Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fo' Shizzle, Ma Nizzle; Cash Is Gansta

The buzz in showbiz world is that Snoop is planning to cover Johnny Cash on his upcoming album "Ego Tripping". The controversial rapper claims "To me, Johnny Cash is a rapper. His shit was dope, a lot of rappers don't know that. 'A Boy Named Sue' sounds gangsta." and finds it high time to pay homage to the man in black. This isn't the first time Snoop has show his affection for the legendary Country artist as he was the one to hand out an MTV video award for "Hurt" posthumously while trying to link his brand of Gangsta rap to the songs and work of Cash. Question is though, does Snoop have a point, are the two in the same league, do they have a common ground, or is this just a gross misinterpretation of Cash's work on the part of Snoop Dogg?

Through out his career Johnny Cash has show a sensibility to the dark side of human nature up to the point where he could make his character sound real when he sang "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" in his infamous "Folsom Prison Blues". Cash never did shy away from controversy, always ready to speak his mind, hardly ever considering the sensibilities of the day. It is that grim side of human nature that Cash was able to translate so well to song that Snoop Dogg finds his common ground. The thug life, or the outlaw, life has been a theme that both artists regularly put on wax. Both artists gained a lot of credibility that way amongst the outcasts of society, even though Cash never actually shot a man, you could sense he was the real deal. Johnny Cash always had a dark side to him that he was struggling to contain, part of what made his music so human. Something the convicts of Folsom and San Quentin tapped into when he played those prisons. Judging from the reaction of the crowd and the mini documentary the BBC shot at San Quentin, the convicts could relate to Cash in more than just a superficial way. Snoop Dogg's impressive list of confrontations with the law and his self confessed pimping in a Rolling Stone interview a year back took away all doubt about his credibility. Snoop was rhyming and living the Gangsta life. Both artists share a bluntness about the grim side but that is possibly where the comparison stops. Even though Cash often played the prisons through out his career, he never actually did time like Snoop did, not counting county jail.

The main difference between Cash and Snoop is struggle, or the lack there off. Cash may have sung of drug abuse in "Cocaine Blues", he may have sung of spouse abuse and even murder in "Delia's Gone" or "Kate" and may have sung of violence and prison, his music always had a highly redemptive and even moralizing core the Gangsta life glorifying Snoop often misses. On Snoop Dogg's records the Gangsta life seems something to aspire to. Snoop more than once relished in the fact that he was/is a pimp, a hustler, a pornographer, even hinting at his capacity to be a murderer without apology. Though it is true that the down side of the Gangsta life is featured more than once in his rhymes and his lyrics sometimes borderline parodies of the life, the glorification has remained firmly in the foreground through out his career. Snoop Dogg may have claimed to have given up on the life and professed to finding God as a new moral compass, his music doesn't breathe it. Although he is active in various projects to offer the ghetto youth an alternative to the life at the same time Snoop continues to glorify it because that is where the green is.

So who is mister Snoop kidding when he claims that Johnny Cash is Gangsta. Mainly himself I believe. I wonder if Snoop has the eye and ear to see the redemptive side of Johnny Cash's music. If Snoop Dogg owns the "Live At San Quentin" album, I presume he does if he plans on covering "Boy Named Sue", he can hardly escape the highly moralistic and redemptive qualities of that album. He can hardly escape that Johnny Cash acknowledged the dark sides of his character yet struggled not to be consumed by it. Cash's music was ever humble, infused with a sense of shame that undercut the machismo of shooting a man in Reno. Cash balanced out his stories of drug abuse and violence with songs as "I Walk The Line" on the redemptive power of love or with Gospel such as "(there will be) Peace In The Valley". Cash underscored his his struggle to become a better man, never relished or glorified the mean streak that his character had. That's why Cash could sing "The Beast In Me" on the Rick Rubin produced "American Recordings" and make it sound as convincing as when he shot Kate or Delia. For Cash these tales were metaphors for the human struggle between good and evil, Cash simply acknowledged that we all will sometimes stumble and fall. The question for the man in black was how do we pick ourselves up.

I can only hope that Snoop Dogg plans on giving his work the depth Johnny Cash's had, that he's planning to create an album that is an honest account of the questions and realities the ghetto life brings. The man's work would benefit enormously if he's bare his Soul and tries to make an album that shows his own personal struggles, shows how he came to terms with his pimping and hustling, or is trying to. But the planned album title "Ego Trippin'" somehow doesn't bode well on that account. I'll withhold my judgement until I actually hear his cover of Johnny Cash, but seeing how he, and fellow Gangsta 50 Cents, released a video sporting women on a leash, my hopes are down. Snoop doing Cash can only become a parody of the latter.

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