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A conversation about contemporary music, its virtues and vices.
Neal Smith-Rubio and Sara Smith-Rubio

Issue #9, November 1993

Rap music is the best music, period. It takes what's best about any kind of music and takes it for its own but it stays rap music. When people try to take rap music into their music, it sounds like crap. They think rap is easy, but when they try it, they stink. Rap music is Beats and Rhymes; Beats and Rhymes come out of the ghetto. C&C Music Factory have "beats" and "rhymes" but they ain't Beats and Rhymes. The people like C&C who "use" rap think all rap is the same; they remove the individuality because they just copy what they think is popular at the moment. The best rappers use beats and rhymes to have their own personal style.

The Beat is: boom boom boom, clack clack clack. "Dope-Fiend Beat" by Too $hort has the Beat. "Informer" by Snow doesn't have the Beat. "Give It Away" by the Chili Peppers has the Beat. "November Rain" by Guns 'n Roses doesn't have the Beat. Dr. Dre always has the Beat; the Fresh Prince doesn't have the Beat.

The Beat is a combination of stuff you can jam to; some songs, you don't know what it is, but you say "that's bunk" and others you say "that's a saucy-ass beat." "Dopeman" by N.W.A. is a saucy-ass beat; most East Coast rap is bunk. West Coast you can relate to, it's like ghetto music, and East Coast is a buncha fast rhymers, people seeing who is the best lyricist. East Coast is lyrics, West Coast is the Beat. West Coast, you have to have a saucy Beat and good lyrics come AFTER you have the Beat, but East Coast starts with the lyrics and the Beat comes later. You can't feel East Coast, all you have is who does the best lyrics, but it's not art, you can't feel it inside of you. You can feel West Coast. You can dance to East Coast, but you can't FEEL it. East Coast is like a contest, it's a competition.


Rap talks about things you can relate to. Every song doesn't have to be "I met a girl down the block and fell in love with her" ... that's ok once in awhile, but people don't fall in love with a different girl every day. Rap "topics" are everyday things: somebody getting blasted, somebody selling dope, somebody fucking as opposed to making love, somebody dying, somebody feeling like crap or somebody going crazy. I like to hear somebody who feels like crap because I can understand somebody who feels like crap; I understand people falling in love, but people don't fall in love as often as people go crazy.

If somebody asks me why I like rap music, I say "because I listen to it and it sounds good." If they ask me why it sounds good, I say "Kiss my ass; I put the headphones on and I like the way it sounds." People who ask questions like "Why do you like something?" are snoots who think there is a long, deep-seated answer for everything you say. If you want to know why The Chronic is the best album, then go listen to it.

These people's whole mission in life is not to experience something but to ask someone else about *their* experiences. They'll never be able to understand why people like rap music by asking people about it, they have to experience it for themselves. It doesn't do any good to ask someone else why something is good; experience it yourself, and if you like it, you like it, and if you don't, you don't.

If someone is interested in what it's like to be an 18-year-old in 1993 who loves rap music, and they ask an 18-year-old who loves rap music, but they themselves are not 18 and they don't love rap, then they aren't ever gonna understand what it's like, just like I'm never gonna understand what it's like to be 40 years old in 1993.


White people try to listen to rap music, but they can't understand it. There might be 1% of white people who understand rap, but that's all. I understand it because I grew up in a black environment, but mostly white people, even the ones who want to be good, they say things and you know they are racist inside. They think they have suffered, they think they understand, but they don't. All black people don't understand rap music, they might not understand if it's about a drive-by, but they understand when the song is about getting followed around and harassed, and that's also what rap is about.

I don't think people are wrong for trying to understand it, but they aren't going to be able to really understand it. They can say they feel sorry for others, but they'll never be able to say they feel the same way as others.

Sometimes it's worse to think you understand and not be close to understanding than to be the biggest racist in the world. People might read articles that raise questions and they might think they understand, but they will never understand or know the feeling. I like to express myself, but I don't expect anyone will really get a new understanding from what I said, even though people will think they understand.


We both know that a Bad Subjects article is supposed to be about more than just our personal experiences. We know that we are supposed to come to a deep, new insight about what we have talked about. But we also think that we have made it clear in our article that we are very suspicious of the idea that others can really understand something new just by listening to a couple of rap fans. If you want more, go listen to The Chronic.

Sara Smith-Rubio is a junior at Berkeley High School and an aspiring psychologist and dancer.

Neal Smith-Rubio has been listening to rap music since the Sugarhill days.

Copyright © 1993 by Neal Smith-Rubio and Sara Smith-Rubio. All rights reserved.