Ice Cube. Dr Dre. Eazy E. Snoop Dogg. KRS-One.
Thomas Keller. Alice Waters. Jeremiah Tower. Narsai David. Paul Bertolli.
Each profoundly influential. Each a genius in his or her own right.
Each blazing new trails by reinventing how they used the tools that were already in front of them.
Each using their fame and reputation to support dozens of far less talented artists on their coattails.
Each responsible for spawning a generation of mediocrity behind them.
Gangsta rap and California Cuisine share far more than just being popular with rich white people. Their basic shared tenets blur the boundaries between food and music, dancing and eating, beats and beets.
What are those tenets?
1. Simplicity is Key
What makes an excellent gangsta rap tune? A g-funk era landmark? A simple heavy beat. Catchy, repetitive synth hooks. Maybe a few simple vocal samples. And dope, dope rhymes. No flourishes. No guitar heroics. No multi-octave diva arias. No double bass pedal thirtysecond-note sextuplets. There’s nothing to it that makes you think you should like it. It’s not Dvorak or Mahler for chrissakes. Yet somehow some way gangsta rap still comes up with funky ass shit like every single day.
The same holds true with California Cuisine. Chefs aren’t flambe-ing tableside, stuffing turkeys inside sardines, or serving domes of flavored air over tapioca pearls. I mean, some chefs are, but not California Cuisine chefs. That would be inappropriate. Transcendent California Cuisine is perfect organic seasonal ingredients cooked flawlessly. There’s no reason for the food to be s0 damn good, other than from the culinary gestalt of perfect ingredients assembled perfectly.
Just as there’s no reason that an old Parliament baseline, some high sine wave synth sounds, and flows about gats, weed, and bitches should be good, other than that same gestalt.
2. Careful Selection
Just as our California Cuisine chefs pick their produce for its peak of seasonality and freshness, so too do the top producers of gangsta rap select their bass lines, beats, and synth hooks. There’s nothing in theory difficult about deciding to cook with kale. But what kale? From where? When is kale at its absolute best? The producer makes the same decision–this sample of a breathy oversexed woman is great, but where should it be used? When can it be inserted into a song for its peak effect? Probably right after the rapper says “bi-otch.”
3. Passion and Purity of Motive
One of the reasons California Cuisine works is because the chef is committed to the ideals of the movement. Seasonality. Locality. Simplicity. When one of these tenets is compromised, the whole effect slips away. Gangsta rap came out of the frustration and rage felt by a generation of black men living in the ghetto. California Cuisine came out of a desire to eat more simply and deliciously. Gangsta rap had the crack epidemic of the 1980’s, California Cuisine had the fuel crisis of the late 1970’s.
But as gangsta rappers become wealthier it’s hard to take them seriously. Instead, hip hop now is about going dumb, bringing sexy back, and getting between you and dat booty. Hearing Ice Cube in 1990 when he was a pissed off 20 year-old is a helluva lot more compelling than hearing Ice Cube trying to be pissed off now that he’s a multi-multi-multi millionaire who makes family road trip comedies. Most prominent artists from the gangsta rap era who are still recording have moved on into slightly different genres.
And as California Cuisine becomes accepted fact for most restaurants–that the idea of using fresh local seasonal ingredients is de rigeur–I’m no longer impressed. Now you’re just doing it because you’re supposed to, not because you really believe in the tenets of sustainability. It’s time to forge new ground. Build on that very sturdy foundation and move forward. Stop being a multi-millionaire still rapping about the ‘hood.
California Cuisine needs to stop being gangsta and find its hyphy.
DISCLAIMER: The author understands that he is conflating several related genres of hip-hop. The author also acknowledges that logical gaps that exist in his argument. The author understands that he is exaggerating for comic effect and/or entertainment factor. The author makes no claims at being an expert in either hip-hop or California Cuisine. For entertainment purposes only. The author assumes no responsibility for actions taken either directly or indirectly as a result of reading his words. The author encourages all diners to think critically and come to their own conclusions about dining. The author thanks you for your readership.