Dedicated to the winners … and the losers. Details after the jump.
Rap Music Is Good Now Because Rappers Aren’t Afraid To Be Weird: Bry correctly notes that “Proclamations that a certain era is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for music are always specious,” but then casually (perhaps smugly) dismisses his own honest analysis to get on with the business of reporting on a phenomenon that was invented for the sake of writing the article. Disappointingly, he proclaims that “objectively speaking, this, right now, is a really good time for rap music,” as if he wishes to be admired for making irreparably contradictory claims within the same article. Bry does not explain how he came to conclude that rap music went from being less than good to good as a result of rappers shedding their supposed fears of being weird; the title of the article suggests that it must be so, and Bry attempts, against all logic including his own, to conjure a reality that reflects his core assumptions.
The objectivity that is promised is quickly stamped out by a parade of unsupported claims of causality — all of which are saddled by problematic undefined terms — written in the safely vague language of county fair palm readers: “Kanye’s album probably has something to do with [this being a ‘really good time for rap music’]. It was a work of great artistic ambition, and the fact that it succeeded as it did was bound to have a positive effect.” Not only are we supposed to accept Bry’s assumption that rap progressed from a vaguely “bad time” to a vaguely “good time” characterized by — gasp! can it be? — “artistic ambition,” we must also accept that a few randomly selected harbingers of forward-thinking eccentricity have effected this change and vanquished an unnamed army of philistines. This process is not described in detail but its success is noted as an undoubtedly “positive” development. Confused yet?
The article becomes more confounding with each paragraph. Bry cites a short post by grandgood’s g that is so vague it could mean just about anything — or almost nothing at all, more likely1 — to argue that artists such as Jay Electronica and the Odd Future collective represent a sea change in the willingness of listeners to embrace “weird” music. At this point, “weird” is so broadly defined as to be rendered virtually meaningless, so the reader must accept that the “deep thinking” Jay Electronica and the “defiant” members of Odd Future possess some kind of mystic, unnameable commonality beyond being rappers.2
Bry very nearly stumbles into interesting territory when he points out Lil B’s tendency to refer to himself as a “nerd” and a “faggot” despite identifying as heterosexual. But since engaging in analysis deeper than noting that “Lil B is nothing if not interesting” would do little and perhaps nothing to strengthen the already tenuous connection between Lil B and the other artists mentioned — thereby calling into question the necessity of the article — he drops the topic as fast as it was introduced.3 Bry observes that Lil B has collaborated with the G-Unit’s Tony Yayo, but rather than interpreting the collaboration as a sign of a surprising open-mindedness on the part of Yayo as one expects, he uses this otherwise unremarkable fact to launch into a denunciation of the whole rap genre (pre-Weird Revolution of 2010).
The charges? Well, according to Bry “Rap is one of the most conservative forms of popular music going” because “rap artists break codes of dress, behavior and subject matter at the peril of their commercial viability.” It isn’t clear which form of modern conservatism that rap clings to; clarifying this point would most likely cause the supposed connection between the “weird” rappers mentioned in this article to disintegrate.4 To accept these claims as true we must also assume that artists from other genres regularly break codes of conduct without imperiling their viability in a declining market. Bry offers no evidence of non-rap artists acting in such a manner without consequences, but he does offer numerous examples of rappers like Tony Yayo doing so without damaging their careers, so the reader is left to wonder what the fuss is all about.
Bry offers wanton speculation to account for his irrational concern, wondering whether Prodigy’s subliminal dis of Keith Murray’s “crazy space shit that doesn’t even make no sense” or Big Boi’s partership with Andre 3000 might have stifled budding eccentricity. He takes rap music (pre-Weird Revolution of 2011) so literally and is so reluctant to attribute any sense of irony or complexity to rappers that it does not occur to him that the borders he has drawn between “weird” and “conservative” practices have been blurred and ruptured for nearly as long as the genre has existed.5
When has it ever been truly clear who were the nerds and who were the jocks?6 De La Soul punched out thuggish hecklers calling them “fags” on their first tour; Keith Murray confronted and whipped the shit out of Prodigy in retaliation for the skit; Big Boi and Andre have dedicated entire songs and at least one album to the topic of the group’s generative duality; and Biz Markie was more successful than LL Cool J at ingratiating himself with the drug dealing clientele of The Rooftop7. Rap never needed or desired to be saved from the supposed evils of masculine competitive mockery;8 even those rappers that were bold enough to declare the dawn of a new day were adamant about respecting the existing balance. — Thun
- I think g has proven himself capable of cogent analysis in the past, but that particular quote is not an example of that, and if I had to guess probably wasn’t meant to be read as anything other than a brain fart. [↩]
- Bry treads rather lightly when championing defiant weirdness, though, echoing so many mediocre bloggers by warning readers that Earl Sweatshirt’s “Earl” video has “lots of blood and gore. I find some of it extremely unpleasant to watch. You may want to close your eyes.” The revolution won’t be televised? [↩]
- For a much richer analysis of the topics of masculinity and sexuality in hip hop, read “On the Looming Crisis of Masculinity in Hip Hop…and why it’s a good thing”; Lil B’s flouting of rap norms will make considerably more sense when analyzed against this article. [↩]
- Citing Christopher Weingarten’s poorly presented case that Lil Wayne either fathered or predicted — he isn’t sure which — Tyler The Creator’s style doesn’t help matters. [↩]
- Another point that is very much worth noting, and was in fact brought up in the comments section of Bry’s article, is that rap culture has often informed from the bottom up, not vice-versa. Meaning that is is entirely possibly that the issues impacting the genre’s core fan base — young black and brown men — often find their way into the music and its attendant discourse. Given the wealth of writings, from authors and scholars as prolific as Chauncey De Vega and T. Coates, that document the experience of being black and gifted, or black and nerdy, or a ghetto nerd, or an upwardly mobile ex-thug in academia, or what have you, it might have behooved Bry to consider that his treatment of these issues as a crisis within rap music was a bit myopic, and to consider a new approach. [↩]
- In this post David of So Many Shrimp notes quite astutely that the type of rappers who were also hip hop aficianados (as opposed to say, straight up hustlers who moved on to rap) straddled the line between cool and outcast: “in high school I remember nerding out on rap often seemed to appeal to dudes who felt like outsiders, like it was for dudes who had alpha personalities but through accident of birth were short or weird or too nonathletic to be jocks.” [↩]
- Source: “Chucky Smash From The Legion: The Unkut Interview.” [↩]
- There is no greater proof of the enduring appeal of such expressions than the popularity of Odd Future. [↩]