Q: Why was Aryan Coulter invited to speak at Philander Smith College?
A: Because of her resemblance to an "attractive and sexy, long-haired blonde" rapper.
On Li'l Kim: Raquel Cepeda vs. bell hooks
Not sure when this was delivered, but I just stumbled on it: the invaluable Kelefa Sanneh shepherding us through the evolution of The Rapper's self-identity. The ten-minute presentation, streamed from KEXP, is called "I'm Not a Rapper: Pride, Professionalism, and Hip-Hop." Sanneh opens with a Beanie Siegel anecdote before dealing with hip-hop's first wave, a proudly reflexive lot given to rapping about rapping. They unabashedly styled themselves as rappers, vocal about their own vocal talent.
But the second-wave rappers, he notes, attached themselves to a variety of non-rapper archetypes: KRS-One (the Teacher), Slick Rick (the Storyteller), Too $hort (the Pimp), &c. Call this a crisis of self-identity, the start of rapping's exile from itself. Embodied in Tupac--a textbook case of "the character eclipsing the rapper"--was the young genre's growing distance from the Rapper persona.
Sanneh goes on to trace the triumph of the production-over-content esthetic, beginning with Dr. Dre, Master P (perhaps the first major artist to boast how bad a rapper he was; he writes checks, not rhymes), Sean Combs et al. The last decade belongs to the knob-twiddlers behind the scenes, marking a sea change that hasn't yet abated, as Timbaland & the Neptunes prove the existence of a superproducer caste. Profit is the driving force here: looking for the perfect beat, the key to a hit single, amounts to looking after the bottom line.
Rapping--that is, the particular style of delivery--started around this moment to lose ground to singing and half-singing, as the likes of 50 Cent and Nelly introduced melody to their flows. While they may have enriched hip-hop, all these developments slowly eroded the role of The Rapper amid the genre's dramatis personae.
Over at the VV, Tricia Romano asks Diplo a few questions. Many of his answers were illuminating, especially:
TR: What record is your guilty pleasure?
MIABF: All of 'em these days; I can't take hip-hop that seriously. I doubt most artists do either.
So does that make the lion's share of his mix-and-match esthetic ironic?
Photography in Chicago is verging on a renaissance. Proud displays of support, like the Art Institute’s new “On the Scene,” is the reason why: the Windy City's institutions recognize its abundant homegrown talent. This latest exhibition gathers the work of three local photographers—Jessica Rowe, Jason Salavon and Brian Ulrich—into their own solo shows. In an eerie excavation of red-state memories, Rowe reads interiors as family scrapbooks and clothes as ciphers that simultaneously cloak and illuminate their owner’s lives. Ulrich hollows out the Republican equation of patriotism with consumerism, offering a document of the self-annihilating monotony and gluttony behind the rituals of shopping. Chipping away at the medium's boundaries, Salavon’s “photographs” are Pythagorean at heart: they ground a visual reality in numbers, yielding ghostly images through intricate mathematical averaging, very literally abstracting beauty from mountains of everyday ephemera. So if you're in town over the next few days, here's a place to see three new ways the Midwest sees itself.
From inside Harlem, Hillary Rodham said what we all already knew, that the House "has been run like a plantation"--"nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard." Barack Obama, our vaunted melting-pot democracy's one black senator, joined her in questioning the GOP's top-down structure, how it straitjackets ideas & enforces consensus. Information wants to be free; Republicans have other plans. Don't forget that real-life morality tale unearthed by the LAT:
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq. [...] “Absolute truth was not an essential element of these stories,” said the senior military official who spent this year in Iraq.
And here our country's supposed to be as a "Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people upon us." Winthrop-via-Reagan: a poisonous irony of American history that still resonates, both here and abroad. (If Reaganomics and drugs saved rap, it's not unlikely we'll owe the neocons for the next leap in pop history.)
Once upon a time, the Dems offered an alternative. They still can, but the road forks: into the New Deal/Great Society path of social justice and the DLC's path to the Republican Party lite. It's a matter of worldview, not just Keynes vs. Hayek. (Some ideas here & here.)
I knew that if I ever gave it the chance, 24 would devour king-size chunks of my waking life. So, naturally, I waited until X-mas break to rent the DVDs. What surprised me was that the series is a gordian thicket of Philo 101 dilemmas & concepts. Viz.: the Director's office at CTU = Bentham's (later Foucault's) all-seeing, all-seen panopticon; torture = the common good vs. duty/rights; the real-time format = mimesis; Jack abandoning protocol = the positivism-natural law debate; industrial L.A. in the small hours = the state of nature; separating Jack & Nina for interrogation = the prisoner's dilemma.
But this is all highbrow filigree, when it comes down to it. 24 is above all good television: a simply addictive, serial thriller.
Thanks to my school's obscene ten-figure endowment, inter alia, I have Lexis-Nexis at my fingertips, which means ready access to Sasha Frere-Jones's New Yorker pieces. Here's a handful of quotes, in appreciation of his elegantly brocaded formalism. ¶ Jeezy's voice is a serrated drawl, full of breath and usually ending in a rising whine, as if every line were a variation of one question: "What do you think of that?" ¶ ["Draped Up"] is marvellously sinuous and dark, a mix of low humming sounds and raspy digital melodies; it calls to mind a hovercraft covered with blinking Christmas lights. ¶ The track "Gone" begins with a sample of Otis Redding's voice, from his song "It's Too Late," and bleeds into a two-chord piano ostinato, followed by a trim funk beat. [...] As he raps, the string section breaks into an intricate counterpoint, following the rise and fall of his voice. The strings, pop's dullest default bid for respectability, here work as hard as the m.c. ¶ Then Wiley leaps in, chattering taunts at his imitators: "I know hungry-he said he don't know you. I know who's who, and who's who don't know you." The music Ping-Pongs between half time and a faster tempo, segueing into the next verse, which is performed by Kano, a young m.c. who enunciates calmly over the aggressive beat. The song-essentially a succession of boasts and threats to rivals-is a cab ride over piles of rebar, but Kano never spills his drink.
What a gift: (a) my favorite critic reviews a book written by (b) one of my favorite scholars on (c) one of my favorite authors--even referencing (d) my favorite philosopher!
Answer key: a) James Wood; b) Andrew Delbanco; c) Herman Melville; d) Ludwig Wittgenstein
Religious history fascinates me, not merely for its own sake, but also as a facet of studying an artist's relationship with his/her historical moment. Clearly Melville's imagination was molded by his Calvinist upbringing, but not in an obvious fashion: the notion of original sin wasn't an aid to grasping the world. (The Decoder Ring model of theodicy?) On the contrary, original sin was for Melville more of a metaphysical palisade, shielding the riddles of existence from skirmishing philosophers. (The Rampart model of anti-theodicy??) Original sin, in short, hurt the case for God.
It's perhaps too much to expect theological groping from a pop song, but rap's waist-deep in invocations of both Mammon and the Almighty. Is piety just another commodity? Another accessory for the genre's neverending catwalk of conspicuous consumption? After all the sacred nods nestled amid "profane" lyrics & awards-show podium litanies, I return to questions of hypocrisy, about the charge itself: is it accurate? does it miss the point? is it unfair? is it "relevant"? relevant to what?
As we rightly condemn Bush for his contradictions of faith--e.g., cowboy militarism + the Beatitudes? or the bellum omnium contra omnes ethos of unbridled capitalism + the whole Sermon on the Mount?--then shouldn't we condemn the hypocrisy of pairing the worship of Christ with the worship of blood, or the hatred of women, or the quest for riches? Some wave this off as a style vs. substance debate: it's the beat, stupid, they suggest. Some might find this a paternalistic, even racist, singling out of a genre. Some say this simply reflects a telling contradiction in the culture itself: inner-city conditions are an economic fact; religion is a spiritual response, a historical antecedent?
What do you think?
New Year's Resolution: under a glaze of anticipatory sweat, with digits throbbing & breaths held, LJJ will salute the reunion of UGK, dispense with the superfluities, recalibrate its laser-sightz & finally confront its fate: to become a rap blog.