I'm not the easily shocked type. Gangsta rap is not the thing that surprised me. What surprised me was Xzibit's cover of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power". The cover itself wasn't even the strange thing, it was the fact that Xzibit (who had been wearing a fairly innocuous sports jersey during his previous performance) performed the song wearing a homemade T-shirt with the slogan "FU*K NAPSTER" on it.
I don't particularly care to discuss the pros and cons of the Napster debate again, but I thought it interesting that Xzibit chose to express his opinion on this issue while covering that particular song. For the uninitiated, Public Enemy was co-founded by Chuck D, whom many consider to be a pioneer on the electronic music front. He is pro-Napster and has written articles, started websites and made headlines while trying to push the online music industry forward.
The song itself has nothing to do with online music, Napster or anything of the sort. But the underlying message to the song is pretty clear, even by the title alone. Xzibit's choice to cover this song seems to be his way of making a statement, saying that there is an oppressive power out there and it needs to be stood up against. His wardrobe change just before the performance leads me to believe that he may be pointing to Napster as the oppressive power that should be fought against.
This to me, was where it got very surreal. Here we have a song written and originally performed by one of Napster's strongest and most vocal advocates being covered by a guy wearing an anti-Napster slogan on his chest with a straight face. I had to wonder if there was some sort of irony I was missing.
On one hand, I could say that the song and it's background were independent of the T-shirt and it's message. This would have been a lot easier if the song were something less powerful or with a different message. But there's just a certain context to "Fight the Power" that makes me think this wasn't just a coincidence. The question is, is the message lost or confused because of the conflicting aspects between performer, message, song and original intent?
I certainly felt the message was lost. Obviously Xzibit is anti-Napster. Fine. Then why not cover a Dr. Dre tune? He's anti-Napster as well and has plenty of rousing songs that were ripe for covering and would have fit perfectly in with the message that was trying to be conveyed. Was it a barb against Chuck D then, pointing out a hypocrisy that one could write a song about standing up against those who try to keep you down while embracing a technology (and company) that could be construed as keeping black musicians down? I find it difficult to believe that the point was intentionally that subtle. Gansta rappers aren't famous for subtlety, although it would be foolish to discount this theory completely without further evidence.
The most likely truth is that Xzibit never considered the implications of the song... he probably picked it because it was some tough sounding, rabble-rousing stuff to go along with his tough-sounding, rabble-rousing T-shirt. I can't think of anything less appropriate than using any work outside of its creator's philosophy and intent out of sheer ignorance. That's like people claiming a Beatles song inspired them to kill someone. Hopefully the incident was a clever, satirical poke at Chuck D and/or Public Enemy because I can respect that, at least it shows a willingness to be subtle even on MTV (aka The Shiny Things Network). Still, call me cynical, but I think that the likelihood of someone who makes a living as a gangsta rapper being that sardonic is slim.
Honestly, I was pretty annoyed by the spectacle. It just seemed wrong to me, somehow. Then I remembered the debate between Chuck D and Lars Ulrich wherein Lars declared that the suit against Napster wasn't about money but rather was about control. The point was that the anti-Napster camp dislikes losing control over how their music is used or presented. I suppose you could deduce that Napster supporters should feel the opposite, that it is irrelevant how music is used or presented. But in this case I think if I were Chuck D, I'd be in an interesting position of feeling like my music had been misrepresented and yet what can he really say? "You used my music in a way that I don't like!" Join the club, fella.
Next year I expect to see Eminem covering an Elton John song while wearing a "No Fags" T-shirt. I figure it'll become the biggest trend in hip hop since gold chains and cars with hydraulics.