TAN's bringing in guests and correspondents! Herewith: MGJordan on Woodstock, hip hop's lack of media respect (no Rodney Dangerfield?), and how he learned to stop worrying and love Jonah Weiner.
Last week, anyone with access to a TV or computer was treated to a display of boomer self congratulation so vast and insistent that experiencing it became compulsory—Woodstock turned 40. The entirety of the MSM stopped to remark on that glorious occasion when America’s youth gathered in the mud of upstate New York to drop acid and listen to the Grateful Dead’s poorly amplified noodling. For a single slight shimmery weekend the 60s counter-culture realized its belief in peace, love and understanding—and then everyone grew up and ushered in Reaganomics.
Yes, put me in the group dedicated to deflating the Woodstock bubble. The continuing fellation of the boomer’s moment in the sun—remember Woodstocks 1995 and 1999? (hopefully not)—annoys me to no end. But even though it’s beyond obvious that Woodstock reverence is beyond hyperbolic, it’s not necessarily its extent that irks me. Culture, to a degree, is delusion on a grand scale and that’s fine. There’s no real difference between scrawling “Clapton is God” on a London subway wall and swearing to your friends that Jigga man is the God MC.
What really bothers me about the Woodstock celebration (besides boomer hypocrisy…that’s a horse to flog on another day) is the disparity it reveals between the press’s attitude towards hip hop and the press’s attitude towards other cultural movements. This October marks the 30th anniversary of “Rapper’s Delight,” the first top 40 rap single and the song that launched hip hop culture’s global explosion. Will Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood put together a retrospective like they did for Woodstock? Doubtful.
I suppose that’s fine in a way. The appreciation gap between rock and rap doubtless has much to do with racism and classism, but it probably has even more to do with age—rock is old and rap is young. Rock, already canonized, has affected all the change it ever will—rap is rock’s kid brother, all grown up but still largely undefined by critical consensus. So I guess I’m okay with hip hop not receiving as wide coverage as rock does—how can we celebrate hip hop as a group if we haven’t really agreed yet on what parts to celebrate?
My real beef is that the press seems congenitally incapable of treating rap as a legitimate art form. Consider the lazy journalistic device of rendering articles humorous by mashing up hip hop and a “serious subject.” As offensive and nonsensical as these articles are, they’re still alive and well. Check out this NPR piece on how the feud between Jay-Z and The Game mirrors world politics. The author writes:
The Game is the erratic wildcard.
"He's North Korea; he's Iran," Lynch says. "He might not win, but he can hurt you if he drags you down into this extended occupation, this extended counterinsurgency campaign."
Why is he doing this? After Jay-Z released "D.O.A. ('Death of Auto-Tune')" The Game saw an opportunity to peel off Jay-Z's key alliance partners to form a coalition and undermine Jay-Z's hegemony.
No. Fine, Game is an erratic wild card. But what “key alliance partners” is he trying to peel off from Jay? What, he wants Memphis Bleak to guest on The R.E.D. Album? It’s just confusingly wrong. Anyone who knows anything about hip hop can recognize that this article is logically barren.
But that’s sort of beside the point, isn’t it? The intent of the article isn’t to conduct an interesting juxtaposition between hip hop and international relations. The article exists to compare a subject that is, to NPR’s audience, obviously silly—hip hop—with a subject for grown ups—international relations. The whole thing is just an excuse for suburban house wives to exclaim “well, isn’t that a riot?!”
Hip hop deserves better than that. Hip hop definitely deserves better than blogs like Snacks and Shit, which gets its name from a woefully misinterpreted Jay-Z lyric and purports to catalogue “preposterous” rap lyrics. I’m all for acknowledging that hip hop can be ludicrous and stupid, but most of the blog’s posts either aren’t funny or depend on taking a lyric outside its original context. I mean, wow, if you take rap lyrics literally they often make no sense? I guess these guys never heard of figurative language.
Rock ‘n’ roll is no less inherently silly than hip hop (“I am the eggman, they are the eggmen/ I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob”), but it hasn’t been held up as an object of ridicule since hair metal went out of style. Enough with the goofy or ironic hip hop references: hip hop, even when it’s being fun and insane and over the top, is worthy of serious consideration.
That’s why the embrace of rap music by mainstream critical outlets—Pitchfork, The Village Voice, Slate, The New Yorker—is so important. Reading Jonah Weiner painstakingly explain the ins and outs of rap to a rap illiterate audience may grate on the nerves of serious hip hop heads (see comments here), but at least Weiner’s articles propagate the idea that rap is a legitimate art form. Maybe with a few more Weiners (and a few more Nathan Rabins and Sasha Frere-Joneses), hip hop will eventually get the mainstream respect it deserves.