Lost within the widespread dismissal of hip-hop as a genre in much of the media and elsewhere - the entire 'is rap music' debate; let alone all the constant aggro about the sexism, machismo in the videos etc - is a) the diversity of the emcees b) the humour.
Who better then the be put forward in counter-attack than ODB (Ol' Dirty Bastard) who became famous as part of the Wu-Tang Clan, back in the 90s. Now held up as a kind of icon of the bygone era, ODB outsmarted, outshone all competitors in any context.
One of the reasons why lots of people who don't normally listen to hip-hop say, yeah I like that stuff from the 90s, I think is because it's often funny; with all that word-play, it's easy to like and most of the time not too threatening. (Now that comment isn't meant to be too sarcastic, too critical, it's just sometimes I don't understand how people can go on and on and on about how great the 90s hip-hop was, but show no interest in anything since: it would be the same as if someone rattled on about 90s Britpop and never listened to Radiohead, or something).
But what's glorious about ODB for me is that he embodies both the humour - he's hilarious by any standard - but also the hip-hop strange. He's really funny, but far from cuddly .....
'Raw Hide' - feat. Method Man and Raekwon from ODB's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995) is an American classic, maybe even a true masterpiece. Taking as an incidental (almost) starting-point the quintessential trope of White (cowboy) Americana, the Rawhide TV series that starred Clint Eastwood and ran from 1959-1965, this track is messy and smart, but above all it's angry.
And all that intensity is carried by ODB's words and delivery:
This rhyme is really clever the way it builds at the end via all the rhymes/half-rhymes doubling up in the middle of the sentences (comin'/goblin/gettin') and at the end as well (runnin'/heroin/lambskin/insulin/somethin') as a way to bring it to a close while making explicit the internal logic of it all.
Here, ODB is taking on the persona of a 'devil' - a monster; playing around with the notion of the Scary Black Male that is used to justify white racist violence in the US against African-American men, whether it is by police in uniform or concerned citizens 'standing their ground'.
Monsters are a recurring theme in hip-hop; running from Big L to Ice T's revenge fantasies to the eccentric pop-culture reveries of MF Doom and Ghostface Killah's Twelve Reasons to Die project from 2013 with its slasher-gore pix of a white woman 'defiled' by a man in a mask.
More recently, Joey Badass has revived the notion in his track 'No.99' where the monster-figure fights against 'the supremacy' (amid the background brouhaha of tabloid news) ...