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Thursday, January 30, 2014

More Hip Hop

I think it's safe to say that a) I'm officially in "old man" mode and b) I just don't get it.

Spotted:  A story with the headline of "Don't Hate Macklemore Because He's White.  Hate Him Because His Music is Terrible."

Curious to see how Macklemore's music is uniquely terrible, compared to hip hop in general, I find this:
The Heist is a lavish dumbscape of plodding quarter-note grooves, “Chopsticks”-style piano loops, pointless choirs singing about nothing. Lewis’ beats are kitchen sinks of bad ideas, tin-eared imprecision mistaking itself for eclecticism. His crate-digging seems to start at a Feist song he once heard on an Apple commercial and end at the music JetBlue plays before the TVs turn on. And it’s all a backdrop for Macklemore’s contrived flows and mirror-practiced charisma; even his punny pop-culture references—the last refuge of every eager-beaver dorm room M.C.—are amazingly dull.
Finally, someone is calling out a rapper for being a rapper formulaic bore.  But the self-delusion on display is staggering.  "Contrived flows?"  Talk about buying your own press.  Not only is rhymed meter, by definition, a contrivance, but what is "flow" but an illusion of performance and composition*?

But this is what got me:
This is rap for people who don’t like rap that makes them feel proud of themselves for not liking rap, and for buying Macklemore albums, and as such it moves from bad music into immoral, bleached-out hucksterism, the undying legacies of Paul Whiteman and Pat Boone. At least the Stones and Zeppelin never claimed they were healing the blues as they were stealing from it.
First, that "rap for people who don't like rap" stings.  Perhaps it's true.  When I first heard "Thrift Shop," I thought it was a rap parody, ala The Lonely Island or Flight of the Conchords.  But I also dug the horns (lazy "crate-digging," I suppose) and the non-conformist rejection of the conspicuous consumption that's so often celebrated in rap music.

It's not "rap music for people who don't like rap music," so much as it is rap music for people who like rap but don't like the cliches of hip hop culture

Second, the stuff about Zeppelin and the Stones is just culturally and historically ignorant.  The truth is much more complicated.  No one told these young English musicians that white people are not supposed to listen to, or be inspired by, American "race music" from the South.  No one told white Americans that they would actually enjoy blues music if they just got over their dumb racist sociological beliefs and listened to it.  Until the British Invasion, that is.


If you're going to say these bands "stole" from the blues, you first have to accept that the blues didn't belong to them in the first place, but that's the same racist idea that relegated the blues to the Chitlin Circuit.

It's also the same racist attitude on display here:
Hip-hop is certainly a culture “founded from oppression,” but what might you know of that, Macklemore? It quickly starts to feel like the white kid in the front row of the Af-Am Studies class, droning on about his own radicalism, convinced he’s the only one in the room with Dead Prez on his iPhone.
No, it's true.  White people know nothing about oppression.  Unless they try to get into the rap game.



*  In later reading this morning, I came across this piece by Penn Jillette reflecting on the genius of the Beatles.   I described "flow" as an "illusion of performance and composition." 

This is kind of what I meant:
I've met a lot of musicians, and they bang around a lot before they come up with the finished track, or the finished composition. I've learned that writing books, essays, and magic patter is mostly editing. No matter how clear the idea is, you have to monkey with it. You have to work.

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