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Rap and Feminism <i> Do</i> Mix : Surprise! Videos by Positive K and Paris put a positive spin on respect for women

<i> Chris Willman's Sound & Vision column appears periodically in Calendar</i>

Rap has a rep as music’s primary breeding ground of sexism, but two new videos suggest that respect for women is a hot topic in the hip-hop community nowadays, even among its men. Positive K takes the more lighthearted approach, portraying a less-than-honorable suitor in “I Got a Man,” while Paris pays more earnest homage to the opposite sex in “Assata’s Song.”

These two clips are among the cream of this edition of Sound & Vision, in which current pop videos are reviewed and rated on a 0-100 scale:

Positive K, “I Got a Man.” Someday--probably not in this millennium, but the next--there’s going to be a successful rap musical on Broadway. You can catch glimmers of what that production might be like in this charming duet clip, which features the kind of fast-talking interplay between the sexes that was once exclusively the province of musical comedy.

Positive K plays the part of a lothario seeking out conquests on the street in this Top 10 hit; that’s pretty typical for rap, of course, but what’s atypical is the way he gets his comeuppance, dis for dis, from the target of his abortive seduction. “I got a maaaan!” she insists at appropriate intervals, introducing an instant catch phrase into the vocabulary of sexually harassed fabulous babes everywhere, and elaborating on her reasons for rejecting this insistent cad with a wit and savoir-faire equal to his.

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The full-length version of the video includes a brief crawl at the end crediting the three lovely actresses who lip-sync the woman’s role. But there’s no credit for the woman rapper herself on the video or even on the album. Why? Surprise--it’s K himself, doing a pretty remarkable job of voice-throwing. 79

Geto Boys, “6 Feet Deep.” The Geto Boys are known as the prime purveyors of the sleazy “slasher rap” sub-genre, but they’ve matured enough to recognize real horror in their ‘hood--for the length of this video at least. The setting, as the title would indicate, is a funeral, full of gang members decked out in the suits that, in this context, instantly convey that it’s mourning in America. The pleasant riff and laconic beat--with a recurring distorted sample of Marvin Gaye singing, “There’s far too many of us dying"--succeed in making the rap all the more disconcertingly creepy.

Even with a few party flashback scenes to leaven the dread, “6 Feet” is surprisingly uncompromising. That extends to the message, which isn’t exactly hopeful in the face of senseless recrimination: “In the midst of all this (stuff) I think about myself / Wondering when somebody’s gonna try to take me off the shelf / But I refuse to be another violent casualty. . . . " If that sounds like the setup to a just-say-no-to-gangs punch line rhyme, think again: “So when I’m runnin’ I pack my pistol right beside my knee.”

Just say . . . woe. 72

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Paris, “Assata’s Song.” Paris is probably best known for expressing his militant attitudes in “negative” fashion--i.e., taking out after the power Establishments in fairly radical terminology--but here he takes a welcome timeout to pay tribute to African-American women and their struggles. Incorporated are a birth scene, a wife-beating, a mass hugging scene at the close and a succession of brave and beautiful faces in close-up as Paris intones, “I’m gonna love ya and show respect--I need you, black woman.” 72

Dinosaur Jr., “Out There.” Bands have ventured out into the snow to shoot their videos before (U2’s “New Year’s Day” being a notable example). But this goofy, chilly-scenes-of-winter clip--directed by noted ski movie filmmaker Greg Stump--takes some sort of cake: In a possible rock video first, group frontman J Mascis actually stoops to miming a guitar solo with his ski gloves on. It’s nuthin’ but a Midwest thang. 58

Dr. Dre, “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.” Dr. Dre directs himself in this clip and must be proud of the job he did; he gives himself a big on-screen credit at the end, though you won’t see it on MTV, which electronically obscured the big, self-congratulatory print in favor of acknowledging Dre in the network’s more modest usual credit block.

All auteur -ism aside, it’s not a bad clip in its own rambling fashion, loosely chronicling a lazy afternoon and night in the life of a partying ‘hood-lum--a relaxed barbecue attended by homeboys toting concealed weapons, followed by a more raucous malt liquor party, followed by the inevitable bleary-eyed return home at dawn.

Some viewers might find a few of the details offensive--the close-up of a pistol tucked in a gangsta’s pants in the otherwise peaceful party scene; the hosing-down of an unwilling female party guest with beer. But it’s all shot and edited in a rather laconic, matter-of-fact style that finally seems more observational than arousing. 52

Aerosmith, “Livin’ on the Edge.” So where’s the kitchen sink in this video, dudes? Everything else is here, and then some: Steven Tyler in Alice Cooper eye makeup and bowler hat. Tyler riding a gyroscope. Tyler in half-blackface. Joe Perry playing guitar in the path of a train. Green demon figures coming out of sewer pipes and Tyler’s innards. A teen-ager putting on pantyhose, wig and lipstick, carrying on the ever-popular Aerosmith video cross-dressing. A sexy female schoolteacher giving the kids an “anatomy” lesson, carrying on a popular Van Halen video motif. Eddie Furlong (“Terminator 2") being given a condom by his dad, which he promptly tosses away--don’t try this at home, kids!--shortly before deliberately driving a car smack into a wall and emerging unscathed.

This thrill-seeking “edge,” then, refers to glam-rock, racism, playing chicken, pollution, unsafe sex, dressing up in drag and drag racing? In coming up with about a dozen concepts for the video, veteran director-of-hard-rockers Marty Callner hasn’t really come up with one at all, although it’s sloppily diverting anyhow. 50

Green Jelly, “Three Little Pigs.” Far be it from us to knock--pun intended--any video that actually deigns to use clay animation. But although “Three Little Pigs” is cute to look at, the supremely annoying song itself is all huffing and puffing, signifying nothing. It’s actually--so far as we could tell--a faithful hard-rock retelling of the fable, at least until a clay Rambo shows up to mow down the Big Bad Wolf in what passes for a twist ending.

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But since Green Jelly (formerly Jello) is ostensibly aiming above the kindergarten level, and has even drawn comparisons to such grown-up satirical progenitors as the Tubes, we kept waiting for a punch line that never came. Did we miss something, or should we just side with General Foods and wait for these goofballs to fade into novelty-act purgatory? 41

Apache, “Gangsta Bitch.” The next time some old-timer tells you they don’t write love songs like they used to, show him this video--and watch him keel over dead. Apache raps a paean to his perfect fantasy lady and their mutually felonious lifestyle--together they’re “puffin’ on a blunt, sippin’ on a Heineken . . . goin’ to the movies, packin’ his-and-her nines . . . on Valentine’s Day, doin’ stickups together,” etc. Highlights include Apache and the idealized “bitch” in question tenderly nuzzling in a park, then suddenly pulling out automatic weapons to blaze away at an unseen target.

Between this and “Indecent Proposal,” by gum, romance is alive.

MTV has more sense than to put this malarkey on the air, but predictably, it’s popular on the Box, that standards-and-practices-free request channel. Meanwhile, is Apache kidding about this Charlie Starkweather fantasy? Only to the extent that most hard-core “gangsta” rappers are “kidding” in their stylized and hyperbolic approach to supposed street realism, probably--which is to say, it’s a question of semiotics. That this sensationalism might be the modern-day equivalent of a Yeats verse for some love-struck young delinquents is depressing beyond consideration, but this gets a few token points for sheer, stupid, head-scratchingly audacious gall. 7


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