Is gangsta rap finally on the wane? Nelly, N.E.R.D., and others are infusing the genre with fun instead of violence and misogyny, says Tom Sinclair

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Nelly, Kelly Rowland, ...
Credit: Rowland & Nelly: Maury Phillips/WireImage.com

Is gangsta rap finally on the wane?

Did anyone out there catch the recent episode of ”Curb Your Enthusiasm” that featured a fictional gangsta rapper named Krazee-Eyez Killah? Not only was it one of the funniest half hours of television I’ve seen in recent years, it was a merciless skewering of the whole gangsta mentality that’s infected hip-hop for more than a decade.

It was brilliant parody, but it got me thinking about how many real gangsta rappers are only a hair’s-breadth away from actually BEING Krazee-Eyez Killah. Gangsta archetypes from the Geto Boys to C-Murder, with their over-the-top talk of violence and misogynistic sex, have always seemed like cartoons. The problem arises when some knuckleheaded fans, concerned with being ”hard,” take them at face value, attempting to emulate the absurd fantasies they spew.

Which is why it’s sort of nice to note that gangsta-ism seems to be fading. Master P’s once hot No Limit label has grown strangely quiet, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard is stewing in jail. Look around, and you’ll notice that new dimensions in hip-hop are starting to develop.

Nelly, whose ”Nellyville” is one of the year’s biggest albums, exudes a sense of freewheeling fun in his music, keeping the tough talk to a minimum. A newly clean-and-sober Snoop Dogg is talking about widening his lyrical parameters to reflect his new lifestyle. Progressive-thinking bands like Jurassic 5 and the Roots are more concerned with hitting you with a dynamite beat than hitting you with a beat-down. And N.E.R.D.’s ”In Search Of…” album manages to sound bold and inventive without resorting to fantasies of murder and mayhem.

Concurrently, the recent movie ”Brown Sugar” has inspired lots of folks to look back to the earlier, more innocent days of hip-hop, before talk of guns and hos became de rigueur. People are digging out their old Fat Boys and Whodini albums, reinvestigating the music’s roots.

Suddenly, LL Cool J — who recently released his tenth album, ”10” — seems like a hero, a family man who has sustained a career without pandering to the so-called ”hard” crowd. Sadly, the spectre of Jam Master Jay’s recent murder has added a tragic tinge to all the nostalgia. At least, if nothing else, the senselessness of his death (over a purported drug dispute, according to police) ought to serve as a warning to anyone who thinks living on the edge or playing with guns is romantic.

Hip-hop is an extremely fluid musical form that’s been constantly reinventing itself for more than two decades. I believe that one day, when the history of rap is written, the gangsta era will be viewed as a passing pathological phase. Now that the criminal mind-set is losing vogue, I’m anxious to hear what’s next.

What do you think? Is gangsta rap dying out?

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