Earlier this month, Bay Area rapper and producer, G-Eazy submitted to SF Critic his video “Runaround Sue.” Many of the tracks in his library and on The Endless Summer (download), like “Runarround Sue,” sample 50s and 60s era doo-wop, circa the Motown and Stax label era.
It’s hard not to reflect on the 60s era doo-wop. The original sample by Dion & The Belmonts, the cheesy video, and its old school aesthetics, harp back to a different period. Maybe its due to my sociology background, but when I think of Motown or Stax, I’m reminded that this was the first really popular black music. A lot of historical discussions about race and popularity can be drawn between the popular Detroit based Motown and lesser-known, southern, Stax label based in Memphis. I’ve heard people refer to Motown as the “sell-out” of Stax, but I won’t go as far to take a stance.
Regardless, after noticing that G-Eazy was a white male from the Bay Area–I felt a little uneasy at first about publishing what might viewed as “white commodification” of black culture. Is G-Easy adding a new twist to doo-wop? Not really. It sounds great, don’t get me wrong–but this isn’t pushing the genre. A friend questioned my uncertainty stating, “What’s the difference between G-Easy and Eminem?” My answer, “Look how Eminem has changed and influenced rhyme patterns in hip hop.”
So instead of belaboring this question, we wrote G-Eazy back and put it this way:
I’d like to know more about you and your interest in doo-wop, Motown, and Stax music. I’ll be very upfront with you, by quoting a song from the Oakland, via LA rapper, Murs on white people rapping from song “And This Is For”:
Conscious or subconscious you can’t say that ain’t the case
Only reason it took so long to take place
Was up until now your only choice was 3rd Bass
Or others like Ice, wasn’t really that tight
Now you got some white dudes who can truly rock the mic
You relate to their stories cause you share that past
Question is, why would you listen to MURS’ Black ass?
I asked myself for a while but now I finally get it
Good music transcends all physical limits
It’s more than something that you hear, it’s something that you feel
When the author and experience and passion is real
Used to feel I should be silent, I was scared to do this song
But I want everyone aware of what is going on
Yes it is jazz and yes it is the blues
And yes it is the exact same way they did rock
But I refuse to watch the same thing happen to hip-hop
I refuse to watch that bullshit…
How would you respond to a criticism about your race and the type of music you’re covering and building off of?
This was the response that G-Easy, or Gerald Gillum, gave to us:
It occurred to me a couple years ago when I saw my little brother perform with his Berkeley High jazz band, that there were almost no black kids in this heralded, and high regarded program. It seemed really weird to me. Then I started thinking about hip-hop and wondered if the same thing would ever happen to it. It’s a strange thing.
All I can say is, I’m doing what I love. I was raised around hip-hop music and culture, and when technology opened the door for me to start making music on my computer, I naturally wanted to make the kind of music I was into. I love hip hop, and I love being able to reach people through music. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to a position now where I can do what I love full time. Isn’t that what everybody idealizes? Hip-hop is constantly evolving, and that’s just something that’s naturally gonna happen.
The inspiration to do this 60′s themed record came from romanticizing the time period my parents grew up in. That era you see in classic movies all the time. The connection I found with doo-wop music from the 50s and records I do now, was in the chords, and the rhythm structure. I thought it would be fun to mash the two together, from a production stand point. However as I approached it secondly as a rapper, I connected with the concepts used in those days much more than the stuff you hear in hip-hop today. I wanted to tell similar stories and bring a feeling of vulnerability back to hip-hop, something universal, something that real people could relate to.
I’m aware that I’ll probably draw a bit of criticism. But at the end of the day I love what I’m doing and believe in it.
Our conversation left us feeling good about G-Eazy. Personally, as a white male regularly talking about hip hop, I find people are surprised of either my knowledge or interest (pegging me for an indie rocker). This article isn’t meant to be hypocritical, but rather suggestive of the labeling and racial issues, because as a music promoter and fan, I also deal with this issue. But what are your thoughts on G-Eazy, white rappers, and the concept of black music?
Click here to download Endless Summer.