The Perkin Experience: Hand2Fist Edition

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As a female navigating in a space that's rife with hyper-male signifiers, I can't just dismiss all the stuff that makes me uncomfortable -- after all, some of the best rap, artistically, is the worst, politically.

by The Real Pac Dime

Reviewed by Rachel Swan

Monday, February 2 2004, 12:39 PM


I've devoted roughly half of my journalistic career to writing rapturous, garbled panegyrics about so-called "conscious" rappers. You know who I'm talking about: the dudes who claim you should like their music because, damn it, they're not blingin" or gat-totin', and they've got a whole arsenal of fifty dollar words, even if their rhymes ain't about shit. A couple months ago I started to get fed up with the whole conscious spiel, in general. I was tired of spitting out other people's mawkish platitudes about upliftment for the hood, and, while I agreed with most of the anti-Bush and anti-Viacom rhetoric that found favor with so many emcees in 2003, I kept badgering them to tell me something I didn't already know.

So it was disillusionment, and general restiveness, that inspired me to write, in a recent East Bay Express review on The Procussions' Iron Sharpens Iron, that I wasn't feeling the album because it wasn't gangsta enough. Attempting to mitigate my position, I announced in the second sentence of the review: "Why a self-proclaimed feminist would prefer dickslingers over do-gooders completely eludes me; I can only say I like gangsta rap's pastiche of Italian mafia and blaxploitation personae, or maybe I'm just intrigued by the taboo nature of the lyrics.

Granted, the "dickslingers over do-gooders" part was kind of a joke, and The Procussions were a strong enough group, musically, that they didn't really deserve to be my sacrificial lamb. At the time, I doubted I'd even manage to push that line past the Express censors. My point was merely that a lot of underground cats were getting away with putting out sissy-knucklehead albums in which they'd spend too much time trying to out-big-word each other, if they weren't expounding Utne Reader-style spiritual homilies, or spitting derivative "life in the hood" testimonials. Hip hop journalists were devoting so much ink to moralizing about hip hop, and gushing about anything that fit into the purview of "underground" or "conscious," that they weren't willing to step back and look at it with critical eyes.

Somehow the word "dickslinger" made it to press, which is how I garnered my first-ever fan, a gangsta rapper named Chioke, from the Richmond/San Leandro group The Real Pac Dime. In retrospect, I imagine he was sitting on the couch with his pants hanging at his ankles, reading East Bay Express, while one girl sucked his dick and another girl turned the pages for him. He hit on the word "dickslinger" and got one of those ice-on-the-brain epiphanies, like "oh wow, that's me!" To make a long story short, Chioke e-mailed my editor and said he wanted a review in the Express, and could Rachel Swan please write it.

I was flattered when I got the news. After all, how many fans does a fledgling writer ever have or, if she has them, find out about? So far, my experience of journalism has been that it's a totally profit-losing operation: you're working all the time, you're broke as a joke, a whole slew of rappers would like to see you tarred and feathered, and the rest would like you to please swing on their nuts as you're writing that review, thank you. So I wrote back to Chioke and said, sure, anything for a fan. The next day I received an e mail that said: "What's right, Mommy. A lot of writers/journalists I see be writing strait garbage, but you got what they call "it," PLUS you know your music and that's gonna take you a long way — believe that. Know that you are appreciated for yo style, so keep doing your thang thang.

Okay, so there's something extremely fishy about this, already. Whether or not Rachel Swan's penchant for sallying and swinging her own dick over the pages of East Bay Express has anything to do with "what they call "it" is definitely a point of contention. Nonetheless, I was flattered, and eagerly awaited my personal press copy of The Real Pac Dime's The Perkin Experience: Hand2Fist Edition, which came in the mail a week later. On first glance, the album looked like something that 2 Live Crew might have produced during its demo days, except a lot less fun, and a little more chilling. Perusing the song titles -- "Bitch', "Negotiate the Dick', "BustANut', "Cockstrong" -- I began to wonder why Chioke hadn't just written on the envelope, "Suck my dick, bitch! (and review my album).'

Pretty soon, it became apparent that that was exactly what the group wanted: for Rachel Swan to suck their dicks through the medium of print journalism. They wanted a review that fit cozily into their collective fantasy of themselves as "cock strong" barrio Lotharios. But Rachel Swan wasn't feeling it.

I won't waste time, or space, reifying everyone's platitudes about misogyny in hip hop, or chiding these rappers for what I consider to be their biggest fuck-up: rechanneling hip hop's traditional hatred of the white man into unproductive, and utterly misguided, hatred of women. I will argue, however, that there's such a thing as artistic misogyny in hip hop. Misogyny that, believe it or not, enhances the lyrical quality of a person's rhymes. On the other side of the coin, there's also bad misogyny, the kind that's bland, boring, and overall discomfiting. For the most part, Hand2Fist represented the latter strain.

As for good misogyny: rappers always sound better when you can tell they really are personally invested in what they're saying. Unfortunately, most rappers -- like most people, for that matter -- aren't all that invested in politics, even if they try to sound like they are. But when you hear their sex rhymes, you can tell they're really feeling it. For instance, when Tupac rhymed about his relationships with women, he sounded like a man torn apart, sometimes embittered and lusty ('Thug in Me') and other times fawning ('Dear Mama'). So when he spat a verse like "Love fucking in the mornin'/I get you wet, bust a sweat /Then I'm gone/Left you on your own, girl/Tell me what you feel like/Blindfolded I'm cold do it real nice/That's if it feel right/Maybe it's the thug in me" ("Thug in Me"), you could tell it was coming from a deep, heartfelt place.

Misogyny can also be palatable, if not inspired, when you feel like the rapper's using it to communicate an interesting idea, or tell a story. Ice Cube's "Get Off My Dick, and Tell Yo Bitch to Come Here" is probably the best example of that. In that song, Cube raps: "I'm not saying this to dis each and every fan/ Women you can ride but man be a man/ Shake my hand and make it a firm shake/Say what's up Ice Cube and then break." For anyone who has had to ward off an unwanted suitor (and I don't claim to speak from personal experience, here), Ice Cube has coined a very economical way of saying, "unless I'm gonna fuck you, please get off my nuts.'

Unfortunately, there really are only so many ways to say "suck my dick." So if that's the thesis of half the songs on your album, it's really hard to still sound fresh on track six. And that's the main shortcoming of Hand2Fist. I'm not saying it's totally void of inventive turns of phrase. In fact, I rather like Official's suggestion, in the first verse of "Negotiate the Dick', that "You need to pull up to a dick with a proposition/ grab him in your hand looking like you're bout to kiss him/ give him lip service and I'll bet that cock'll listen." And in fairness, some of the beats are deliciously come-hither: "Alcoholism" and "Negotiate the Dick" both overlay glacial boombap with dissonant, spine-tingling piano. The best tracks sound like veritable West Coast gangsta rap, even if the group's rhymes are subpar.

Trouble is, Real Pac Dime's lyrics aren't creative, or interesting enough, to save them from allegations of outright misogyny, in its most banal form. It's hard to say, at first, from whence stems this intense, venomous anger towards women, because in the case of this album, it seems non-specific: every female is a bitch, and every bitch serves one purpose only. After listening to Hand2Fist a couple times (which was all I could really stomach the first day, but I'm gradually getting sensitized to it) I've decided the group sounds really young, overall. It's the same assessment you'd make about Fifty Cent and Jah Rule if you saw them bitch-slapping each other on HBO: these guys are basically the same dudes who used to beat me up in grade school, but with rap careers. In the case of Real Pac Dime, misogynist lyrics just seem like a front that they're using to authenticate themselves as bastions of "the thug life".

It's pretty obvious that espousing a wack and retarded gender philosophy isn't gonna set a brother free (but in truth, I don't think that's what Real Pac Dime is seeking). I much preferred the days when Rass Kass wrote long diatribes about the evil of white people ('Nature of the Threat'), which, however incendiary, were far more enlightening than Real Pac Dime's "suck my dick" incantations.

As for me, I'm not ready to recant the "dickslinger" comment, even if it isn't always true. Call it navel-gazing, if you will, but I think it's important to constantly be reflecting on your relationship to the thing you write about. And, as a female navigating in a space that's rife with hyper-male signifiers, I can't just dismiss all the stuff that makes me uncomfortable -- after all, some of the best rap, artistically, is the worst, politically.

Then again, sometimes when I pick up the pen I'm looking for an eloquent way to say: "nah, suck my dick, this time."

You can find The Real Pac Dime at ZEBOX 

Rachel Swan is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team 

Copyright © 2004 by Rachel Swan. All rights reserved.
 

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