The Roots: hip-hop heroes who've become calculating mercenaries
Shades of Grae

By M. Solis

On the Roots' Okay Player Tour, Jean Grae brings the faith

Jean Grae is all about faith. As displayed on her two previous releases, this cerebral, underground hip-hop MC's rhymes are 21st-century double-dutch couplets that chronicle the parables of modern sistahood.

"I think her style is timeless, I think she's one of the top MCs of all time regardless of the gender," says Binx, one of Texas' top female MCs and the only woman to represent at this year's Clogged Caps. "I would just put her up there as being one of the top MCs for being progressive in her music. People have to progress to where she's at because I think she's a step ahead of the game."

Grae's debut CD, Attack of the Attacking Things, was stocked with fresh beats, biting sarcasm, and honesty not associated with your typical hip-hop release. Her second album, a stripped down EP that included a 45-minute freestyle mix, revealed more of her innate humor and solidified her rep as one of the games top lyricists.

For the past seven years KRS-ONE's Temple of Hip-Hop has celebrated May 16-23 as Hip-Hop Appreciation Week. This is the week when you should drop to your knees and thank your gods for Jam Master Jay, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and 3 Feet High And Rising. The week when you should bow down and say gracias for Afeni Shakur, Big L, Big Pun, and the Notorius B.I.G. The theme of this year's HHAW is faith, and organizers are asking us to fear not, only believe. KRS' folk have actually stepped things up this year and hip-hop-informed activists, artists, ministers, politicians, teachers, and students planned to gather May 19 at NASA's DC headquarters to celebrate math, science, engineering, and space exploration within the hip-hop community.

For those seeking relevant hip-hop within HHAW, salvation arrives via the Okay Player Tour. Sort-of. Back in the day, the Roots personified faith. This was before they sold their souls to Coca-Cola, became Jay-Z's backup band, rhymed with Shaq, and hyped overrated white soul singers from the UK. The illadelph, aka Philly, has always been the second city in the hip-hop food chain, which has spawned a nasty, reactionary complex. Spoonie-G created "gangsta rap" there and the city of brotherly love also gave us the first Oscar-nominated MC, Will "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" Smith.

Okay Player Tour:
The Roots,
Jean Grae,
and Martin Luther

Thursday, May 20
801 Red River, Austin
(512) 480-8341
After all this drama, the Roots are in desperate need of atonement. The group's mercenary bent in recent years is especially puzzling, since their own music had gradually built a mass audience through word-of-mouth and underground credibility. Binx offers: "It just comes down to how commercialized you want to be. They believe that an artist is an entertainer. When you're a true artist, you're gonna be a true artist till the day you die. Most true artists, unfortunately, die without ever being recognized, and people want to reap the benefits of materialistic whatever in this lifetime, so you do a song with Shaq, he's gonna make millions. I just think that if you're making music truly for the masses and you're really putting music out for the people, there comes a definitive point where you have to stop and reflect, 'Do I live what I say and say what I live?' In this game, we're preachers for the people, we spit the knowledge for the people, we're here to uplift, and I don't think musicians in general - including MCs - realize the power of the music and the words to shape and mold and create new ideas for people to emerge upon. Music shapes society."

Hip-hop is believing without seeing, embracing the contradictions while basking in free choice. What baby boomers - mired in the racial politics and Vietnam undertow of their own time - will never comprehend, is that hip-hop is faith. It is our way of life and our children's way of life. Binx adds, "When you're a mom in this game, I think it's a lot different because you do it for your seeds. Not just to feed, like in a monetary means, but you feed them with the knowledge and feed them with example in order to create a new generation that'll be more open-minded and independent thinkers." •

By M. Solis

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.