On Stratigraphic Geology, Swedish hip hop and life itself
Life is like a geological column. Although the flow of time is smooth and continuous, it can often be useful to view it as a sequence of distinct stages with their own defining characteristics. Geologists characterize their stages or zones by referring to so-called index fossils. These are remains of organisms that are found uniquely in a particular zone, alternatively in unusually high abundances.
This hypothetical geological column serves as an example of this This column represents a sediment core from a lake / bog, and the fossils are the most abundant plant fragments in each stage or zone. In the figure, we get four zones based on four distinct communities of plants: zone I, III and IV are distinct ecosystem types, whereas zone II is a transitional zone between zones I and III. If any botanically inclined people read this, you can probably reconstruct the palaeoenvironment of the area from which the sediment core originates; this is however only tangential to the main story here.
Index fossils can be plants, as in my example, but more often they are shell-forming microalgae and protozoa such as diatoms, foraminiferans and radiolarians. For longer periods of time more slowly evolving animals such as trilobites, molluscs, conodonts or even vertebrates are chosen.
In my life, the stages are not defined by animals. Since I have always been interested in animals, they are an ever-present factor that is not useful in distinguishing between the stages of my life. Instead, the «index fossils» here are of a musical nature – my life stages are characterized by the main albums and/or artists that I listen to during one particular stage.
One of the characteristic «index fossils» in my life is The Struggle Continues, an LP which was released by the Swedish rap group Looptroop in 2002. The album defines the latter half of my revolutionary socialist period, the period in which I also started understanding hip-hop music. More generally the album is notable as the beginning of the Looptroop we have today; with its sofisticated layered samples and its topical duality. Previous efforts from the crew (notably A modern day city Symphony (2000) and Promoe’s 2001 solo album Government Music) concentrated on socialist and anarchist political themes, with large doses of aggression towards politicians, policemen, capitalists and the mainstream media. The Struggle Continues introduced a second theme; namely the importance of love and affection.
When The Struggle Continues first came out, I enjoyed the political songs the most. After all, I was a revolutionary socialist at the time. I wanted to kill the rich and redistribute the wealth for the good of all mankind, and therefore chose the most confrontational and hard songs as my primary listening material. Thus, I spent hours headbanging to the subtle, yet dynamic EmBee beat of «Looptroopland»; annoying fellow bus passengers with the staccato cello sample in «Get ready» and discussing the intertextual references in «Fruits of Babylon» with my father.
When I listen to songs from that album today, however, a very different picture emerges. In recent years I have almost exclusively listened to the emotionally strong-laden narratives of what I’ll call the Love triangle. These are three to four songs that are thematically connected and all consider mankind’s yearning for love, affection and intimacy. «Looking for love» features the group’s primary lyricist Promoe telling the stories of two alienated urban youths meeting and connecting on a night train (its reprise «Still looking» has an alternate verse by CosM.I.C). In «Fly away» the entire group talks about leaving loved ones behind, either temporary for going on tour or permanently; breaking up with someone. The song that I currently consider the highlight of the entire album, however, is Promoe’s second solo effort «Bandit Queen».
This song features a 26 years old Promoe listing the characteristics of the woman of his dreams over a well-knit collage of jazz and classical samples with a strong hip-hop drumbeat. This special someone is an independent, confident, liberated girl with a need for music and sex and a desire to live her life in freedom and love; she is the person Promoe wants to spend his life with before, during and after the revolution. The song has been criticized by some for only replacing one set of unrealistic women’s ideals with another. However, the ideals aren’t meant to be universal – Promoe needs one woman only, who chooses to be his woman out of choice rather than neccessity. Also, her beauty is one of her own, rather than one defined by the parameters of mainstream culture. I see the song as a feminist manifesto as written from the viewpoint of a strong alpha male desiring the new freedom of the feminized society.
The revolutionary songs, on the other hand, are not as relevant today as they used to be. Most of them are still good pieces of hip hop craftmanship, but my appreciation of them as songs has dwindled with my enthusiasm for the revolution. Today my revolutionary views have been diluted into the boring liberal social democracy almost everybody in Norway believes in; I now consider the existing framework of democracy to be sufficient for making a decent society for everybody. The aggression towards authorities that the teenage me used to love now seems misplaced; why don’t the kids use this energy on something constructive or beautiful? Why should you be angry when you can feel beauty? Solidarity? Love?
For determining the scores in this match, time will be my judge. Since the three love-themed songs on The Struggle Continues stay relevant in my life and the many revolutionary ones do not, love wins with 3 points. I’ll give the revolution one point, though, for the one song that binds the love and the revolutionary themes together – the title track «The Struggle Continues», which is about connecting with other people through music and love. Over a mellow guitar sample from Bo Kaspers Orkester, the three rappers rhyme about the stress of modern society, the strength we get from experience and music, and the importance to work together for a better future for everybody.
This is a message I still can endorse.