Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Haystak - Portrait of a White Boy (2004)

Being 2019, I would hope we've all got over the thing with white rappers. I recall a few crackers of my unfortunate acquaintance getting a bit sniffy, or giggling and exclaiming yo whilst ironically twisting their fingers into funny shapes, apparently feeling somehow qualified to comment upon the legitimacy of an artist working in a genre with which they themselves were almost entirely unfamiliar, excepting the obligatory observation of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back probably being the greatest rap album of all time, in my humble opinion. I listened to it today just to be sure, and it really isn't, besides which, no-one who wasn't a massive arsehole ever used the expression in my humble opinion.
Back in 2002, certain sectors of the actual rap biz, were themselves getting distinctly sniffy about white people in rap, which came to a head when the Source magazine campaigned for the abolition of Eminem. Whilst there are all sorts of reasons why Eminem was never quite so amazing as everyone seemed to think, the Source was driving like a wanker and ended up shooting itself in the foot over the whole thing for no good reason; and even Haystak - an innocent bystander if ever there was - found himself called out because people who write rap magazines are fucking idiots. For what it's worth, he hit back on Red Light.

Bitch, I ain't no redneck, they hear my shit and condemn it,
Vibe damn near called me a racial supremacist,
Like I'm a skinhead, a mother fucking Aryan.
I'll tell you what I ain't, I ain't no fucking vegetarian.

Red Light is from Portrait of a White Boy, which probably isn't even his best album, but it's up there, and it's the one that got itself stuck inside my CD player this month. As with most of Haystak's back catalogue, it renders any objection one may have regarding white rappers redundant because he's the genuine article. Of course, he talks about being white, but not as a gimmick and certainly not from any weird reactionary angle, but because he endures life at the bottom of the economic totem pole, down where class and race amount to pretty much the same end of the shitty stick; and what distinguishes Haystak from so many of his contemporaries is that he isn't even trying to work that whole white trash angle. Rather he just gets the fuck on with it, talking about getting by, sharing what he's learned, and striving to make something good out of not very much.

Haystak never went in for lyrical backflips, but his flow comes easily, or sounds like it comes easily. He's witty, and funny without having to crack jokes, and his testimony hits hard with a crushing weight that characterises the true greats of rap; and because I don't seem to be able to write about this one without coming across like a teacher writing out an end of term report for a particularly promising pupil, let's just say that Haystak is what the blues sound like in the twenty-first century - still stuck on some southern porch, trying hard not to be broke as fuck, and the twang and slide of Nashville, Mississippi and other places can still be heard woven into the more recent crunch and boom of that sound you don't ever want to hear coming from the vehicle which just pulled up as you're walking along, minding your own business.

I wouldn't say Haystak is the white Tupac, but mainly because such comparisons are fucking stupid, and I'm not even sure Tupac was the black Tupac; but Haystak is one of the greats - top ten, possibly five, with not a poor album to his name, and Portrait of a White Boy transcends all possible objections which could ever be raised by anyone who ever held a humble opinion.

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