Monday, December 1, 2008

Your Black World: The Gift of Canibus: Hip-Hop and Anti-Intellectualism

The Gift of Canibus: Hip-Hop and Anti-Intellectualism

By: Tolu Olorunda

Staff Writer –

“History is a weapon being used against us/

Humanity has been abused before but few remember/

... Turn the radio and TV off, think for a second/

Technology is a blessing but it's also a weapon/

A weapon of mass destruction giving global instructions/

Teaching us how to hate but does it in a way that we love it/

Take my beloved rap music, erase the beat/

Consumers act like they're afraid of intelligent speech/”

- Hip-Hop artist and philosopher, Canibus, in One Ought Not To Think.

Canibus, like the herbal supplement, Cannabis, is as subjective to the user, as the value of Hip-Hop music is to the listener. In the course of this essay, I, a Canibus fan/student, seek to make a case for the artist otherwise known as Germaine Williams. Though a marginalized figure, Canibus is an Emcee; an artist; a lyrical scientist; a philosopher; an educator; a history lesson, and an infinite source of inspiration to those wrestling with dominant forms of anti-intellectualism being wielded against music lovers. I personally believe Canibus to be a rare mineral resource in an industry engulfed with misogyny, homoeroticism, opulence, hollowness, illiteracy, and cronyism. Since 1996, Canibus has struggled to keep Hip-Hop’s demons at bay. But, truth be told, that struggle remains a contentious one, even till this day. To be sure, Canibus is not a name fluttered on the lips of Black and Brown kids; but perhaps this reality further reinforces my claim, that his wit, perspicacity and voluminous vocabulary is perceived more as a threat, than an accomplishment, in the Hip-Hop realm of existence. Canibus teaches us in – perhaps his most lucid track to date – Poet Laureate II, that Hip-Hop music’s demise lies in its inability to grapple with the ongoing battle being waged between the quest for power, and a declining zeal for poetically-inspired rhymes:

“I'm convinced now that more than truth is at stake/

Where people create language that pretends to communicate/

Euphemisms are misunderstood as mistakes/

But it’s a bi-product of the ghetto music we make/

From an extroverted point of view I think it’s too late/

Hip Hop has never been the same since ‘88/

Since it became a lucrative profession, there’s the misconception/

That the movement in any direction is progression/”

- Canibus, Poet Laureate II, Rip the Jacker.

To understand Canibus’ harsh critiques of, and frustrations with, the Hip-Hop industry, one must first put into context the source of his contempt. Before Canibus’ infamous lines in 1997 – “L, is that a mic on your arm? Let me borrow that” – the world was relatively unaware of the young Jamaican Native’s intellectual audacity. Following his much publicized feud with LL Cool J, it became evident that politics in Hip-Hop played a much larger role than previously anticipated (this theory would yield validity during the Jay-z Vs. Nas saga, as well). Canibus, quite obviously, decimated the self-proclaimed G.O.A.T. LL’s reactionary tenor was no match for Canibus’ quick wit and unquestionable sincerity:

“Yo I’ma let the world know the truth!/
You don’t want me to shine/
You studied my rhyme, then you laced your vocals after mine/
... I studied your background, read the book that you wrote/
Researched the footnotes, ’bout how you used to sniff coke/
Frontin’ like a drug free role model, you disgust me/
… You walk around showing’ off your body cause it sells/
Plus to avoid the fact that you ain’t got skills/
Mad at me cause I kick that sh*t real ni**as feel/
While 99% of your fans wear high heels/”

- Canibus, 2nd Round K. O., Can-I-Bus.

LL Cool J’s slow-witted comeback – “The Ripper Strikes Back” – was perceived by many in the Hip-Hop beltway as a threat to his crown and claim of lyrical superiority. Unbeknownst to Canibus, certain unspoken rules in Hip-Hop bear more weight than logic, reason, or fair play. The impossibility of an unknown rookie’s triumph over a veteran would mark the beginning and end of Canibus’ terrain in the mainstream of Hip-Hop artistry. Through the influence of Russell Simmons and Def Jam, Canibus would, soon after, feel the wrath of, in his own words, an industry which is “all about games.”

One thing Canibus has remained conscious of, throughout his career-span, is the toxic level of hypocrisy in the Hip-Hop industry. Canibus is convinced that his notoriety, despite arduous attempts to silence his critical voice, stems from a secret admiration of his intellect – shared by fans, artists, and Executives alike. Canibus has never shied away from expressing this sentiment in his albums:

“What happened between L and you, forget it/

People know you won the battle, they will never give you the credit/

A lot of people don't want to admit it/”

- Canibus, Bis vs. Rip, Mic Club: The Curriculum.

“Been in this rap game since ninety-six/

... I was never known for spitting a short-rhyme/

I'm known for my ill metaphors and lines/

And I'm inspired by that little voice inside/

That says, ‘keep a strong mind and don't compromise/’”

- Canibus, Mind Control, Mind Control.

“I was created by intelligent design/

You are merely a descendant of the unmodified/

You diss me out of pride/

But when you're finished talking about money and b***hes you're simply out of rhymes/

Even my worst album was sublime/

… I prefer modesty over controversy/

But what am I to do when these jerks keep bothering me/

Jealous because they can't rhyme like me/

And they never had a scientific mind like me/”

- Canibus, Levitibus, Rip the Jacker.

Suivre moi, the leadership is annoyed/

At lyrics the whole industry silently enjoyed/

I was taught my heart was my brain in my past life/

I was thrashed in a fight over my passion for the mic/

Risked the ultimate sacrifice to rhyme, asking Christ why? /

He replied; ‘Passions like mine have a price/’”

- Canibus, Magnum Innominandum, For Whom the Beat Tolls.

Beyond etherizing a legend, Canibus believes his greatest sin – and perhaps curse – to be his indubitable intellect. Canibus finds solace in this assertion, with mainstream Emcees, a la Nas, frequently lamenting the inescapable forces of anti-intellectualism in Hip-Hop music/culture. Nas, an admirer of Canibus’ indefatigable insight, has always seized every opportunity to bring critique to bear on Hip-Hop’s unfettered anti-intellectualism stance. In, Hip-Hop Is Dead (2006), Nas, who once compared Canibus to 2pac and B.I.G., stated: I can't sound smart, cuz ya'll run away.” Canibus, unlike his admirer, has never wavered from sounding “smart” on wax:

“Canibus is the ultimate executioner's dream/

Swinging the guillotine, cause whenever the head is severed/

From the human body with a sharp enough weapon/

The brain remains conscious for ten seconds/”

- Canibus, Buckingham Palace, Can-I-Bus.

“The energy grid network opened the gateway from Earth/

To any point in the universe/

Living organisms and various, geomagnetic gravitational, anomaly areas/

Space expedition teams in the lunar regions/

Reported seeing, decapyramids and tetrahedrons/”

- Canibus, Channel Zero, Can-I-Bus.

“Canibus is unequivocally the illest killing machine in the industry/

For the 20th century/

… Suffering from a severe illness called brilliance/”

- Canibus, The C-Quel, 2000 B.C.

“First rapper to speak over beats dogmatically/

Mixed with Elizabethan drama and tragedy/

… The following audio propagates the possible truth/

For proof I'm the illest, so the choice is not up to you/

See the standard ideological definition of a rap model/

It’s Canibus scholarly periodicals/

The article is substantially impressive, more than a message/

A working thesis from several different perspectives/

The Rosetta stone of sentences/”

- Canibus, Genabis, Rip the Jacker.

Though a skilled executor of intellectual discipline, Canibus – admittedly “self-absorbed” – is prone to, occasionally, flaunt his intelligence for all to see and share:

“Sometimes the road to the truth is so elusive, it's confusing/

And reality becomes illusion/

If I showed the masses where we was at or where we was going/

I'd shatter the social balance of the world as we know it/”

- Canibus, Channel Zero, Can-I-Bus.

“Moto atomic elements, with a deft intelligence/

The highest professorship, my English etiquette/

… I read one-fourth of the Library of Alexandria/”

- Canibus, Master Thesis, Mic Club: The Cirriculum.

“Forensic psychologist Samuel Dubious explains/

‘You'll probably never understand Germaine’ /

… I memorize the books that I read/

… Unbeseemingly a genius without meaning/

Try to visualize what Harry Houdini was feeling/”

- Canibus, Curriculum 101, Mic Club: The Cirriculum.

“Canibus hybrid, the cake icing of rhyminingness/

... Rhymes come from my higherness of wireless dialect/

Scientist on cyber speed design my specs/

Astral project, therein height in secs, chakras connect/

Doctors inspect what they can't possibly interpret yet/”

- Canibus, Poet Laureate, Mic Club: The Cirriculum.

As a diligent student of Greek heritage, Canibus has liberally incorporated the Socratic tradition of questioning into his art-form:

“… The holy script from Genesis 1-26/

Says, ‘Let us make man in our image under our likeness’ /

First of all, who’s THEY?

You see if God was truly a single entity, that's not what he would say/”

- Canibus, Channel Zero, Can-I-Bus.

“Now if you take a glass of water then add two cubes of ice/

You should see the cup’s water level slightly rise, right? /

… If you remove every living animal out of the sea/

Then wouldn't the world's ocean water level decrease? /

This means the planet wasn't three-quarters water/”

- Canibus, Nigganometry, Can-I-Bus.

It is in this vein that a deep-thinker, like Canibus, is forced to confront the ghosts of regret and contemplation. The gift of Canibus lies in his unfiltered transparency – even in instances of intense pain and emotional strain. Canibus has continually reflected on how radically different his career might have panned-out, if only he never battled LL, or fused art with academia. Canibus has never held back in casting his burdens on the waters of melancholy and self-blame:

“They punctured me through my side, the bleeding was cauterized/

… I fell off the ocean liner, someone throw me a line/

Let the world know the truth, but it became my demise/

… Sometimes I feel like killing myself, they've stolen my shine/

I wanted to be the illest for a moment in time/

From the ink to my pen, to my pad, to the ink in my arm/

How can one diss song possibly last this long?/”

- Canibus, Showtime at the Gallow, Rip the Jacker.

“I been through a lot of things in my life but I learned from it/

Put yourself in my shoes, don’t I deserve something? /

… Rip the Jacker’s images is unblemished/

Come on I wouldn’t bite you I look at you like my dentist/

I thought you was number one recommended, why you offended? /

Hip hop ain’t your property, you ain’t the only tenant/”

- Canibus, I Gotta Story 2 Tell, ‘C’ True Hollywood Stories.

“On the seventh cycle, I had to take the day off/

I was exhausted I guessed my work will never pay off/

But if it happened it to him, it could happen to me/

And if it happened to me, it was destined to be/”

- Canibus, Genabis, Rip the Jacker.

“I was hyped; he told me that every word I recite/

Symbolically represents the whole world's kryptonite/

... I ain’t the same Canibus I was/

But I still get busy ‘cause that's what Canibus does/

… I stand with my men, looking at the flag draped coffins again/

Crying, justifying what I did/

There's no excuse, cause nobody will ever know the truth/

I will never get over the abuse…”

- Canibus, Magnum Innominandum, For Whom the Beat Tolls.

Canibus’ brutal honesty with his fans has earned him a faction of devoted listeners/students. Over the years, Canibus has always been forthright about the pain and acrimony felt, from alienation in the Hip-Hop industry:

“Public humiliation was the worst pain/

He was spinning out of control like a class 5 hurricane/

He said he wouldn't want another MC to suffer the same/

Especially when there’s nothing to gain/

He was the illest alive, but nobody would face it/

He spit till his tongue was too torched to taste it/”

- Canibus, Poet Laureate II, Rip the Jacker.

“… You tried to curse me ‘cause I took yours/

… I walk where no man dares/

So the world could share one man's fair/

… The industry could not stop my career/”

- Canibus, For Whom the Beat Tolls, For Whom the Beat Tolls.

Canibus has, undoubtedly, felt the stinging lash of Hip-Hop politics more than any other artist in the Hip-Hop game. As a result, he has, more than once, expressed a desire to leave the Hip-Hop industry behind, and dive into a more appreciable field of intellectual contribution. Thankfully, his fans have consistently labored emphatically to impede the fruition of that plan:

“I should leave this rap sh** alone/

And kick my incredible rhymes in the privacy of my own home/

My imagination is my own/

The liberty to speak freely, lyrically on the microphone/

… Trying to escape the wicked empire of Def Jam/ 

In the land where lyrics are bland and heretics hang/

Every warrior has an axe to bury/

But he has to learn to discern between enemy and adversary/

I said to myself, ‘Germaine this is insane’ /

It’s suicide, it’s controlled flight into terrain/

I fought to regain, control of the plane, but went up in a ball of flames/

And got banned from the hip-hop hall of fame/

For two bars I kept hearing in my head/

Over and over again, it cost me everything/”

- Canibus, Poet Laureate II, Rip the Jacker.

“Once a upon a midnight dreary/

Being blackballed by the music industry prepared me/

In the past, albums were made, put on the shelf/

I was never paid or given the wealth/

Who can I blame but myself? .../

… My only grievance is I never be the same again/

Never be able to rhyme like it was ‘98 again/

I'm so ashamed I'm depressed; I don't know what I could say to them/

So I made this mixtape for them/

… This is Father Author, Poor Pauper’s last recording/”

- Canibus, Father Author, Poor Pauper; For Whom the Beat Tolls.

It is a tragedy of sorts, when an artist like Canibus is unwelcomed, or underappreciated, among Hip-Hop’s fan-base. It’s no secret that lyricism, in Hip-Hop, is at the brink of extinction. More tragic, is the reality that virtually no other force within the Hip-Hop community has successfully accrued the same level of intellectual curiosity that makes Canibus distinct – and perhaps endangered. A few have come close, but Canibus remains in a territory of his own. Canibus’ unpopularity is likeable to that of philosophy patriarch, Socrates. Similar to the Greek philosopher, Canibus can as well proclaim to be “fairly certain that this plain speaking [parrhesia] of mine is the cause of my unpopularity.” Canibus begs a question most wouldn’t dare ask: Is any figure in the Hip-Hop community infallible, or unworthy of critical scrutiny? If that’s the case, as it seems to be, one can only mourn the inevitable collapse of our beloved culture. Canibus’ humanity, dignity and intellectuality have never been fairly examined and engaged profoundly. It is my fear that the new generation springing up might never be exposed to the ingenuity of this grand-philosopher. Nevertheless, Canibus, with great humility, has always stretched forth an arm of salvation to those willing to hearken to his timely warnings:

“A wise man sees failure as progress/

A fool divorces his knowledge and misses the logic/

And loses his soul in the process/

Obsessed with nonsense; with a caricature that has no content/”

Canibus, Poet Laureate II, Rip the Jacker.


YSPH1 said...


Sad... but Nice!

Who KNows.. 2009 is RIGHt Around the Corner!!


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


kris zal said...

great read, im a avid canibus fan and am constantly attempting to expose as many people as possible to his music/art i really hope that the future generation are able to listen to his work.

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