Saturday, May 08, 2010

Dear TAN: Who's Better Drake or Walt Whitman?

Send your questions/letters to theassimilatednegro [at] gmail [dot] com.

In this edition: Hip Hop is new human technology!

Dear TAN,

Is it fair to compare Drake to Walt Whitman?

- Curious


Dear Curious,

It can definitely be instructive to compare, say, a writer like Guru to a writer like Saul Bellow; or perhaps confer the cachet of a Walt Whitman to a modern American troubadour like Drake. But there is some risk, especially if those with only a passing familiarity with the art and culture assume the role of instructor.

For example, in the case of Drake & Whitman. If you truly respect the craft of hip hop lyrics, and the evolution of our human species, then drake is more like whitman five million thousand. times titties. and i'm not saying titties casually. stop and think what titties mean as a metaphor for life or the human condition.

… titties are fun, but they're no joke. even if they're small titties.

now take those titties and times that by five million thousand which is also not a jokey transpose-bigger-and-smaller semantic gag. if you count high enough you will eventually get to five million thousand. multiply that number by the enormous import of titties. and then take that as a coefficient of walt whitman. you should have something that aesthetically looks like this:

whitman (5,000,000,000 titties) = Drake.

but feels even bigger in your head.

now we're getting closer …

but by definition of the "coefficient", either whitman or the alchemy of five million thousand and titties needs to be a constant. obviously that's gonna be the titties. or, at least it's not whitman. whitman is a much more vaguely variable concept, despite being a person's name.

are you following this??!?!!??

hmmm, maybe a easier way to put this is in the all of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" I don't think any section will sound as good as this couple of bars from Drake:

i'm still myself
suicide bars,
i kill myself
charge it to the game,
i bill myself,
and i don't feel y'all
but i feel mysellllf. "

we'll get this all sorted out over time, but hip hop is new human technology. you'd sooner glean insights comparing whitman's chapbook to ipads than drake to whitman with regards to their respective poet technology (ipad's just a moleskine update right?). so yeah, it's all good to generously bequeath the conceits of your western canon to us rappers (us rappers = ya boy, nietzsche, biggie, anne sexton, susan sontag, grand puba, etc) … BUT RESPECT THE EVOLUTION IN YOUR BIG-UPPING OF HIP HOP, WHITE PEOPLE!!!

don't be backhanded/sketchy. drake is poppin' capitalism in the club, and y'all gonna sweat some old dude who was still waiting for the invention of the gillette mach 5 razor to do something with his beard? MIND YOU, I'M OLD SCHOOL. i usually have facial hair. i ain't even on twitter. you gonna have to break out parchment and people on horseback to holla at me. so i'm with you on the old school love. the 19th century was bananas!! and i stay throwing my W's to the sky! Walt-Walt!! but i also fully enjoy the fruits of our evolved assimilation, i.e. Now, and don't forsake our future for reviving the past. or something. i'm just sayin'….

anywhit, i'm descending from the mountain tops to help out with all this 2010 america-needs-to-catch-up business, so it's all good. a little time-release elucidation will get all the cultural phlegm out proper. but just a reminder, here and now, to keep perspective on these 8-track to ipod comparisons. word.


  1. Anonymous5/08/2010

    Are you afraid some Whitman scholar is gonna come along and chin-check you?

  2. ha. a little bit.

    it's true that I actually haven't peeped new Drake and I'm just going off my general sense of the mind at work there. so if it's wack, or even mediocre, i may have to eat leaves of grass. or something.

  3. In addition to not having heard the new Drake, you don't know anything about Walt Whitman, do you, Patrice? I like hip hop as a new human technology [whatever that means, but I like it] but what is this post about? We've come so far since the 19th century? I feel sorry for the person who sent this letter. I've been falling out of love with Drake & finding this argument: persuasive.

    Uh, that being said, I'm glad you're blogging again (you probably just need a little time to warm up) and I don't want to discourage you. So, yeah, good post!

  4. hi, clare. thanks for staying tuned ...

    i do think i'm going to be running with that "hip hop as new human technology", so thanks for giving me that. i'll take your 1 for 3, or 4 or 5 or whatever it is on this one. needless to say i was just having fun with some of my, uh, math there ....

    I'm not sure I see an argument in the post you linked as much as some stylized speculation. someone doesn't think Drake is worth the hype?? ok. shiver me timbers. isn't hating on pop stars just as old as loving them? i'm sure you appreciate it being a little more tethered to current events, but the skull-and-bones conspiracy theory is no less fantastical than anything in this post. what are you persuaded on? that something is "afoot" with drake's popularity? there's a capitalist machine in place exploiting our artists for financial gain?

    but yeah, maybe anything along the lines of drake/whitman/titties or drake conspiracy theory is a little silly/unserious at some level. which circles back to the new human technology point: there is real work to be done in terms of taking hip hop, its artists, product apart and examining its insides. which is a little daunting for any one post or blog, but i fully intend to play my part. Walt-Walt!

  5. Yeah, fair enough. Obviously there *is* an argument in that Hex Murda post but I'll give you that it's fairly basic/not new, though I enjoy him, he's a cool Detroit dude with a good story...anyhow I first heard Drake when someone was like "Hey you heard this Drake cat? He's this kid with young money...he's from canada, and this is *him* singing! Wow...! It just started to lose the magic for me really quickly each new thing that comes out and as I listen more. Something to that "bad taste in the mouth" phenomenon --

    But all of this is secondary; I probably shouldn't have brought it up, it's a distraction.

    Now I wanna know, for real for real, what does this person who wrote this "Dear Tan," (if such a person exists) stuff think is the conenction between Whitman and Drake?

    I gotta say I'm no expert but Whitman is known for what?

    1) Being one of the first poets to be all about the "I."

    2) One of the first "free verse" poets not writing in strictured meter. And having crazy long lines.

    3) Being quintissentially American/ celebrating "brotherhood"/ (in queer Lit. circles) being a homo / bi

    4) Going out and being "of the people" -- working in a field hospital in the war, talking to wounded soldiers?

    5) Expansiveness. Physicality.

    Check out Whitman repping New York:

    "I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,/I too walked the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it,/I too felt the curious abrupt questions stir within me/In the day among crowds of people they came upon me/In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,/I too had been struck fromt he float forever held in solution,/I too had received identity by my body..."

    So -- I wanna know what is being said with the comparison? Is it just the looseness of drake's lines?

    "a little silly/unseriousness at some level"

    "you intend to play your part." -- so is this a "ideas coming soon" post??


  6. i think the overriding sentiment from me is that the same way we look at technology in machines, we should look at technology in people. we have evolved, we're more advanced now. some of us at least.

    the question was very broad, so i answered it broadly. i can't imagine someone was looking to me for a dissertation on these two specific artists. maybe they were. but such a paper would start with establishing that 21st century minds are processing a lot more information-DNA than 19th century minds.

    thanks for the quotes though, maybe someone will pick up that ball.

  7. Oh my God that is such utter bullshit! One of the first things you learn in a college-level history class is not to fall under the spell of the fallacy of human progress over time.

    Has Middle-Eastern Civilization progressed, from its days of inventing numbers and algebra to today? Did Africans progress from ancient-Egyptian civilization to colonization, slave-trade, and corruption? How's the human relationship with the environment progressing? How about the way we do food, is that progress? Capitalism, the reigning engine of change, certainly keeps us moving but does it make us better?

    Most prominent 19th and 20th century philosophers worth a damn critiqued the idea of human progress in some way, replacing it instead with some kind of notion of a cyclical movement in human history: Marx, Foucault, Karl Popper, and your boy Nietzche: "man as a species is not progressing."

  8. Well, I guess it might be a glass half-full or empty kind of thing. I'm definitely on the half-full tip.

    this makes me think of an idea of the politics of the human condition. how we have a finite amount of time and attention and energy, and internal and external forces sort of politic for those resources. do we make money? do we make babies? do we make art? do we make nothing and only destroy, so that we can remake what existed as we would like to see it .... which is to say while we're making ipads, we might be neglecting other more humanitarian problems. and that's fair enough. but it's a politics of human values problem that, to me, doesn't deny the innovation in the ipad. to me making an ipad will eventually enhance our ability to deal with the other problems. if only for the mind expanding traits.

    similarly mcdonalds serves forces of evil now, but if we properly aligned the values then we'd find a lot of good, efficient, evolutionary dna embedded in the mcdonalds, uh, infrastructure or whathaveyou. the force is everywhere its just a matter of who is using it and to what end ...

  9. tittythink5/12/2010

    *still considering the breasts metaphor*

  10. Titties are new human technology!


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