So who didn’t see this coming? In the build-up and aftermath of NWA’s introduction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame by Kendrick Lamar, nobody’s favourite rock star Gene Simmons has been making the kind of flippant comments about hip hop that you would expect from a 15 year old kid in a Slipknot hoodie. After claiming that it wasn’t real music because there wasn’t a melody (you know, like what your parents said the first time they heard hip hop) he climaxed in pointing out that he was “looking forward to the death of Hip-Hop.” Gene Simmons doesn’t think NWA are rock n roll.
Obviously, anyone with half a brain is going to have a couple of points to make at this point. To be honest, I find so many issues with this I don’t know where to start. It’s probably best to start with Kiss.
Kiss have the contemporary relevance of Betamax. Which is to say, they served a purpose for a time but now the only reason you’d go anywhere near them would be for pure nostalgia. Now they exist as a brand, rather than a band. Everyone recognises the make-up, everyone knows the name. But when was the last time you saw someone jump for the iPod jack at a house party to tear off the roof with Detroit Rock City? Hair metal died in the 80’s and was never replaced because, frankly, who could be bothered? The same bands continue to do the rounds. Motley Crue have learnt that decades of drugs and debauchery leave you fat and out of breath a lot. Axl Rose only recently got rid of his corn rows. Slash (“like, the greatest guitarist ever, man”) has appeared in about a million bands and steadily churned out wah wah riffs like they’re going out of fashion (and they are). In fact, the only recent hair metal band that has made a successful career from the genre is Steel Panther and they’re taking the piss. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always game for a night of Jack Daniel’s and Dr Feelgood on a loop. I’m just not trying to pretend that Vince Neil is a particularly brilliant musician.
So what about NWA and Hip-Hop? Great tunes aside, NWA are a tough band to assess because ultimately, like a lot of Hip-Hop, there are just too many elements of aggressive misogyny and homophobia for us to ignore. Even if they did release one of the greatest albums of the past few decades. But being one of the first groups to take their experiences growing up as poor, black Americans living under the constant threat of police profiling and abuse, and to turn it into a visceral release that sent white America insane, makes NWA extremely significant. Their relevance remains because the problems they faced are still a reality in large areas of the United States. KISS sing songs about their penises. The recent biopic ‘Straight Out of Compton’ did a pretty good job of showing how NWA’s was as much a political movement as a musical one. There’s a KISS biopic coming out this year too ‘You Wanted the Best… You Got the Best: The Official Kiss Movie’. It looks terrible. Outside of NWA themselves of course, I think we can all agree that hip hop is producing a sizeable chuck of the most interesting music going on right now. Kendrick Lamar is probably the best artist currently operating, UK Grime is exploding and just try and tell me that Bowie’s ‘Girl Loves Me’ from the earth shattering Blackstar isn’t a hip hop song?
Now KISS, like most music, do have their place and there’s no harm in enjoying them. But when someone as intolerable as Gene Simmons gives an opinion that no one asked for, and casually shits on a band right when they are getting a significant moment of recognition, and when someone as musically flaccid as Gene Simmons suddenly decides that he has the authority to judge what constitutes ‘real music’. That is when it is important to point out that Gene Simmons is as rock n roll as a dishcloth.
Rock n Roll is bigger than dudes with guitars. Ice Cube knows:
Are we Rock ‘n’ Roll? And I say: you goddamn right we rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll is not an instrument. It’s not even a style of music. It’s a spirit that’s been going on since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock, and yes, hip-hop.