Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Forrest, trees, etc...
Strange the reaction Jack White gets every time he says something negative about hip-hop. He's been doing this for quite some time, but every once in awhile the "Jack White is a big poo-poo head who doesn't know anything about hip-hop" line of argument gets resurrected. The latest comes in an interview he did with Andre 3000 for the Los Angeles Times (see below). MarkP goes after him for it. Previous instances have been torn to shreds over at Jay's place.
First, let's acknowledge that Jack is not alone in his sentiments. Andre 3000 agrees. Missy, Jay, Timbaland, and countless others have said as much as well.
Let's also acknowledge that rants against Andre, Missy, Jay, etc are few and far between - or at least in the vast minority when compared to anti-Jack rants.
Finally, let's acknowledge that Jack White does present an easy target. He's white. He plays the rock and roll. And he draws heavily from the past - which presents an easy counter-argument each time he accuses hip-hop of being mired in tired, old formulas.
Now when the above issues aren't being used against him, the usual line of argument is: "But look at all the great hip-hop... there's this artist, and that artist, and so-so, and blah, blah, blah..."
It's a line of argument I've used myself. Once to refute a piece by Jeff Chang (something he reminded me of this week).
But let's realize that such a line of argument can be completely flipped on its head quite easily. Had Jack White said, "Hip-hop is the most innovative form of music in the history of civilization, I love it, I love it, I love it, I want to hump Pharrell's leg..." one could easily counter with several dozen examples of tired, unimaginative hip-hop.
Most genres are like this of course. If you say rock n' roll is dead, you ignore dozens of outstanding, creative bands. Say rock is alive and you ignore, well, Creed.
Jack White is a smart man. All evidence (both first hand and anecdotal) would seem to indicate he's a thoughtful, knowledgeable, well-informed music nerd. So I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant "mainstream" hip-hop - ie. the stuff people hear on the radio, see on MTV, etc.
But I also tend to think all of that is besides the point. The real discussion here would seem to be, at least from my point of view, about why so many people feel that way about hip-hop; why so many people see it as cliched, misogynistic, violent, bling-bling bullshit.
Now, this argument is generally fought amongst hip-hop heads, music nerds and music critics. And, inevitably, the answer is "Well people just aren't listening to enough hip-hop, they need to dig deeper, etc, etc..." In other words, it's their fault for not being smart enough or educated enough about hip-hop. They don't know what they're talking about, etc, etc, etc...
It's what you might call the "People Are Stupid" defense. Which always strikes me as funny position to take, especially for music critics - cos, you know, they sorta rely on people reading their work and, you know, calling them stupid isn't going to help matters.
Things get real messy when you remember that Andre 3000, Jay, Missy and others feel the same way. I can't wait for someone to write the "Andre 3000 doesn't understand hip-hop" piece, but until then I'll assume that most writers, music nerds, and hip-hop heads consider Andre & Co. to be a fairly smart group, all well-informed in the ways of hip-hop.
So now what? People aren't stupid. But even if they were, that wouldn't seem a proper excuse in light of the opinions of Andre, Missy, Jay, etc.
And it doesn't seem terribly constructive to get back into debating - at least among hip-hop heads and the like - whether or not hip-hop sucks or not.
So maybe it's instead time to start looking at why that perception exists. How many listeners are being lost? How many fans are turning away? How many artists are turning away? Is it all just a natural progression - the commercialization of hip-hop - not unlike the many awful phases rock has gone through (see hair metal)? Or are there some serious problems here?
Some have written very thoughtfully on these issues. But too often the debate gets bogged down in ranting and raving.
Either way, Jack White is not a poo-poo head. And whether or not you agree with him, it might be time to engage he and the others who share his sentiments (and by engage, I do not mean "berate").

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