Blog Watch Edition 8a: The Startling Epiphanies Of SXSW

Last week I had nothing to write about. There were many exceptionally good pieces that made their way through the bloggasfear this week, but many that inspired me to respond critically as well. So many, in fact, that I had to break this week’s edition into three parts. Part A deals with the epiphanic fallout of SXSW.

On Lil B, Odd Future and SXSW – After establishing that Lil B’s recorded music is “horrible” and presumably unworthy of contextual discussion, David D. proceeds to paint his fanbase in the most unflattering light possible, relying on a popular oversimplification of Lil B’s extensive discography to express his disdain for the crowd gathered to watch the Based God perform:

B defenders have argued that the rapper has two personae: the “deep” or “complex” lyricist and the Based God that has hoes on his d*ck because he looks like Jesus. It was clear which artist the fans came to see. When Lil B opened with “Age Of Information,” the crowd kind of just stood around perplexed … Once “Wonton Soup” started up, it was a tremendous party, and, admittedly, I had a blast … Then, Lil B The Rapper reared his ugly head again. He spit over ambient noise and tried his hand at the pseudo-lyrical music, but you could tell the crowd was just waiting for songs like “Bieber” and “Like A Martian.”

Actually, Lil B’s defenders are just as likely to argue that the separation of his various modes of writing/recording is a flawed way of thinking about his music. “Age Of Information” isn’t the kind of song liable to rouse anyone into a frenzy anyway, so the audience’s response might have been appropriate. They weren’t necessarily bothered or perplexed by the song even if it seemed that way to one clearly biased observer. David D., seemingly a stranger to Occam’s Razor,  implies that the fans came to the show with a premeditated plan to respond indifferently to Lil B’s “deep” or “complex” songs and explode into celebration for his more lighthearted fare. I’ll propose another theory: the crowd, like any other crowd at any other concert, responded enthusiastically to songs that they felt sounded great in context and were performed well, and less enthusiastically to the others. It’s a simple idea, but it can be difficult to grasp  if you venture into a Lil B concert clinging to the idea that his music is “pseudo-lyrical” “ambient noise.”

Lil B is not above criticism just because he takes chances. But the article apparently requires an overarching narrative and an overly elaborate theory to justify its existence, so Lil B’s uneven performance, Odd Future’s raucous stage show, and Diddy’s unexpected announcement that these young artists constitute “the future of hip hop” are taken as harbingers of something Big and Profound:

Hip-Hop seems to be undergoing a changing of the guard. The arrival of Lil B and Odd Future presents Hip-Hop’s first generational gap … Lil B and Odd Future present a new, different Hip-Hop that the traditionalists – myself included – are struggling to understand. And, just like our parents told us about what we listened to growing up, this new music sounds like noise. The lyrics are more profane and have somehow raised the bar on appalling – Odd Future raps about God being cancer while Lil B blasphemes about how him looking like Jesus garners him more sexual exploits … Odd Future and Lil B are rebelling against the music Hip-Hop grew up on…

I dunno, David D. I’m a 31 year old New Jersey hip hop head who can recite Rakim lyrics backwards in a diabetic coma and I don’t find Lil B or Odd Future to be nearly so controversial, noisy, or incomprehensible as you claim.  Odd Future’s production is sometimes dissonant but is it any more so than EPMD, The Legion, The Jungle Brothers, or Cannibal Ox, to name a few? Are their lyrics any more grisly or blasphemous than Brother Lynch Hung, The Geto Boys, Big L, or Mobb Deep? What version of hip hop music did you grow up on anyway, the one represented by Phonte and Jean Grae? Please don’t claim to speak for all of us, it’s not that serious, fam. ((And try not to act so revolted by the concept of Jesus being black, will ya?))

Update: David D. seems to have undergone a huge though unexplained change of heart. He’s  jumped on the OFWGKTA bandwagon already (although that makes him really late) but he hasn’t offered a revision of his grand theory. He couldn’t resist Earl’s multis, it seems.

Bonus: In Why Everybody Loves Odd Future, Nitsuh Abebe analyzes every aspect of Odd Future —except for the actual sound of their music— to come up with a theory about their appeal that amounts to a music-nerd/blogger conspiracy to live vicariously through their angst-ridden antics. He then mentions that during the week of SXSW there was a news item reported on local radio about a rash of juvenile arsons, including one that involved a  kid who caused a larger fire by setting his homework ablaze. Abebe sarcastically prefaces this bit of info with “In a completely unrelated development,” ((Get it? HA!)) and afterwards leads into a description of the group’s widely reported hissy-fit and walk-off at the Billboard showcase, implicitly inviting the reader to connect the dots in a move that would make Tipper Gore blush. ((That’s not something anyone should be proud of in 2011.))

SXSW 2011: The New Melting Pot – Ann Powers acknowledges the fallacy of assigning a single narrative to any event attended by large numbers of people, let alone one as large and busy and multifaceted as SXSW, but like David D. she takes a go at it anyway, identifying a trend towards “subcultural desegregation” while following her “own mix of new and new-to-me artists.” Powers has an unending reserve of praise for what she views as the heroic, conscious boundary-crossing and barrier-breaking accomplished by white pop music fans, musicians, and the music industry at large:  “Breaking down social barriers is a basic function of popular music, reclaimed now by kids raised on hip-hop in the rainbow-hued American suburbs.”

Powers assures us that although indie music has resisted such “natural” integration in the past, everything is fine and dandy now: “Indie’s demographics shifted in the 1990s – now, band members are as likely to be Latino or Asian (and increasingly, African-American) as white. That’s just reality in the Obama era.” If you suspect that this kind of trite, self-congratulatory, overdetermined claim reads like the prelude to hot interracial Pluralism-Porn, you are correct:

All over Austin, I heard bold gestures made by artists determined to directly challenge racial and ethnic stereotypes. Rappers picked up guitars … or cultivated electro beats … indie groups like Los Angeles’ La Santa Cecilia insistently owned their home traditions while still laying claim to noisy post-punk … Singer-songwriters worked to figure out how they could access the nuances of R&B without merely imitating it … Imitation yielded its pleasures, too: one fantastic set I saw was by the very blonde Allen Stone, who did the blue-eyed thing proud, backed by Raphael Saadiq’s band …  West, who (I’m told) showed off his own eclecticism by featuring indie rock golden boy Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and hip-hop CEO Jay-Z … TV on the Radio, whose aggressive and beautiful new material takes the band even farther away from any color-coded categories.

Titillated yet? Powers doesn’t bother engaging in any analysis that might upset her tidy narrative of white-initiated reform and sweaty innovative musical miscegenation. The reader is expected to agree with the idea that these instances of “desgregation” are conceptualized as such by their participants, embraced as such by SXSW fun seekers, and most importantly, that they represent a radically progressive trend. Without the reader’s acquiescence, Powers might be inconvenienced by the challenge of having to situate this alleged trend in a larger historical and cultural context. That could potentially diminish the relative importance of the article, or worse yet, make Powers’s apologies for the glacial pace of progress in the indie scene appear even more transparently hollow. Remember when co-optation was all so simple and merely involved stealing riffs, melodies, and catch phrases? — Thun

Tags: , ,