Sunday, May 14, 2006

MORE IN SORROW THAN IN ANGER, PT. 653

An essay in the London Times by someone named Clive Davis brings the shocking news that rap is boring.

It’s a clumsy piece, full of half-thoughts and clichés.

“I did my share of listening to Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy a couple of decades ago, and that was enough, thank you. If my two teenaged sons adore Kanye West, well, I can leave them to it, safe in the knowledge that I spent the first dozen years of their lives inoculating them with Ray Charles records. That should enable them to work out that I Gotta Woman (sic) is a better record than Gold Digger, but if not, well, there’s only so much a parent can do.

“I thought rap had run out of steam when I was 23, yet I never grow tired of discovering new musicians from the realm of world music or — less often, admittedly — jazz. I love Motown and blues too.”

“The ultimate irony is that the biggest market for in-your-face rap is not the dispossessed ghetto youth. The real money is made in the white suburbs, where teens who live in the most cosseted environment in the history of mankind are able to live out fantasies of being the roughest, toughest guy in the ’hood.”

Some tips for writers looking to castigate hip-hop:

1. Stop talking about the other kinds of Negro music you like. No matter how many Ray Charles albums you have, criticizing Kanye West makes you an old fart, and possibly a racist, in the eyes of the internerds. So just dive in headfirst and stop caveat-ing about.
2. Everybody knows most rap records are bought by white people. The way the U.S. and U.K. populations break down by race, it couldn’t possibly be any other way. Nobody can sell 10 million records without being bought primarily by white people.
3. And speaking of that, stop with the “I didn’t leave hip-hop, hip-hop left me” stuff. You liked Public Enemy? So did lots of white kids – the older brothers of the ones who like 50 Cent today, and in some really tragic, old-man-at-the-party cases, the same ones. So if that’s a shocking and tragic irony now, what was it back when you were rockin’ Nation Of Millions?

It’s like this: yes, most hip-hop sucks. And yes, it’s minstrelsy. Just fucking say that and be done with it. Stanley Crouch has that kind of balls, where are yours?

Maybe it’s time for a moratorium on sweeping generalizations. No matter how true it is that, say, 85 percent plus of rap records are knuckle-walking minstrel-show horseshit, there are still a few good ones that can be slapped, like a wet fish or a white glove, across the face of those who attempt criticism of the genre as a whole. What’s called for, really, is a steady documentation of the shittiness of rap. Some critic who’s willing to review the moronic look-at-my-watch-and-chain-and-teeth records week in and week out, letting loose John Simon-esque fire-hoses of vitriol upon them, but always discussing the records’ musical failings, not how they fail to uplift the black race or whatever. This would make said critic’s praise for the few good records actually mean something. Because where we stand now, hip-hop criticism takes two basic forms: blind fawning in genre magazines (and lots of genres have this problem: there’s no qualitative difference between XXL/The Source/Vibe and Metal Maniacs/Pit/Terrorizer) and on indie-rock websites, and tired-ass grandpa-grumbles from dudes who think owning lots of Motown records will somehow insulate them against accusations of racism from said indie-rock websites.

But picking rap records apart day by day, week by week, is a tiresome and thankless task. So forget I said anything. So let’s go read the message boards as they tear down Mr. old, racist, doesn’t-get-it Clive Davis, while we wait for the next old man to finish his more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger essay on the state of hip-hop.

2 comments:

Phil Nugent said...

It's been what, fifteen, sixteen years since the pop culture geniuses at The New Republic did a cover story on their discovery that the audience for rap included more white suburban kids than black militants planning to use it as a soundtrack for the next revolution? It's nice to see that the classics never die, but has anyone even explained why this state of affairs is so freaking horrible? They always just announce it and wait for you to recover from your coronary.

Andy said...

Maybe it’s time for a moratorium on sweeping generalizations. No matter how true it is that, say, 85 percent plus of rap records are knuckle-walking minstrel-show horseshit, there are still a few good ones that can be slapped, like a wet fish or a white glove, across the face of those who attempt criticism of the genre as a whole.

Walk around the cutout bins at any record store, and you find that the 80-20 rule actually holds in any genre. Whether it's country or R&B or rap or black metal, about 20% is good, and the rest is crap.