Blog Watch, Edition 1: Crack Reporting

This will be a weekly feature in which I spotlight weak arguments, overdetermined conclusions, fallacious assumptions, and questionable leaps of logic from all around the rap blogosphere. Please email any relevant links to thun.nation@gmail.com

“Retro Mackin” – Review Of Planet Asia’s Crackbelt Theatre: Patrick M.’s review begins with this vaguely worded and problematic claim:

The artistic work of the social dynamics of crack cocaine, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, The Wire, often get labeled “cinematic,” by high-art critics who live far away from where the shit actually goes down at.

There are a number of questionable items in this one sentence alone, but I’ll spare you from my annoying hyper-deconstructionist mode and just focus on what most irks me: the idea that describing Only Built 4 Cuban Linx or The Wire as cinematic  is inherently inaccurate, misleading, or naive. This is simply not true. Both Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and The Wire draw inspiration from the world of cinema. One does not need to be some kind of socially oblivious, cloistered academic type to point out the obvious allusions to cinematic themes and characters that are present in either work. Whether or not these works qualify as being “cinematic” in spirit, style, or technique is a more complicated issue, but such claims are not automatically invalidated just because Patrick M. wrongfully assumes that only bourgeois myopia could inform them. Link the readers to a specific argument about these works and their cinematic qualities and explain why they are weak or unconvincing, or else don’t bother making the claim. ((Of course, if this was done in this particular instance, the whole review would contradict itself in numerous places, because a large part of it consists of assessing  Planet Asia’s level of success in making “crack rap” sound “cinematic.”))

The mere act of describing these works as “cinematic” is not necessarily equivalent to dismissing or overlooking their connection to real-life events. As for “live far away from where the shit actually goes down at,” well, “where the shit actually goes down at” has shifted in the past fifteen years or so. Law enforcement officials, policymakers, sociologists, journalists, community activists, and laypeople all have theories about how and why this has happened, but one thing is pretty clear: the way “shit actually goes down” has changed dramatically. Many of the places where the shit used to go down are pretty quiet, while other spots formerly thought to be “suburban” or “crime-free” are now places where “shit actually goes down at.”

Also, and I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but contrary to popular belief, some people who grew up close to the chaos of the crack trade of the late ’80s and early ’90s have in fact grown up to become critics, and some of them have described Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and The Wire as “cinematic.”  Some of them moved out of their old neighborhoods into new ones in which the same problems sprouted recently. The direct correlation that is made between social class, place of residence, and proximity to where “shit actually goes down” in this review is completely speculative horseshit, and this feeble attempt at armchair sociology undermines Patrick M.’s conclusion:

…crack rap is timeless. As long as the U.S. allows the drug trade to dominate inner cities, it will stay relevant topic in Hip-Hop, the soundtrack of urban America.

Nah, son. If you had been keeping up with news on this specific issue or if you had your ears to the street to the extent that you implied at the outset of your review, you would know that crack addiction is hardly confined to “inner city” or “urban” America (crack cocaine is no longer the most in demand drug on the streets anymore as it is, but that’s another discussion for another day). The review already acknowledges another truth about crack rap: many artists do not talk about crack in the literal manner of a news reporter. There is typically, some would say always, a level of stylization and dramatization. Some artists are happy to discuss long-dead crack wars as if they are currently happening, for example. One huge reason “crack rap” is (possibly) timeless and remains relevant even as crime trends change is precisely because this sub-genre is entertaining and captivating in manner that is instantly recognizable to fans of crime/gangster cinema. — Thun

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