Son House of Pain

White rapper Everlast gets in touch with the raw roots of black blues

But the clincher is the closer, "Graves to Dig," a chilly threnody marked by a tense restraint that plunges into the existential dread of the blues. This, while so many of the tributes to dead homies that other artists (yes, black artists) churn out rely on the soppiest, tears-in-your-40 sentimentality. Whether it expresses heartbroken resignation or stark defiance, the language of hip hop has become one of amped-up emotion, unmoored from the more considered and tempered qualities of older African-American musics such as blues or soul. Even a heady guy like Mos Def has a hard time wriggling out of those tonal constraints.

Everlast's ability to ease his way across genres, to borrow the emotional tenor of a genre without being consumed by it, might be a white man's privilege--kind of like my own freedom to use dis and paradigm in the same sentence. I'd love to hear a black MC make a record as supple and relaxed as Eat at Whitey's. Then again, given the narrow programming of urban radio and the cowardice of older white music fans, I wonder how many people would hear it at all.

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