At first glance, this video might seem like a pretty straightforward interpretation of this new E-40 track. It’s a rap song about fighting, so you’ve got some shots of dudes fighting, and some shots of some dudes rapping. Alright. If you really pay attention though, there’s another element in here that adds some depth to this otherwise obvious interpretation.
E-40 – Catch a Fade (feat. Droop-E and Kendrick Lamar)
Mixed in with the shots of E-40, Droop-E (who is E-40’s son), and Kendrick Lamar (from Black Hippy, who apparently I can’t stop writing about lately) and some dudes catchin’ a fade (that means getting in a fight) are some other dudes who are doing something kinda in between. Sometimes solo, sometimes in groups, there are a few dudes on here who aren’t quite putting hands on each other, but are expressing themselves physically, and somewhat competitively, in a different way: they’re dancing. In this particular video, the dance mimics, pantomimes, and caricatures the motions of physical conflict, but any battle in this arena would be won with originality, creativity, and technique rather than brute force. Now I’d be doing my good friends Ivan, Charles, and every other martial artist in history a great disservice if I didn’t point out that originality, creativity, and technique also certainly play a role in physical combat, as does self-expression, but there is still a brute force element of fighting that is removed in the kind of dancing in this video. But isn’t it interesting that in describing this video I’ve found only one element that differs between fighting and dancing? The dancers seem to be competing much in the same way the fighters are, or the rappers for that matter, and when you see all of these different expressive modes in quick succession, the boundaries between them begin to break down.
Rap and hip-hop have a long history of competitiveness being more central to the culture than most other art forms. Rap battles, DJ battles, breakdance battles, these are all commonplace. When is the last time you went to a jazz battle? A sculpture battle? An architecture battle? Probably never, unless it was ironically billed as such. Yes, these art forms have elements of competition and even hold formal contests, and there is such a thing as a “battle of the bands” in rock music, but I don’t think you could argue that the centrality of competition in hip-hop is paralleled in the art world, except for the martial arts of course. Rap is probably somewhere in between painting and football in the spectrum of competition-based arts. Or, you might say, between brawling and dancing. Competition is found in all of these places because humans are competitive, and the cultures that give rise to this or that form of expression imbue it with the level of competition inherent to that culture, which is probably based on something like the level at which the people of that culture historically feel their survival is at risk. Hip-hop grew out of a time and place where survival was far from easy or simple to accomplish, and clearly the tradition (and the culture that gives rise to it, to an extent) continues.
You don’t have to love violence to love rap. I don’t think you have to love violence to love martial arts either. But I think you do have to acknowledge that violence exists to have any kind of understanding of either of these art forms. We compete all the time with each other. We might call it different things, we might not even think of it as competition exactly, but we do it. We argue, we make jokes about each other, we belittle other people or their ideas, we see somebody do something and we try to do it better, or try to make what that person did look worse, there are countless ways that competition plays a role in our lives, and I think that one thing rap can do is force us to be a little more up front about your competitive nature, and see that it can be fun, as well as fulfilling, and not just something to be avoided for fear of being defeated. I believe that even a person who attempts to isolate him or herself completely from competition from others would still find themselves alone, trying to outdo themselves, mentally and physically, throughout their life. It’s what we do, and recognizing that can really help hone it in positive directions, and there are countless street rappers that credit rap with being exactly that influence for them: the thing without which they would have been reduced to a much more brutal form of competition in their probably all-too-brief lives.