My two favourite musical genres are Country and Hip Hop. I’ve always maintained that this makes perfect sense. They’re actually enormously similar. As I prefer them, they both tend to be lyrically driven, storytelling genres. They have been the music of choice for people struggling for a voice. And as a result they’ve given us the best ‘protest’ songs (as well, unfortunately, as some painfully well-known novelty acts, which might just undermine my point a little).
Anyway, someone asked me the other day what my favourite albums are. I go for De La Soul’s, Three Feet High and Rising at number one, followed by John Prine’s eponymous album at number two. Both were debut albums and both were probably best known for songs that dealt with drug addiction. John Prine produced his in 1969, while De La Soul produced theirs in 1989, so while both touched on it in the language of their time, both also did it in such a way that the language was pretty timeless.
John Prine’s, Sam Stone tells the story of a Vietnam Vet who returns to his family with a morphine addiction, his battle captured perfectly in the line ‘there’s a hole in Daddy’s arm, where all the money goes. Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose’.
De La Soul’s, Say No Go describes a drug-addicted mother giving birth to a baby that’s ‘brought into a world of pits, and if it could’ve talked that soon in the delivery room, it would’ve asked the nurse for a hit’.
Both were dealing with a subject (or at least using an example) that certainly wasn’t being tackled in mainstream music. Bob Dylan famously never wrote a song about Vietnam and De La Soul certainly ran counter to the prevailing glorification of drug taking. Same subject, different voice but an enormous amount in common.
Nathan Rabin does an infinitely better job of exploring this than me. He’s a hip-hop writer for A.V Club who decided to spend a year listening to nothing but country music. He’s written a great series of articles that are here.