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Archives for Music

The Same Old Song

Jun
18
2008

Music is supposed to be the language of peace and brotherhood, a force that can bring the world together in harmony. But is it any freer from politics as anything else in our lives?

Just look at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest. The musical competition has taken place since 1956, produced under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The event is broadcast in 43 countries; the residents of each country call in to vote for the entry of any country other than their own. The EBU is a global association of national broadcasters; it has nothing to do with the European Union, which is why there were entries from Israel and Russia.

As an American, I’d never seen the Eurovision contest before, but I had always had the impression that it only generated mediocre pop songs, light and insubstantial in nature. But on a recent trip to London, I ran across the live broadcast on my hotel TV and I was excited about getting a first-hand look.

Venerable British television personality Sir Terry Wogan narrated the official broadcast from Belgrade. I was surprised at the overall quality of the entries – not great, but no worse than your average run-of-the-mill pop. The musical numbers had a greater range than I had expected. Spain’s “Baila El Chiki Chiki” was a silly dance number with less substance than your average cell ringtone. Latvia’s number looked like pirates run amok. Finland’s entry was heavy metal. Turkey and Azerbaijan entered rock songs. Sebastian Tellier‘s entry for France was clearly inspired by the Beach Boys.

Tellier’s song, like most of the others, featured lyrics sung in English (Apparently this caused a stir with French conservatives). Almost the entire international broadcast took place in English.

I was a little surprised by the narration by play-by-play announcer Wogan, who has done the British broadcast for decades. There were moments of gentle irony and sardonicism, but also hints of real bitterness. He predicted that blocs of countries would all vote for each, such as the Baltic nations. He predicted that the Russians had it in the bag.

After the performance portion ended, the call-in voting began. Fifteen minutes later, the voting results started to trickle in, as each country announced their results in turn. In addition to a series of points from one to seven from the phone calls, each country could award 8, 10 & 12 points each to three deserving countries.

Russia started dominating early. Greece and Ukraine also pulled ahead. Former Soviet Republics all voted for Russia and each other. The Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, etc.) all voted for each other. England came in dead last.

It took a long time for the votes to be reported. During this lengthy slog, Terry Wogan kept getting progressively more bitter. He expressed the notion that no one will support “us” – in other words, England – and it felt to me like he wasn’t just talking about the Eurovision Song Contest. Towards the end of the broadcast, he threatened to never do the show again.

(more…)

Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 7:00 PM | Permalink

A Revolutionary Soundtrack

Apr
28
2008

The connection between contemporary pop music and politics tends to be quite prickly. There’s a lot of power available any time a pol can make a link to popular culture. Witness Walter Mondale’s use of the phrase “Where’s the beef?” in 1984 or Hillary Clinton’s Sopranos video last year.

But the connection is often made gingerly. As evidence, check out some examples of politicians answering the softball “What’s on your iPod?” question and you’ll see nothing but caution and calculation.

Once upon a time, about the best example of a joint venture between pop music and politics was the infamous meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon in 1970. But since Elvis was trying to become a “Federal Agent-at-Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, it’s not a very rock ‘n’ roll moment. In the collision between pop music and politics, the former has to bend to the latter. For example, consider James Brown’s endorsement of Hupert Humphrey in 1968. I don’t think Humphrey displayed the slightest bit of soul in response.

More successfully, in 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign used Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Don’t Stop” as a kind of theme song. Fleetwood Mac (at least the mid Seventies version) was a pretty soft-rock sort of band. That song’s lyrics are uplifting, not rebellious or anti-authoritarian. Recall that Bill Clinton’s campaign had briefly used Jesus Jones’ song “Right Here’ Right Now” and that Fleetwood Mac ended up re-uniting (once again) and playing live at Clinton’s inaugural ball. The first Baby Boomer Presidential candidate rode to victory (in part) on the back of a Baby Boomer hit single.

And what did Hillary end up selecting as her campaign theme song? As previously discussed: Celine Dion’s “You and I.” Now, there’s a tune that says “experience” and “moderate.”

That means we have to look at Barack Obama to break the mold. After all, he’s the candidate who keeps promising he’s not going to do things in the traditional Washington fashion. He’s the guy who’s supposedly captured the youth vote and the progressive vote. But has he done so?

Well, yes and no. Obama’s campaign rallies never shied away from music others might consider controversial. Have a look at this playlist from a San Francisco rally last fall. When he gave his concession on Tuesday from Indiana, after losing the Pennsylvania primary, Obama’s speech was followed by “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” as the song’s author John Mellencamp stepped forward to shake the candidate’s hand in congratulations. That’s a photo-op, but not much of a rock ‘n’ roll revolution.

But let’s go back a few days earlier. On April 16, the last Democratic debate was held and moderators George Stephanopolis and Charlie Gibson raked Obama over the coals pretty well. Hillary Clinton got one hit on her account of a Bosnia trip, but Obama took a barrage of blows. Does Jeremiah Wright loves this country? Do you? How come you don’t love the flag? How come you don’t love white people? Aren’t we loveable enough for you? Left, right, left, right – BAM! Upper cut to the jaw.

Two days later, Obama referred to this pounding during a speech. He acknowledged the incident, classified it as politics, tried to move past it. Then came the bold move: He said, “You’ve just got to…” And he flipped his hand with a dismissive gesture, as if brushing a little lint of his shoulder. This wasn’t arrogance, at least not the garden variety sort. He stole that damn move right out of the Jay-Z playbook.

The rapper’s song “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” is the typical theme of Me-Against-the-World, but the chorus offers advice that if you are “feelin’ like a pimp,” then you ought to “go and brush your shoulders off.” Jay-Z clarifies that “Ladies is pimps, too,” and they should likewise “brush your shoulders off.” The message pumps louder: “You gotta get / that / dirt off your shoulder.”

There’s a reason the rock/politics equation usually doesn’t work. Rock is often loud, rude, chaotic, antiauthoritarian. If that’s true, hip-hop is that same attitude cranked up to 11. But in this instance, hip-hop didn’t conform to politics. Obama stepped over to hip-hop and borrowed the attitude unadulterated.

Despite the fact that hip-hop has been continuously under attack as an artform over the last 30-plus years; despite the sexism, homophobia, violence, and materialism often found in hip-hop; despite Jay-Z’s own controversial nature and his use of “pimp” and the N-word in this song – despite all that, Obama was trying to communicate a response to an attack with a move that was (in many ways) rude, rebellious and anti-authoritarian.

To really appreciate this event, you need to see the video version that showed up quickly on YouTube. Set to the beats of Jay-Z, you see Hillary Clinton hammering away at him on numerous occasions; Stephanopolis and Gibson take their turns. Then Obama speaks and little cartoon heads of his attackers pop up on his shoulder – he brushes them off. They pop up on the other shoulder and are brushed off again. Finally, a little kitchen sink is thrown at him, to no avail.

There is a danger of embracing hip-hop. It’s an undeniably controversial form, with sex, drugs, violence, and race. Any sane politician would keep this stuff at arm’s length. And yet, for one moment, danger was embraced: A perfect marriage of pop culture and politics.

Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 5:51 AM | Permalink

Days of Wine and Roses

Feb
19
2008

There’s no denying that there’s a relationship between performers and audience, on and off-stage. Performers give us enjoyment, insight, entertainment, enlightenment. We give them financial rewards, adulation, the pleasures of someone who will listen. But what do they owe us and what is our responsibility to them? Is this just quid pro quo or do we owe each other more?

Let us take, for example, British singer Amy Winehouse. In many ways, the last year has been very good for her: best-selling album, hit singles, five Grammys. But she’s become just as well-known for drinking and drug-taking (here and here are just two examples). So do we link these two sides together – the talented musician and the troubled woman – or keep them apart? By supporting the singer, am I enabling the addict?


“Back to Black”
Amy Winehouse

She’s hardly the first musician with what are now politely called “issues”. In the 1950′s, it was an open secret that many talented Jazz musicians abused drugs and alcohol. Some of their followers thought these substances contributed to their art. Nobody seemed to shun them for their failings. The late 1960s and early ’70s saw a parade of rock musicians who burned brightly. Some died and some survived. Again, there were those who thought these personal habits contributed to their music.

But we live with a parade of headlines and video of star-powered train wrecks and celebrity “acting out” on a weekly basis. And it’s natural to feel one’s patience snap at some point (say, when a performer runs offstage to vomit). So, let’s go straight to the bottom line: Does Amy Winehouse deserve to be “rewarded” with awards, critical acclaim, the adoration of audiences, and the financial rewards of music sales and concert tours? Are we complicit in her behavior?

The balancing act is difficult. If someone we know acts in a way that’s harmful – to himself/herself or others – we can argue that we have a responsibility to not support that individual. Otherwise, we have to bear some of the responsibility for their actions. In the case of the addict, the dividing line between gifted and tormented is fuzzy – note this anecdote where Winehouse tells her producer Mark Ronson about the incident that led to the song “Rehab”. He quickly goes from being troubled to noticing that Winehouse has come up with a great idea for a song.

But I can just as easily argue the opposite point of view: It’s a dangerous spiral when you don’t separate art from artist. You can end up assessing everything from music to movies to fashion based on whether you feel that you can support the creator behind those works. Must everything pass an acid test of social responsibility?

Sometimes these choices seem like no-brainers, but it’s a sliding scale from black/white to shades of grey. When Ike Turner died year, the headline in the L.A. Times read: “Rock pioneer was known for abusing wife Tina Turner.” He spent years in bitterness because that sort of headline summed up his long music career. Gary Glitter was charged as a sex offender and his career fell apart. But these are serious crimes against others; it’s easy to agree that O.J. Simpson shouldn’t get our support. Lindsay Lohan is ridiculed for her rehab efforts; Robert Downey Jr. seemed to be supported for his multiple efforts. Amy Winehouse caroused, stumbled and fell. She’s done some time in rehab and we’ll see if she changes her ways.

Suppose you find that the guy behind your favorite pop culture product is a racist or once killed a kid while driving drunk. How can you in good conscience support such a person? Does this mean we have to investigate the background of everybody? And what do we do when we figure out who the bad guys are?

In the end, it seems that we each have to make that decision for ourselves. Does the behavior rise to a sufficient level that I should consider withholding my entertainment dollars? Or do I decide that an actor might be a nutjob, but I love his movies? It seems like a fairly tricky calculation to me and I am loath to offer easy answers. Sometimes, pop culture asks us to pay a price.

Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 4:08 PM | Permalink

Hip-Hop for the Long Haul

Sep
24
2007

Like other musical genres of the 20th Century, hip-hop was considered a fad in its early days. Over the last thirty years or so, it finally gained enough sales clout to earn some respect, but it continues to labor to maintain its credibility and creative strengths in mainstream America. As a lover of hip-hop, I want it to be around for years to come, not only as a fringe genre, but as a popular one. But how can that be achieved without miring in its current form of bitches, bling and bullets?

One sign came last week with the simultaneous release of new albums from Kanye West and 50 Cent. Fifty’s third album, Curtis, was pushed back from June and its issue then lined up with West’s third album Graduation. A simple record release date was hyped up like a clash of boxers battling for the heavyweight crown.

In one corner stands Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. He operates in the gangsta rap mode and is viewed as an authentic musical figure having been a drug dealer and surviving nine gunshots at close range during the early days of his rap career. In the other corner stands Kanye West. He took an outstanding reputation as a producer and leveraged it into a career as a rapper. He’s as famous for his mouth, having made a series of comments over the past few years about feeling unrewarded by various music awards. He also famously made a comment of George Bush’s feeling towards African Americans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

On September 11th, the fight began. Given each of their controversial high profiles, and their differing musical styles, it’s tempting to regard this battle between Fifty and West as a fight for the soul of hip-hop, but now that the results are in and the first round has been scored, it will probably turn out to be more of a minor meaningless skirmish in the bigger commercial conflict.

I viewed it with some skepticism, since it seemed more designed for both artists to sell more CDs and downloads than any real artistic battle. But there were those who championed sales of Graduation as an opportunity to uplift some other kind of hip-hop besides the prevalent gangsta genre. I must confess, I’m a big fan of West’s, both musically and lyrically, but my real beef with Fifty isn’t the violent or misogynistic lyrics, the ridiculous series of publicity fights he has picked with other rappers or his criminal background and thuggish ways. The problem is that he’s just not as interesting as Kanye West.



Curtis

The Curtis album is okay; there’s no denying that 50 Cent has some skills as a pop artist. But his lyrics, which alternate between portraying himself as tough guy and as a lover man, come across as mere posturing. So much of the gangsta genre as a whole seems to have moved from being a genuine reflection of life in the ghetto to just an act, a way to appeal to white record buyer’s appetite for violent fantasies.

And while both Fifty and West have reputations as arrogant egomaniacs, the differences are revealing. 50 Cent has had a series of public beefs with competing rappers over the years – including Ja Rule, the Game and Sean Combs, among others – which have always seemed a combination of childishness and calculation, allowing him to both swagger with machismo and benefit from the publicity. By contrast, Kanye West’s new album includes a stand-out track entitled “Big Brother,” addressing the relationship with his mentor Jay-Z. The lyrics paint a complex portrait, including complaints of feeling disrespected, while also showing West’s awe for Jay as a stronger performer.



Graduation

The first week’s sales figures were a K.O. with Graduation selling 957,000 copies to 691,000 for Curtis. But these figures have to be put in a larger context of hip-hop’s overall economic health. Billboard has reported that rap sales are down 44% from 2000, with rap dropping from 13% of all music sales to 10%. Rather than crowing excessively, West has indicated that he feels humbled by the results: “It feels overwhelming,” [he] said. “Everyone is coming up to me and telling me how proud they are of me.” Given what’s at stake for the success of hip-hop, he is right to feel humility.

The future of hip-hop will probably lie with artists like West who care about more than grandstanding for publicity. In recent remarks, Jay-Z has indicated the creative success is what drives West: “It’s pretty much how much he cares about it. It’s not done for any other reason but to be the best music out at that specific time.” While there are those who complain about the current state of hip-hop (and those who have never liked it), there are many gifted artists who don’t attract the attention or money they should. If the musical genre is to survive in the sales market, then striving for artistic greatness is a good place to start.

For a more on Graduation, read this detailed analysis of Kanye West’s new album.

Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 12:17 AM | Permalink

Ah, $weet No$talgia; Your Memorie$ For $ale

Aug
26
2007

What is the value of a guitar unless it is to be played? What is the worth of a comic book unless it is to be read? The art world has long struggled with the question of the true financial value of artworks but these days, as baby boomers look back at their youth, rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia and comic books are caught up in a debate about pricing, one fueled by the energy of nostalgia.

Two stories from the L.A. Times this past week illustrate how the items of their – and our – youth have soared in value. One article describes how much collectors are paying for vintage Gibson Les Paul Standard “Burst” guitars, with prices as high as $500,000. A decorative ring for one guitar model, a piece that is essentially a washer, can be found on eBay for as much as $1,200. In Sarasota, Fla., one company can permanently seal a comic book in a plastic box, ensuring its pristine condition by rendering it untouchable by human hands.

The question of the true value of any object – whether a Van Gogh painting or The Amazing Spider-Man #1 – will always be subjective. But you’d like to think there was some sort of correlation between the inherent quality of the piece in question and its financial worth. In an age when you can purchase a high-end handmade guitar for three thousand dollars – one that plays as well or better than a vintage Gibson – it’s clear that the current value of the Gibson lies more in its nostalgic worth.

It’s no coincidence that guitars and comic books happen to be the prized targets of baby boomers. This generation not only built up the kind of disposable income you’d need to pay these kinds of prices, they seem to be the first generation that has attempted to recapture its youth with such vigor.

But the notion of popular culture as commodity – to be bought and sold on the market, to be preserved as something with appreciable value – sends a chill down my spine. It goes against everything pop culture is supposed to revel in: The temporary, the faddish, the all-out fun. What really offends me about these trends is that they seem to have nothing to do with the original intent of the valued object. You loved that Lost in Space lunch-box as a kid, but you used it as a lunch-box. As an adult, you track down a mint condition model of that same beloved lunch-box, paying a huge markup, and then stick it on a shelf.

On such occasions, pop culture icons seemed more valued for what they represent, than for the actual physical object. In grammar, there’s a type of figure of speech called a metonymy. It’s sometimes referred to as “the container for the thing contained,” such as when you say “I drank a bottle of soda,” meaning that you drank the liquid, not the glass bottle itself. In similar fashion, there are times when a lunch-box or guitar or comic book seems more valued for all the hopes, dreams and romantic notions – rosy memories of when we were all young and comfort was a boloney sandwich and a Ring-Ding – that are locked within it. We pay for the container, but what we really pay for is the intangible thing contained within: A memory of a time when things were easier, perhaps, when we – or they – were more optimistic because our lives were in front of us, not behind.

You have to feel sorry for the artists and craftsman who create these objects. We may have our own notions of what the work means, but for its creator, a guitar or a comic book is a product of both imagination and skill. And it was created for a specific purpose. Famed comic book writer/artist Frank Miller (Sin City, 300) has suggested that that perhaps he could just sell comic books with covers and blank pages within.

If you’re not going to value the art and writing of a comic book by reading it – or value the craftsmanship of a guitar by playing it – than you might as well buy stocks. They make for dry reading, but they’re a more sensible investment.

Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 4:58 PM | Permalink

With a Song in Our Hearts and Stars in Our Eyes

Jun
22
2007

What is a song? What does it mean, in the grand scheme of things? Can a song change the world? Can it sum up all the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a presidential candidate?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

In olden times (as the kids say), presidential campaigns would commission songs that usually had all the grace and elegance of a Hallmark card written by an accountant. You can be forgiven for not recalling such toe-tappers as “Huzzah for Madison, Huzzah,” “Tippacanoe and Tyler, Too,” “Buckle Down with Nixon,” and “Get on a Raft with Taft” (which, considering Taft’s girth, sounds like a really unsafe suggestion).

More recently, campaigns have adopted popular songs, sometimes to the artist’s consternation. The Reagan campaign briefly used “Born in the U.S.A.” as a campaign song before Springsteen protested; the same thing happen in 2004 with Orleans’ song “Still the One,” when songwriter John Hall raised a fuss.

On the one hand, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” seems to sum up the ambitions of every politician who has dared use it over the last 23 years. But Al Gore’s use of “You Can Call Me Al” didn’t seem to humanize him as much as he was probably hoping.

For a brief moment during the 1992 campaign, the Clinton campaign was playing Jesus Jones’ “Right Here, Right Now” at campaign stops, before Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” became the official theme song. Much as I like their music, it’s hard for me to not think of the mid-70′s Fleetwood Mac as the prefect representation of all the bright-eyed dreams of long-haired hippies daring to change the world turned into the coke-fueled wretched excess that came after Woodstock. But maybe that’s just me.

Hillary Clinton was using “Right Here, Right Now” at events, but she held a Web contest to select an official song and the results are in: Celine Dion’s “You and I.” You could point out that Dion represents safe, mainstream, middle-of-the-road pop. Or you might notice that she’s Canadian – not that there’s anything wrong with that country and their fine healthcare system.

Better still, it turns out the song was written for an Air Canada ad campaign, and an advertising consultant wrote the lyrics. This isn’t unprecedented – the Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” started as a jingle for a bank commercial – but it doesn’t help with that “authenticity” problem Clinton has. You know, the one about her being warm, human and just like the rest of us.

But even more disturbing than Clinton fronting herself with Celine Dion is how she chose to reveal the contest winner. It was a cute little Web video starring her and Bill, done as a spoof of the final scene from The Sopranos (cameo appearance from Johnny Sack). Let’s not even touch the fact that Senator Clinton hasn’t hesitated to strengthen her moral and spiritual standing by attacking the media for violence. Instead, let’s recall that I pointed out just last week that The Sopranos is about a family in massive denial. Whether Hillary is suggesting that she’s Tony (violent and selfish) or Carmela (straying husband, materialistic), I’m not sure she comes off well either way.

I don’t know if John Edwards has picked a theme song yet, but I can promise you it’s going to be something populist. After all, at the DNC Winter Conference, he played John Mellencamp’s “This is Our Country” as his entrance music; in April, donors could receive a collection of country and bluegrass recording artists; on his MySpace page, you can currently hear Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These.” Obama’s been blessed or cursed by the Web phenomenon that is Obama Girl singing “I’ve Got a Crush on Obama.” Can a uplifting number from R. Kelly be far behind?

I’m not sure any of Clinton’s competitors will edge her out based on theme song choice. And in time, we’ll probably forget all about the whole Sopranos thing and we’ll tune out the Celine Dion as we hear it for the hundredth time. After all, can one song, any song, sum up all the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a presidential candidate? Probably not. But if a campaign goes up in flames, it provides a satisfying target for armchair political strategists to point and say, “There, that’s when I first knew it was all going wrong.”

Editor’s Note: P.J.’s not one to curse the darkness. Nor are the rest of us here at Spot-on. Here’s a link to an iTunes iMix of our suggestions for Sen. Clinton’s campaign.

Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 8:03 PM | Permalink

It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop

Apr
14
2007

Don Imus is not having the Best Week Ever. Last week, he was a carefree shock jock, borrowing the idioms of hip-hop to besmirch the Rutgers’ Women’s Basketball team. Today, he’s lost his CBS Radio program and its televised broadcast by MSNBC.

So, now we’ve reached the Moving On phase of any public scandal. You know, the point at which commentators start talking about Lessons Learned and What Good Can Come Out of This and so on. And on. I may not live through this weekend of platitudes; Friday morning, I heard a newsman interviewing CBS News’ Bob Schieffer who was asked if the whole media landscape might improve as a result.

Let’s be blunt. Clearly Imus (and his executive producer Bernard McGuirk who has gotten off scott-free in this, despite the fact he used the word “ho” first in that on-air exchange) were borrowing a phrase from the African American community and specifically from rap lyrics. There are already voices saying that if we’re going to get Imus fired for such language then his critics, especially Al Sharpton, ought to be going after the rappers. For example, this excerpt from Eazy-E’s 1988 track “Boyz-n-the-Hood“:

She said somethin’ that I couldn’t believe

So I grabbed the stupid bitch by her nappy-ass weave

She started talkin’ shit, wouldn’t you know?

I reached back like a pimp, slapped the ho

If you want an example of more recent vintage, there’s a popular club track right now called “There’s Some Hos In This House.” Jason Whitlock in the Kansas City Star put it bluntly: “Imus isn’t the real bad guy.” The black community would be better served by going after hip-hop’s glorification of gangsta culture instead of a “bad joke” and “a slip of the tongue” by Imus. This is a legitimate argument, which I might simplify as “We ought to clean our own house first.” But there’s a counter to that: Old white guys mainly represent the authority of this country – and Imus hung out with a list of household names from politics and the media establishment – so one could argue that their racism is more dangerous than any self-hatred perpetrated by black artists because when it comes from Imus – cheered on by Tim Russert – it makes racism more acceptable.

But that’s me. And I’m a hip-hop fan and have been for the past 25 years. Believe me, I’m not crazy about the lyrics in a lot of popular rap songs, nor the way that women are portrayed in the accompanying videos. But before we start falling all over the music industry to clean up rap, let’s set some context.

In hip-hop’s Golden Age of the Eighties, there was great diversity of content. There were hardcore guys like Schooly D and Ice T, but there were also groups like De La Soul and Kid ‘n Play. The gangsta genre really started in the late Eighties with N.W.A. – that’s Niggaz With Attitude, in case you missed them – and Too $hort, but it was the advent of the Nielsen SoundScan tracking system that changed everything. As Jeff Chang describes in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, his classic chronicle of hip-hop’s rise:

When the first Billboard chart based on Soundscan was released on May 25, 1991, the results shocked the music industry. Within weeks, country singer Garth Brooks and hair-metal band Skid Row had hit number one. Independently distributed N.W.A.’s Efil4zaggin debuted at number two. At the same time, dozens of big-bank pop and rock acts tumbled off the charts. What the industry thought were niche acts – country, metal, and rap – were in fact the biggest things going.

In late ’92, former N.W.A. member Dr. Dre released The Chronic, followed by works from Snoop Dog, Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G., and others. The major labels figured out that this new tougher sound meant big money.

Today, if you turn on the TV or the radio, you’ll hear Young Jeezy or Lil’ Wayne, but the hip-hop landscape, as a whole, is far more complex. If you’re not a fan of sexist, violent, homophobic, drug-glorifying lyrics, there are plenty of other choices. But that’s not what’s on the top of the charts. Add to that this one little fact: Many hip-hop purchasers are white.

In his 1998 book Act Like You Know: African-American Autobiography and White Identity, Crispin Sartwell examines 200 years of black autobiography and shows that white audiences have certain expectations when it comes to black texts. The violent highly-sexualized black male is an old image; the taste of young white males for depictions of black gangstas goes way back. And while critics like John McWhorter have assailed rap as regressive and destructive, they don’t realize that the situation is more complex.

(more…)

Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 5:18 AM | Permalink

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