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Camron Hates His Job: Constructive Rap From An Unlikely Source?

Traditionally, civic concern has not been one of rapper Cam'ron's front-and-center issues. Last time he made the news was a couple years back when he was telling 60 Minutes he wouldn't "snitch" on even a serial killer living next door to him ("I'd probably move"), much less risk record sales by joining in a search for the man who shot him during a carjacking in 2005.

isCome Home With Me

As so often, the irony is that in a certain mood so much of his stuff is such fun to listen to. I could do without "Boy, Boy," but the come-on "Hey, Ma" track on this album is irresistible. It's almost impossible to transcribe a rap lyric meaningfully, especially modern ones given how sonically rich and layered the genre has become. However, "Hey, Ma" has Cam'ron suggesting narcotic indulgence with a young lady who interjects two-syllable assents in a warm yet matter-of-fact voice that sounds precisely like a brown or black girl from the block that you know, or at least can imagine, and like. Download it - it's perfect. Raunchy and perfect.

Nevertheless, I have taken hiphop to task, such as in my book from last year All About the Beat, for proposing as "politics" a form of recreationally indignant oppositionalism antithetical to the kinds of politics that actually help people. For example, when Kanye West gives a dutiful callout to the idea that AIDS was foisted upon black people by whites at the head of Late Registration, it does nothing for the legions of black women living with a disease transmitted not from a grimacing white scientist but from monkey bites in Africa. A much more urgent problem for black people is long-term prisoners trying to reintegrate into society as I have written here and here and here -- but rappers don't seem much interested in raps about how hard it is for an ex-con to find an apartment.

Cam'ron, however, has given me some hope in his "I Hate My Job" cut from his upcoming CD Crime Pays. Here Cam'ron runs up against the sad fact that having an unclean record makes it hard for well-meaning ex-cons to even get in on the ground floor.

I have been bemused at the response of many to All About the Beat: I wrote that hiphop espouses a futile kind of politics -- and many object "But hiphop taught me politics!" They miss, if we may, my point that the issue is the kind of politics. If Cam'ron wants to call attention to how crucial it is that inner-city ex-cons do not wind up back in jail and teaching young people in their neighborhoods that spending time up the river is 1) normal and 2) a right of passage, then I say rap away.

Yet Cam'ron's ultimate message is unclear from the video, where the implication is that passivity - i.e. rolling a joint - is the proper response to a frustrating job search. Okay, that's the "attitude" basic to rap. Plus theoretically the joint is just an interlude and the job search begins again the next day. And no, I don't expect Cam'ron or anyone else to do a rap about an ex-con getting a job through an agency specializing in cases like him and ending up settled and happy five years later.

Or maybe I am not giving the genre enough slack? I'm waiting to be proven wrong.

 It's tough to say how "conscious" further tracks announced for Crime Pays will be: "I Used to Get It In Ohio" and "Cookies and Apple Juice" - one could go in so many directions.

We shall return to this album when it comes out - I can't help thinking that its title alone does not bode well for constructive politics -- but stranger things have happened. And as always, I'm sure it will be fun to listen to - in its way.