Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Blackness we can put our money behind!

Apologies to anyone who is studying graphic design and/or has seen a legitimate flyer. This is happening on friday at my school:

(The event went through some budget drama and was overshadowed by last year's trainwreck involving Mickey Avalon falling through due to heroin chic/aggressively amplified narcissism. I originally wrote this for the school paper. I was asked to cut it down to 600 words, due to my own aggressively amplified narcissism I agreed but will put the whole thing online here!)

So, In the process of getting Mania Music Group approved for Serendipity I nearly broke down when someone in the student senate asked if this unverified rap group would be problematic. While understood in the context of Mickey Avalon, the present circumstances that question were asked under unveil an underlying prejudice. Like, why did no one question spending who knows how much on a group of white guys playing southern fried noodling with a Malian melengoni thrown in. You could have done that for 2k with predominantly white Michigan Afrobeat enthusiasts NOMO (I spoke to their agent last semester). Better yet, for that kind of money, why not have gotten actual African artists? Why didn't they consider ACTUAL MALIANS like Amadou & Mariam? Or the DRC-based electric thumb-piano percussion group Konono No. 1? Afrobeat legend Hugh Masekela is still playing shows, but he's better off with people who actually listen to African music, right? GuilCo is too busy being progressive to pay respects to African culture outside of a possible documentary in Bryan Jr.?

And then Holy Ghost Tent Revival, who don't even bother with the rest of the world, because they're busy playing American roots music. Great. So the moment a black rapper drops b and n bombs in one of their songs it's like "what? did they use the n word? are they talking about our women? put a leash on their barbaric blackness!" It suggests that Mickey Avalon's problematic factor wasn't his misogyny, glorified drug abuse, or general crudity (who was expecting better from the rap section of myspace's music label?), but that he was doing it in the overtly eyebrow raising framework of the predominantly black genre of rap music. Not a problem was that his cherry picking of rap's material excesses without the socio-political factors that shade their existence is basically a minstrel show, in which he's putting on the white presumption of black regressiveness.
If he were some kid with a guitar writing pained songs about anonymous females that ruined his reason for being by not caring about his feelings and breaking his heart, that the only thing he could do was recycle and perpetuate the tradition of dudes singing about archetypal heartbreakers (i.e. women) that make up the bane of their existence would be left off the hook as opposed to being called out for its misogyny. No, "love songs are soulful...oh, soul! Now that's black music I can get behind!" Yes, thirty years too late.

Essentially the only rappers that can perform without scrutiny are Common, who we paid an unmentionable amount of money for two years ago. Why? Because he's a quote unquote conscious rapper, essentially meaning that he can be held up as a light against the dark recesses of the woman-hating, drug-running gun happy gangsters. Let's for a moment forget that Common once rapped the line "I house more hoes than Spelman." We'll let that slide because Common raps about being positive, about being non-violent and anti-gangsta, he says words like "revolutionary" and writes songs called "the people." That half of Common's lyrics are made up of lazy pop culture references is not really a populist form of witty poetics. Being a major label rapper with large corporate capital it amounts to synergistic strategies generally employed by companies like McDonald's when they want to reach the urban market by writing Lovin' instead of Loving in their trademarked phrases and doing an R &B jingle to back it up (yes, now probably you'll have to pay McDonald's to say I'm Lovin' It in a product). Making matters worse, Common, for all his supposedly elevated lifestyle accounts for, made not only a GAP commercial (sweatshop haven, because the streets of China aren't as important as the hood in Chicago) but a whole song for a Coke commercial about keeping it real (as opposed to "not selling out.") But not even the conscious ship lasted that long. Anyone interested in seeing Common play into what's "popular" check his last album Universal Mind Control, where he pulls a Mickey Avalon as if he wasn't in the rap game for 15 years but was instead 15 years old.

The whole thing reeks of commodified solidarity. We'll decide what luminaries from underprivileged communities to spend money on, and that way we can set up a venerable collection of progressive and "civilized" black products, while simultaneously distancing ourselves from erroneous statistics about the majority white consumer demographic that purchases rap. By arguing that it's the white consumers whose preferences for misogynistic, materialistic violence gives white record executives the incentive to mold the apparently servile and malleable black kids into honky-approved Sambos for white consumption suggests that black people don't make decisions, that they're too good to think for themselves and now we have to save them from destructive immorality.

One, even Soundscan, which is where these willingly unverified but politically useful statistics come from have admitted that they don't really check the races of all the consumers. Usually, if a music store is in an upscale neighborhood or a mall, it's assumed to be white. This rules out not only the black population, but various other minorities as well. It also completely disregards the communal, DIY nature of most rap consumption. The underprivileged people we prefer black rappers to speak on behalf of (as if they should know better about their own life) actually have cost-effective methods of distributing and sharing music, and no it's not filesharing. It's mixtapes they can get on the streetcorner, or unpublished cd's they sell out the back of their trunk. How do you think Young Jeezy started? Independently as Lil J.

It's not really important how they did what they did, it's that they spoke about the stuff that they did before it that wide consumption of their new product allows them to live without doing. "But rap perpetuates drug use." Go to the National Security Archives website, click on Colombia, and pull up the list of the CIA's top narco-traffickers. Right under Pablo Escobar is Alviro Uribe. This was in 1991. Come the Bush Presidency he's our number one ally against terrorism in brown country. Or, read (about) Gary Webb's Dark Alliance: CIA, Contras and Crack-cocaine explosion in which he details the connections between the early 80's outbreak of the crack epidemic with the funding of the Contras, as if training and sending militants to rape, pillage and slaughter tens of thousands of peasants in the Nicaraguan country side in the name of preserving business interests wasn't bad enough. "Why don't rappers speak about that?" Why should they hold themselves up to white, or "progressive" standards when the supposed leader of the free world those standards come from is busy killing people with drug money it made off of their parents' generation's drug abuse?

And that suggests that all gun talk and drug talk and sex talk is ignorant. Because it's only okay for Martin Scorcese to get critical acclaim for writing epic portrayals of the depravity of street life, like Goodfellas, that amount to a whole lot of drugs and guns and sex, but ends with a dude snitching and are all of a sudden deep. If rap was actually consumed by its antagonizers as opposed to the phantom white demographic that perpetuates its supposed problems, you'll find that rap works like a fictional narrative, too, writing its violent stories with poetic zeal that third person treatises with recycled compound-syllable academic terms can't really touch on. It's like a history book on Russia under Napoleon versus Tolstoy's War and Peace. It also has more head above water moments than you can count. Check out The Geto Boys classic My Mind is Playing Tricks on Me. It's not an anomaly.*

Ignoring that is how we end up with Finding Forrester, where we're supposed to care about this black kid because he knows how to write fiction. Now white people have something to empathize with! He can join civilization! What if there's no civilization to join? Finally, after centuries of slavery and subjugation, the young black boy with potential understands how to be well-recieved in the white world.

End scene. Here's to an open-minded future.

*Beanie Sigel made an entire album's worth in The B. Coming. UGK kick off their classic Ridin' Dirty with an example. Trick Daddy started rapping to verbally explicate the nastier aspects of his life he didn't want to repeat physically. Z-Ro has made a career trying to survive the emotional turmoil the toll of dead and incarcerated friends takes on someone still roaming free on the streets. Read G-Side's bio on their myspace. Affected by Huntsville's variation on poverty and crime, they were in and out of foster homes and community centers. Instead of buckling down, "growing up" and getting an entrepreneurial internship at a local business institution they instead got together with the Paper Route Recordz crew, specifically the Block Beataz to create life affirming anthems for all their potential brethren stuck in the same situations. Notice the lack of bootstrap pulling in their songs, they actually care about each other and their audience. They're not kicking doors down with condescending maxims. Mania Music Group don't exist within the "conscious" archetype by typical standards, perhaps they sometimes rap topically but they're not wrapped up in a manifesto, they just live in Baltimore. That's going to happen, real talk comes from real living. Their M.O. is essentially the joy of rapping, creating communal enjoyment by playing with the words on the tip of their tongues. Their producers BeaLack and Headphonemusik basically play with all palettes of sound offering the aural equivalent of the experimental kicks the Mania Music MC's wordplay offers.