I used to work with an African-American doctor who had gone to school at a cow town in Northern California. She described watching “In Living Color” with her dorm mates, most of whom were white agriculture students. She said that it made her uncomfortable, because the show was black people making fun of black people. Her white dorm mates seemed to be laughing at the cast instead of with them.
I feel the same way listening to Staten Island rapper NYOil. NYOil is music made by an African-American for an African-American audience. This mixtape offers a 22 songs that criticize the worst elements of African-American culture. It’s an airing of dirty laundry that is necessary, but uncomfortable for an outsider (ie. this white reviewer) to witness. NYOil exposing and viciously calling out the worst elements and aspects of his culture, and it would be easy for an outsider to take that as criticism of the culture as a whole.
NYOil has come a long way since his name meant “New York’s Original International Lover.” In the process, he has transformed himself into a provocateur and critic of hip-hop in particular, and African-American culture in general. He’s not afraid to call African-Americans out on the things they are doing wrong, and he is merciless to rappers that he feels are presenting a negative image of African-American culture. There’s a lot at stake for NYOil: even with a black man in the White House, African-Americans still have disproportionately higher rates of poverty, incarceration, and death by violence than the rest of the country as a whole. African-Americans have higher high school drop out rates and lower levels of wealth than the rest of the country as well. They still face pervasive racism, and have been caught up in lifestyles, institutions, practices, and beliefs that impede their progress and keep them down. Some sociologists point to the systemic and historic roots in the struggles African-Americans face; NYOil is all about tough love, yelling at his people to shape up. NYOil’s response is to go off, and go off hard.
(As as side note, it dawned on me while listening to this album that another privilege of being white is that you are not automatically associated with or made to answer for the stupid, ignorant things that other white people do. When a white man shoots a congresswoman, no one interviews a prominent white person to see what this means about white people. I’m not asked to answer for Glenn Beck, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, or any other example of white people behaving badly, nor do I feel like their actions reflect on me badly as a person.)
The name NYOil is probably familiar to RapReviews readers for one reason: “Y’All Should Get Lynched,” a 2006 song calling out a long list of rappers that NYOil thought were doing his people wrong, rapping “Malcom X died so you can act like this?” It was a provocative, bold, and controversial song, so much so that YouTube censored the video quickly after it was posted.
“Y’All Should Get Lynched” appears here, along with 21 other tracks. On “Dumbass,” he criticizes drug dealers, pointing out that they would make more money working construction. He criticizes other cultures that have appropriated hip-hop on “What’s Up, My Wigga?” “The Difference,” riffs on a Chris Rock standup routine, setting a distinction between African-Americans and what he calls niggas. He even criticizes himself for not helping African-American women be all they can be on “You’re A Queen.”
This mixtape features the songs from the “9 Wonders” EP, plus some tracks from “Hood Treason” and some exclusives. The music is solid throughout, and NYOil is at good at presenting his message via hip-hop as he is in crafting it. His delivery reminds me of KRS-One and Chuck D, rappers who channeled their anger towards empowering their people, and who thought that knowledge and education were worth more than swagger.
This mixtape came out in 2008, so I’m not entirely sure why it showed up on my doorstep to review in 2011. NYOil’s Ning website is inactive, and I’m not sure if he has anything in the pipeline. DJ Trackstar, who mixed this tape, continues to put out mixtapes and collaborate with NYOil, so at the very least his website is worth visiting. Whatever reason this was sent to me, I’m glad it did: it was my first introduction to a man who is a powerful rapper with a powerful message. NYOil questions a lot of practices in hip-hop and the world that shouldn’t get a pass. For all his provocation, it comes from a love of his people and a desire for a better future. Hip-hop fans who feel that the cultures has gone too far in embracing hedonism, ignorance, and violence should give NYOil a listen. He’s mad as hell, and he isn’t going to take it anymore.