Look, I don’t “like” to “confront certain moral deficiencies in rap,” I think it’s my duty, especially because I’m a white rap critic who at this point, makes a (very modest) living off of this stuff and is ostensibly looking at it from the outside in (notice that my perspective on these issues as my audience has widened has shifted).
And because of this position I have as a white rap critic, I feel like I have more of a responsibility to be honest about my perspective (which I’d say is pretty firmly on the side of sane human beings trying their hardest to be halfway decent to one another and nothing more, an attitude that totally isn’t owned by let alone exemplified by nerdy white dudes) and not fucking tap dance around this shit and play this phony condescending white liberal thing that’s just rides the “who am I to judge” angle to side step looking at the music as anything more than cool or not cool sounds interacting for three minutes. This is what a lot of my white boy rap critic peers prefer to do and then they hide behind words like “art” to ignore all of the social and political elements of this “art,” which to me seems like kinda giving hip-hop as a genre the shaft and reducing it to only aesthetics when all art, but especially post-positivist stuff like hip-hop cannot be reduced to aesthetics only.
If you think the issue with rap criticism is that there are too many white kids like me occasionally injecting some moralizing into their writing, you need to stop reading the same circle of blogs or whatever, because there are way more white writers who don’t ever consider any of this stuff and choose to creepily, cluelessly fetishize criminal behavior in rap music.
Additionally, I’m not one of these guys running around yelling about how rap is all evil or bad or all hateful nonsense and so, you’re really mischaracterizing what I’m doing. Mostly, I’m touching those moments when the wrongheaded values that are a part of hip-hop pop up and seem to big to ignore. And, I acknowledge the reasons why these values (sexism, homophobia, capitalism) exist and persist and certainly trace their origins in the United States. So again, I’m not just some guy saying “rappers stop talking about dealing drugs!” I’d also say you’d have more of a point here if I was someone who wasn’t bringing up these issues when I review others genres of music or other types of art. On top of that, I operate on a case-by-case basis that generally tries to consider what this rap junk is trying to do or say and where it succeeds and how.
So, Rick Ross stinks when he does his street rap madlibs game because it’s strewn together struggle rap nonsense that panders but he’s great at touching cornball stuff like “Here I Am” because it feels lived in and honest and it finds him bending all of his goofy moronic bombast towards big emotions worth celebrating. Freddie Gibbs seems like a pretty hateful and angry dude, but his work explores that and wrestles with it and what makes his work (especially Pinata) so amazing is how he creates this construct in which honesty (the “my balls and my word” tradition) is exemplified by his refusal to feel guilty for things. He is a markedly consistent shithead. Gucci Mane was great at just stacking words on top of one another in really expressive ways and the added bonus to it was the way you’d get these glimmers of insight or honesty through all the lyrical games-playing. It was a kind of minimalism which made every joke or aside or confession all the more powerful. He stinks now because his skills have dry-rotted and thinks anybody ever cared about his “street cred.”
You’re right to bristle at my perspective a little bit but that’s because I’m just kind of conservative (with a lowercase c!) when it comes to these issues. Some of my writing heroes are guys like Stanley Crouch and Ralph Ellison and other guys who really stress personal accountability and I follow their lead. I don’t fault anybody who deals drugs, because it makes a lot of sense. But I also don’t think that because I know why people do it or have to do it, that it makes their actions beyond comment or critique.
This is such a boring critique. Mostly because you’re just grafting something that gets thrown at other crappier rap writers’ writing onto mine even though there’s so much of my writing that would and has labelled me as some kind of street rap fetishist and blah blah blah. I celebrate rappers who distance themselves from TROPES of any kind. Not just street rap tropes. If you’re especially sensitive to the times where I say whatever about some boring street dude you’re listening to this week, that’s not on me.
As it pertains to street rap though, yeah, the tropes of street rap are just that and they’re long overdue to be called out and challenged. There was a time when reportage and that sort of thing was remarkable simply by existing but we’re at least 15 years away from the end of that at this point and we shouldn’t be afraid to roll our eyes at this stuff when it is sub par or taking shortcuts, whether it’s the real talk madlib writing of Rick Ross or some dude in some shitty city who has some “buzz.”
I’m interested in rappers who express themselves sincerely which often puts them out there as oddities or weirdos (I also like this in other kinds of music and art too). And I’m interested in rappers who gently tweak or adjust a formula which I guess you are reading as me praising rappers “distancing themselves” when I would just see that as rappers going that extra step to put a stamp of specificity and their reality onto the work. Nearly all art worth praising is notable for the way that it distances itself from the tropes of its genre, style, medium or whatever. You realize that, right? Doing something well and nothing more is admirable and can be really great, but it’s most certainly not the only kind of art worth praising.
Read more of my work too because you obviously haven’t read enough to justify your sweeping fucking generalizations about my critical perspective. Stop taking your notes from David Drake ILM rants from three years ago or Hipinion douchebags from last year or Lupe stans from two years ago.
Dude’s referring to a few lines in my essay on Beyonce and Jay Z for the Baltimore City Paper. Yeah, except “Blow” isn’t a male-penned song because Beyonce also gets a songwriting credit on it. So, not “all the credited writers are male” there junior. I thought about this when I wrote it and because you know, these days, one of my day jobs is as a fact checker so I’m very concerned with accuracy! I really give a shit about this shit!!
I didn’t wanna say “male-crooned” because there are male backing vocals on “Blow” and I don’t think the issue with these types of goofy-ass and clueless food-as-vagina songs is that a male is singing them so much as it is that a male is constructing them from the ground-up. That’s to say, it’s a matter of who is typically allowed to have power in the music industry. And the difference between “Strawberry Bubble Gum” (written by Timberlake, Timbaland, J-Roc Harmon, and James Fauntleroy) and “Blow” (written by those four plus Pharrell and Beyonce) really comes down to the involvement of Beyonce.
She’s clearly the auteur on her self-titled record and also on this song and I feel comfortable saying she is the reason why “Blow” is a much smarter, wittier, and sexier song than “Strawberry.” It’s what happens when you put a considerate voice in the room: they make better, more sensitive work. For one, “Blow” just renders the food-as-vagina crap into nonsense because she does away with the coy double entendre or whatever once it gets to the “tear that cherry out” part. And Beyonce has a history of this kind of anti-clever cleverness.
Think of something like “Ego” (written by Beyonce and two men) which is a song in which she talks about how big her ego is by talking about it as if it were her dick in a super obvious “this is really a song about a dick” winking way. Of course, as far as I know, Beyonce doesn’t have a dick (but oh man, the only way she could possibly be anymore of a like sexual dynamo is if she also had a dick, right? Anyways), so it’s a super obvious song on one level (big ego=big dick song) and incredibly subversive and hard to parse in a gender fucky way (my ego is big and that really means my dick is big but I don’t have a dick so I’m talking about my dick as some kind of empowering metonym) and that’s cool!
"Blow" similarly goes there in terms of explicitness and pushing a dopey double entendre past its breaking point while ultimately being a female-friendly fuck song. I guess I’m just more interested in the woman who wrote the song along with the dudes than I am the dudes who wrote the song along with the woman.
Haha, nah. To be honest, I’m pretty much only interested in my opinions on Kanye West.
Hasn’t come to Baltimore and probably won’t. But Jodorowsky’s Dune did? Film culture is thee worst.