I wanted to draw attention to an interesting back-and-forth -- oh hell, let’s call it a throwdown -- sparked by a recent pop column in the New Yorker. Sasha Frere-Jones puts his nail in the coffin of hip-hop: “As the marquee names nudge rap into its transitional, synthetic phase, a host of traditionalists are doing strong work in well-known older styles. This movement reminds me of metal and jazz, areas where artists work in a larger number of established subgenres that do small but consistent business with loyal audiences. The claim to shock is traded in favor of a reliable form and a reliable following.”
Hmm. I read S/FJ’s piece last week and didn’t give myself much time to consider it. But of course I couldn’t help but think of the endless tussle over Jazz is Dead / Undead -- the aesthetic argument, as opposed to the audience argument. (Also note the comparison of metal to jazz, a trope for which Ben Ratliff should receive mad royalties.)
But back to the throwdown. As is the case whenever the jazz world gives way to a presumptive pallbearer, a bunch of dissenting voices sprang up in response. This rejoinder comes from Victor Vazquez and Himanshu Suri, collectively known as the joke-rap duo Das Racist. It’s worth a read even if your loyalties lie closer to bebop than hip-hop. Here’s Vazquez, on genre and appropriation:
Sampling has helped make rap’s “sound” not only diverse but literally referential in a way that serves to weaken the notion of genre as even a relevant question and make a lot of questions about origin and period seem fairly moot. All this is to say nothing of where Dancehall, Reggaeton, and Bhangra fit into all of this as other types of electronic music that are not European but that inform and are informed by “hip-hop” and further complicate its status as a genre. The more you look at the idea of genre as a collection of tropes, the less there seem to be any one single trope that holds sway over the rest.
And here is Suri, framing his attack in haiku form:
Hip-hop dies each year.
How many lives hip-hop got?
Is hip-hop a cat?
That’s Haiku No. 1, out of a total of 24. Some are even more trenchant; some are funnier. And yes, by the way, Das Racist is indeed the same outfit responsible for this cultural critique:
Jazz’s defense brigade should be this funny: props to Vazquez
and Suri for taking intelligent umbrage without taking themselves too seriously.
And given that I found their response via the S/FJ blog,
props to him, too, for being game. But what about that line, folks? “The claim to shock is traded in favor of a reliable form
and a reliable following.” Which part of this sentence feels more objectionable, from a jazz vantage? Or to put it another way: where to begin?
“The claim to shock is traded in favor of a reliable form and a reliable following.” Which part of this sentence feels more objectionable, from a jazz vantage? Or to put it another way: where to begin?