Blog Watch Edition 8c: Critical Loop

There’s a loopy set of assumptions circulating trough the bloggasfear as of late. Details after the jump.

Great Debates: Lupe Fiasco – Is He An All Time Great, Or A FiascoOmar Burgess and staff writer Slava Kuperstein are fully confident that their collaborative piece provides something of value to the unwashed masses. In the introduction they claim that “one of the worst things about the Internet is the lack of any kind of coherent, civil discourse” but add that any hooligans wishing to wreak havoc on the comments section with ad-hominem attacks should feel free to do so, because such participation generates revenue for the site through page impressions.

That’s kinda funny, but the comments section suggests that the readers were able to politely articulate their valid objections to this piece’s lack of focus and generalization.

The theme of the so-called debate might be Lupe’s popularity, but it isn’t made entirely clear, no terms are defined, and title of the post leads one to believe otherwise anyway. So much for coherence. Even if we can all agree that Lupe’s popularity is a worthy subject of debate (it’s a stretch if we abide by the dictionary definition of debate), the vitality of any debate is threatened when both participants fall in lock-step agreement with each other over the same easily contested dogmatic claims.

In this case Burgess and Kuperstein instantly agree that Lupe Fiasco is “without a doubt, among the two or three most talented emcees to come out since the mid-2000s” and that the rapper at one point possessed “all the things I look for in an emcee: technical precision, personality, storytelling.” The former statement is a general pronouncement while the latter is more of a personal opinion shared by the two debaters, but both are extreme claims that beg to be scrutinized, if only to be logically debunked. Should “civil discourse” be pursued at the expense of gaining a nuanced understanding?

The discussion of the musical content of Lupe’s new album Lasers is brief because both debaters agree on its strengths and weaknesses. That is to say, they both agree that Lupe is a singularly courageous, gifted rapper who can make cerebral political content “palatable and not preachy” but uses “simple cadences” and “lazy metaphors” and chooses to rhyme over production that is “ass.” Say what?

This isn’t civil discourse, this is unilateral cheerleading. The logic of dogma demands that Lupe’s weaknesses and failings are either spun into strengths just or glossed over. Commentary about his new music must not challenge the idea that Lupe is transcendentally great, no matter how the new album sounds.

The reader is expected to tacitly accept that “All Black Everything” and “Words I Never Said” represents the kind of ballsy political statements that few other rappers would dare to attempt. This idea is an outgrowth of another that suggests that rap is largely devoid of social or political consciousness by the way.  This is a fundamentally problematic and flawed argument, one that I have addressed before (( See Blog Watch Edition 7.)) and persists in spite of evidence to the contrary. In this piece it remains unchallenged because it assists the greater project of touting Lupe as exceptional. But plenty of rappers have recently penned politically-oriented lyrics that are more timely and insightful than those found on Lupe’s latest release. ((I discuss one prominent example here; the comments section has lots of other examples.))

If we choose to honestly assess music through informed discourse, then we must also accept the responsibility of revising our opinions as new evidence comes to light. That’s a lot of work to put into a debate in which nothing is contested, so it doesn’t happen here. The authors abandon the topic of musical content before a single point of contention is raised or any claims can be explicated or clarified. They then strike up discussion about every single Lupe Fiasco-related micro-issue that was reported in the blogs over the past year, in no particular order and with no direction.

After a long, convoluted back-and-forth about the trivial issue of whether or not Lupe’s private behavior neatly parallels his public persona, Burgess and Kuperstein arrive at a conclusion that isn’t conclusive or even exciting: “Lupe and Atlantic managed to pull off the great compromise. Die-hard Lupe Fiasco fans purchased this album, and the commercial success of “The Show Goes On” generated enough crossover success to bring in some new fans.” What was being debated, why was it once considered important, and how did we end up here?

Bonus – Witness the middling ideology of Lupe Fiasco exceptionalism creep into online reviews of Lasers.

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71 Responses to “Blog Watch Edition 8c: Critical Loop”

  1. EihtHype says:

    why the fuck is this on this blog? Analysis of articles from other websites about contemporary rappers. How about we juts discuss the finer points of Lil Wayne and Kid Cudi and be done with it…

    • Thun says:

      It is my opinion that a discussion of contemporary rap is vital to appreciating and understanding hip hop’s past. The Blog Watch series is intended to spotlight fallacious reasoning (much of which can be attributed to a poor understanding of hip hop’s past) and to educate those readers who do follow the current scene about critical discernment. In the case of Lupe Fiasco, he is consistently held up as en exemplar of talent and virtue, as well as a torchbearer for hip hop’s past, so I think it is important for fans of older rap music to assess his music and the claims surrounding it.

      Whether you like it or not, the hip hop of the past is not relegated to a sealed mylar pouch on a shelf in some collector’s mother’s basement. It lives and breathes in a contemporary context, too, so I’ll continue to write about pertinent discussions. I don’t write anything for this blog with the expectation or wish that everybody agrees with it.

  2. Victor says:

    Excellent analysis Thun, though to some degree I can understand the nature of articles/reviews regarding lupe in the last year or so. Objectivity, due to the nature of dude’s erratic character are difficult. I know this as if i was to write a review it would be full of a combination of the issues outlined above! Lasers was such a pile of crap that it was going to exacerbate the divisive nature of lupe anyway. Dude is a talented emcee, but the internet has helped promote this idea that we (whoever we are) need a saviour kind of emcee who tackles “political” issues but isnt “preachy” like kweli as if there arent a swathe of emcees that fill different lanes.

    This blog watch series is very good, i just wish some of these writers responded.

    • Thun says:

      Yeah I’m not surprised that coverage of Lupe involves a whole lot of speculation about matters removed from the content of his music, or that discussions about his music inevitably get tangled up with such frivolous concerns. I just wish the coverage was more balanced, and more critical where it counts.

      I agree that the internet has helped promulgate the notion of hip hop being sick and in need of immediate assistance in the form of a “conscious” emcee in the narrowest sense. It is one of the most annoying and unnecessarily divisive ideas out there. How in the hell does hip hop, of all popular music genres, want for social commentary?

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