notes. "They really would have looked like the odd man out if they didn't adopt some kind of a hip-hop platform."
So maybe the logic is convoluted this year ("They should make a category for backpack rap," 40 cracks), but mixing up the CMA's nominees and stage performers parallels the offbeat collaborations already taking place. 40 recently did a remix with "hip-hop"-identified artist Lyrics Born; as the ambassador of the bay, he says, it's his duty to collaborate with other local artists, no matter how grimy or clean. "We're starting to see unity," 40 insists. "We're starting to see real unity. This whole bay got to come together, especially us rappers and R&B singers."
In the past, 40 has unrepentantly used Bruce Hornsby hooks in his songs; as the ambassador diplomatically explains, he's a lover of all kinds of music: "I like rock, I like pop, I like jazz, I like folk, I like swing, gospel, it don't matter. I'm 40-Water." Along those lines, E-Feezy has already done songs with Goapele and Rankin Scroo (not to mention Korn and Limp Bizkit); he's also planning an upcoming collaboration with Smashmouth (!).
As for 40's upcoming CMA appearance, "It's gonna be a nice soufflé. It's gonna be gravity." But even if he isn't up on "Sister Christian," is he down to jam with some other beloved CMA darling -- say, Bonnie Raitt? If the red-haired slide guitarist extended the invitation, would he acquiesce? "Damn sure will," comes his reply. Now that'd give 'em something to talk about -- fa shiggedy.