Conversation #10

I haven’t got my RSS system tight, so it took a whole day before I realized the monks at Soc Shrine bellied up to the bar. And here I thought this thing was broke. Their comments, screenshat:

I’m not going to hit all ten. But I got some.

Starting with 10. A: See sidebar. Now I do everything you tell me to do, so we’re square.

7. They want me to look at this NSFW video with rappers I totally don’t care about and determine if it interests me or non-scholars more. Answer: B. Non-scholars are more interested. Evidence found in the comments sections which contain this gem of public discourse.

As you can see, Roger, who goes by the nickname “Tito” and is proud of his “hotmama” makes the entirely reasonable (if banal) observation that music doesn’t come coded by race, and notes the rise of folk music in the 20s as a companion piece to an earlier claim made about the segregation of music by A-A’s (in the 20s) on what were called “race labels”–record companies that exclusively sold music by and to black Americans. (Or so they thought. Some sneaky white folks probably found some and hunkered down with the ol’ crank record player (large as a couch, I should think) and had some of that “guilty pleasure”). Anyway, Roger/Tito neglects to mention that “hillbilly” music was also segregated from the “mainstream” and “white” record industry, thus rendering any simple race-based exclusion argument misleading, if not false.*

Jay Bickford, probably 32 years of age, responds with the somewhat surprising suggestion that Roger/Tito might enjoy the company of sometimes nude actor/director Vincent Gallo, whom Jay knows well enough to call by his nickname “Vince.” Vincent’s also noted for his paintings and musical performances, including some work with industrial music, and some with rap. Although Jay Bickford casts aspersions on “Vince’s” rap bona fides, the truth is that Gallo played in an early hip hop style group with unassailably cool and undoubtedly rap-tastic Jean Michel Basquiat. That band was called GREY, and for the most part is not known for its musical sophistication or beauty (in other words: there are not enough drugs in the world to make it sound nice). Despite Jay’s sarcasm and reproachful tone, he draws the correct conclusion about hip hop: “White kids have been down since day one.”* [You and I know that “Day one” is a mirage because such histories are invented, and thus not usefully anchored in any objective temporal order (or even the subjective one, counting from “within” some sub-set of events), and anyway, you’re smart enough to know that “one”ness is also an invention, since this whole Base 10 system is just a communist plot to control counting and keep America from being great.]

Jay–who was too young to really appreciate the good things about the ’70s–then compliments producer Joe Mansfield on the musical accompaniment to the song, only to then swing wildly from behind his back, questioning the apportionment of credit for Western Swing–a “white” musical style in the country idiom–and poses the question: “were black performers actually the ones who innovated the particular steel guitar styles used by Western Swing artists?” No matter what response he will get, he tells Roger/Tito that his knowledge of musical history is insufficient, and his own is “thorough.” And then jokes that his interlocutor probably doesn’t know how many members were in a band that reports their size in the band name.

Roger/Tito’s mama’s still hot, and he’s hot under the collar. And more than a little incoherent. The thing to pay attention to in his response is that he is “laughing his fucking ass off” at his own ad hominem critique which includes implied critiques of whites and gay men. Ha, ha, ha.

Now, I wonder why I’m not interested in this video? Oh, right. Because these guys who are, are f*ckwads.

My general programmatic guideline is that I tend to be disinterested in music that attracts the specific kind of sexist, homophobic, self-absorbed, defensive, condescending, emoticon-using asshole that we see evidence of, above. That the thread also includes a whole debate over baseball batting averages, penis size (that’s in the lyrics too, so who can blame them?) and–believe it or not–a long discussion of whether garments exist that are designed only to be worn over the lower buttocks.

I even showed the video to a friend–a big hip hop fan–who gave me a look of such utter disinterest that I felt ashamed for having asked. Hell, even Jay Smooth stayed away from this one.

1.  Soul Power. When I saw the trailer for this movie, I felt like someone had peeked into my soul and plucked out a folder from my “greatest wishes” Trapper Keeper and made it real. And then I totally forgot the thing existed until you just mentioned it. What lesson can we draw? You need a “New Year’s Eve” style marketing campaign for me to remember you. And no, I won’t be seeing that hunk of steaming garbage no matter how many celebrities are in it…at least not until I’m stuck on an intercontinental flight, or have the flu, or just find the other options less appealing. But Soul Power will make it into the netflix kwaykway. As soon as it is no longer “DVD only.”

*This is a conversation I have participated in, or facilitated, approximately 14,578 times.



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6 responses to “Conversation #10

  1. Ha.. I do like a few of the artists on that song (and am acquainted with them so not objective) but I was too turned off by the tackiness of the video to spend much time with it. BTW under Youtube’s confusing and terrible comment system it’s the little name at the bottom that indicates who’s speaking, and the big name at the top indicates who they’re responding to.

  2. Jenn Lena

    Well, shame on me for the name/ID confusion. Everyone should get only the teasing they’ve earned (myself included).
    And although the spirit of this thing was an “Ask WITW”, I do wonder if you had an opinion on the question of Azealia Banks (which is, I now see, two of three threads below this one, but of a piece with my thinking)…last night someone asked it as “what does Harlem think?” but I’m interested in the twin questions of 1. does she open a horizon for female MCs?, and 2. causes/consequences of her move to the UK, and effect of same on #1.

  3. I’m never sure what to make of questions like “what does Harlem think?” Lots of people live there who think lots of different things, lol…I doubt that any of my fam there has heard of her, most blog-buzzing acts like that would not be on their radar. My cousins are more steeped in the “Get Lite” Harlem dance scene and the music that came along with that (though I think that scene may have faded at this point? I’m old, but hopefully I’ll catch up on what’s hip when I see them over the holidays), along with Dipset and the regular Jay, Wayne etc.

    Personally I am someone from Harlem who thinks 212 is really great, none of her other stuff captures my ear the same way so far but I’m looking forward to hearing what else she does. Too early for me to have an opinion on those other Qs I think? I wonder those things too though.

  4. Jenn Lena

    You are obviously not trying to curry favor around here with that “I”m old” stuff. We’re the same age! Blerg.
    I played 212 on my phone the other night at Red Rooster to see what Harlem’s beautiful people (or, the rich ones, at least) would do. Everyone was nonplussed and/or more interested in the DJ spinning Nigeria ’70. And I doubt the questioner imagined someone like me when they imagined “people that live in Harlem” (at least not in the context of that question) or “people who have an opinion about Banks.” Anyway…
    I’ve got a student who runs a “female MCs” show on the college radio. She met with me to ask for names of folks to check out, since–she said–the whole point of the show was for her to educate herself (and her peers) about this empty category. She said she knew one lady MC…and it was Kreayshawn (*sigh*). So, part of the phenomena that really interests me is the “lost history” of women, Latinos, whites, etc. in hip hop. What could “bring them back in?” What forces or phenomena could revivify the signal importance of, for example, women to the scene? And Banks is just a place to try to work this out, come up with counterfactuals, etc.

  5. I was about to say the Starbucks on the corner might offer a broader sampling of ‘what Harlem thinks’ then had to marvel at how rapidly things have changed since I grew up there, that I would now perceive Starbucks as the populist alternative on that block.

    do you think whites’ history is lost? I def hope that having multiple women visible at the same time, each inhabiting their own lane, could improve the playing field a bit.. see Invincible’s quote here when I asked about the expectations of Nicki as the only woman in the spotlight:

  6. Jenn Lena

    You know, gentrification’s still so scattershot up t/here, and while we’ve got Red Rooster and the Body Shop, we’ve also got the Apollo and Sylvia’s, plus a ton of recent African immigrants that weren’t so welcome in early/mid 1990s. Complicated growth, and no more deserving of simple theories than “what does Harlem think” questions, IMHO.
    Anyhow. I put “lost history” inside quotation marks as a way of signalling that I meant those words in a very specific way that required more explanation than I had the time or effort to execute in a way that would make me proud. I basically still feel that way. But I can say that *although the dominant trend is that white Americans DO the erasing (especially in music–see the half a chapter on this topic in my soon-to-be-released book)*, there are some whites (and others I listed above) who made critical contributions to early rap and are (often) systematically omitted from peoples’ histories of the field. These folks played all sorts of roles–as b-boys, rappers, graf writers, fans, club owners, label owners, patrons, artists, etc. No explanation captures their similarity so much as race, ethnicity and gender, and specifically that they are none of them black men. Now, there are extremely important (extremely) reasons to support and defend the importance of black men to the development OF AMERICA (to say nothing of its constitutive parts, importantly including culture, and rap music for sure), but there’s also some exclusion going on in these histories. And I find that interesting, as a sociologist and scholar of music and art.
    And then on your (implicit) theory about raising the bar and opening the doors to women: it is possible that having “women in different lanes” leads to more opportunity; it is possible that having (some) women making a shit ton of money leads to more opportunity; it is possible that having women in all stages of the production process (e.g., as mcs, but also as producers, A&R, as critics and DJs, etc.) leads to more opportunity; it is possible that just having women run labels is the thing that leads to opportunity. Add to the list the importance of male sponsors who believe in female voices, and the bigger picture stuff of gendered labor, economic inequality, the intersectionality of race and gender, and on and on. My question is: which mechanism is the biggest predictor and why? I have respect for no one’s opinion on hip hop more than yours, so what’s your feeling? Which of these matters most to decreasing gender inequality?

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