Kalo, a Madison artist who creates hip-hop with a street flavor, recently teamed up with another local hip-hop favorite, DLO, known to some as one of the emcees from dumate and to others for 10-plus years of writing solo rhymes here in town. Their collaboration led to "AmeriKKKan Idol," a song that's got both a soul and an edge, a message and a bit of attitude, even though the name of the 2007 album it can be found on -- Brew World Order -- sounds a bit like a beer festival.
Instead of celebrating porters and ales, though, the duo take on something far less palatable: the greediest and most homogenizing forces of the mainstream record industry.
At first glance, the title of the song may seem like just another deliberate misspelling to illustrate that hip-hop's trying to stick it to the man. However, the trio of k's seems to be a reference to the KKK responsible for lynchings, church burnings and other forms of unspeakable hatred.
The gist is that the folks behind the cash cow known as American Idol, with its two nights per week of prime-time TV, a nationwide tour, and tons upon tons ads and merchandise, perpetrates hate by promoting greed, consumption and a false sense of what it means to be creative.
As one rhyme reads, it's a game of "marketing teams [that] come up with marketing schemes to sell American dreams to children and teens," not a competition of true creative talent or individuality. During each episode, there's a gnawing sense that something about the "democratic" process of voting for pop music's next big thing is actually quite autocratic: a junta of record company execs guessing at what will make them the most money and pulling lots of strings to make it all happen in a way that seems natural and -- you guessed it -- chosen by the audience. After all, it is reality television.
Starting off with what sounds like the introduction to a skit, the song quickly blasts into a call to "elaborate on the current state of hip-hop" and a reminder to Nas -- and everyone else -- that "hip-hop ain't dead … it just needs CPR."
And while "AmeriKKKan Idol" quickly takes aim at Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell -- and particularly how the program doesn't even consider rap a form of music -- it's also a statement about hip-hop's troubles of late in Madison.
"The song is a direct response to the negative connotations placed on hip-hop. We felt hip-hop was and is being blamed for everything, from the war in Iraq to the recession," Kalo says. "Fights, violence and undermining law enforcement happens at every venue, for every genre of music, but you never hear 'Oh, a fight broke out at the Top-40 venue.'"
In addition to being a fan favorite on Brew World Order, the song's made quite an impact at live shows. People literally can't seem to get enough of it, Kalo says, most likely because it's music about real life, not a pale imitation of it.
"When performed the song in Madison, one guy did not want us to leave the stage, and at The Rave in Milwaukee, opening for Snoop Dogg, when the music stopped, we had thousands of people yelling 'hip-hop, hip-hop,'" he recalls. "I think that was the most moving thing for me as an artist because it made me realize people still respect the art form and will stand up for it." That's something worth defending, even if it's not filling the pockets of the rich and the heads of preteens.