THE PARISIAN DJ CAM once declared that "hiphop is the most beautiful music in the world." Now if we overlook the fact that DJ Cam is French, and so is expected to make such sweeping statements about what is and is not beautiful, we will discern the validity of his bold claim. Hiphop has always aspired to the condition of beauty; even in the most raw and rough of cuts (Ol' Dirty Bastard, Mobb Deep) there's always to be found one or two diamonds that surrender everything to beauty.

But the aesthetic aspects of the form are rarely discussed, announced, or celebrated. For example, when the hiphop philosopher KRS-1 was recently commissioned by Harvard University to determine the specific "elements of hiphop," he concluded that above the usual four (breakdancing, graffiti, scratching, rapping) were five more (hustling, clothes, economics, politics, street smarts). As expected, KRS-1 said nothing of the aesthetics of the form, as if the music's desire to dazzle the senses was entirely irrelevant to the "elements."

However, in the groundbreaking book Black Noise (the only decent scholarly work on hiphop culture, whose title brilliantly recalls the famous definition of jazz in Ernest Weekey's An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English: "A number of niggers surrounded by noise"), the culture critic Tricia Rose did point out that above all of hiphop's economic, territorial, identity, and race concerns, the genre was ultimately about circulating pleasure. And in a heady moment, she went as far as to suggest that the purpose of circulating this pleasure was to ameliorate the harsh realities of living in the ghetto. This is the closest we have in print to an aesthetic appraisal of hiphop. But after determining that hiphop is about pleasure, what then makes it pleasurable? Or if we go a little further, what makes it beautiful?

That's a question asked by DJ Cam's 1997 album, Mad Blunted Jazz, basically a tone essay (in the sense of a tone poem) that attempts to determine why and how hiphop is beautiful. To do this, Cam manages to locate the sources of hiphop beauty: the sudden ruptures, the appearance and disappearance of piano, trumpet, and sax fragments, the layers of vague vibes and cuts, and the electric pulses in the distance, glowing like "harbor lights."

DJ Cam's study then concludes, in a track called "Pure Pleasure," that hiphop is beautiful because it captures the beauty of the city. (When the Swiss architect Le Corbusier first saw New York City in 1945 from an approaching commercial liner, he exclaimed, "It is hot -- jazz in stone!" When I first saw it 45 years later, as the jumbo jet prepared to land, I thought, "Hiphop in glass and steel.")

The other reason why hiphop is beautiful is that it collects, in one moment, fragments from other beautiful moments in recorded history. At its most extreme or intense, hiphop is a high concentration of beautiful moments; this is why Mad Blunted Jazz is so exquisite. All in all, DJ Cam's is the only hiphop effort solely preoccupied with the aesthetics of the form.

There haven't been rap artists who committed all their creative energy to the exploration of the pleasures and beauty of hiphop. The only one who comes close to this is Slick Rick.

Born in England, raised in the Bronx, MC Ricky D arrived in 1985 with "The Show," and three years later came out with a brilliant solo effort called The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. His voice is beauty itself: a lazy, aristocratic, androgynous, bored, sing-song voice, caught in the twilight between laughing and falling asleep -- so beautiful that, like the vague vibes or the fugitive piano loop, it is an essential component of hiphop aesthetics.

Oh, how wonderful it would be if Slick Rick only rapped about beautiful and useless things (the gold in his mouth, drinking Moët in a stretch limousine). But this is only a dream; we have yet to produce a rapper who is committed to the aesthetic aspects of hiphop: a Debussy, a Bryan Ferry, or a Billy Strayhorn of the form, which is rather shocking when one considers that it is "the most beautiful music in the world."

Support The Stranger