Monday, February 26, 2007

Regarding Hip Hop and the Greatness of Rock Music

I tried to comment on Eric's post below, but couldn’t fit the comment in the comment box, so here it is as a new post.


I am not sure that I understand what the two guys are supposed to be debating?

The argument seem to be:

Guy 1: I used to like hip-hop but don't so much any more--in part because
I listen to hip-hop that is very popular and not that good and in part because I
impregnated a woman.

Guy 2: You aren't trying hard

If I understand, the second guy wants the other guy to try harder with hip-hop and the first guy just doesn’t care anymore. Yet the confusion for me is I don’t know WHY they are having this debate.

Are they discussing liking hip hop as music listeners? Are they asking if it is alright to not be so much into a genre of music? Or are they asking as music/pop-culture critics? If it is the first the answer is "sure, why not, I don't give a fuck what you listen to." If it is the second, the answer is "No." I wouldn’t trust an expert on French literature who hadn’t read Flaubert because he “used to be into Realism” but “isn’t comfort able with it anymore” and “didn’t keep up with it.”

The two writers seem to be talking around this. The second mentions that the first, as a critic, should be informed on different genres (of course if they are talking about music critic ethics, it really makes me wonder why I care); but he also mentions that the first guy isn't listening to the right stuff, which seems to go more to it being a personal musical listening thing.

As a critic, you would listen to Top 40/hits stations so you can know about what is popular then discuss why it is popular and why it is weird/interesting that people like it--and has very little to do with listening to music for its own intrinsic artistic value (though it has a lot to do with finding value in music that lots of people might not assume has value.) As a listener, you should listen to what you like. The second guy does make the great point that the first fellow is judging and entire genre based on some of the worst examples. His example of deciding that rock is not good because he listened to the Killers once and didn't like it is good, though he doesn't really extend that out and make that the focus. I'm just not sure what these guys are all about.


I did have one big problem though.

The first guy’s “I am uncomfortable with the content of hip-hop these days” point—I really object to this.

I find any critique of content of hip-hop to be a worthless critique if the person making it doesn’t also apply the same critique to rock/indie rock. Any critique that hip-hop is empty/shallow/too commercial/socially irresponsible/etc. should be applied to rock music too because it is also--and to not apply it or consider it is really short-sighted. The critique obviously applies to Top 40 shit rock like Nickleback (seriously, that rock star song is nearly as bad as that one really awful song about liking the girl's pants around her knees--I smell the death of humanity everytime I hear that shit), but more importantly very much applies "indie rock"—and perhaps moreso because of the total artistic pass that is give to it.

Indie rock today--or the popular music that stemmed from the American Rock Music underground of the 80's and 90's but is now really pretty popular and well distributed that we call indie rock—is about as shallow and meaningless as art can possibly get.

It is self-absorbed navel gazing--which would be fine if the navel gazing were aimed at an trying to get some understanding of the self or the mind and how they work. It isn't.

Not only does contemporary “quality” rock music not address any important social topic—such as poverty/war/injustice/class—in any way—it doesn’t even deal with the interpersonal/emotional/imaginative very well any more. At least Top 40/commercial hip-hop and R&B often touch on issues of poverty/race/drug abuse/class/etc.—American indie rock deals with nothing but the sound of mewling voices over well recorded strumming.

I am very serious about this. What does any of this shit tell us about our culture, about death, about the existence or non-existence of God, about the cruelty or generosity of other people—about being poor, lonely, isolated?



Why? Two reasons. Art can come from experience or the imagination—or a combination of the two. American independent music is born of upper-middle class comfort—because your parents have to have money for you to be able to do this--and that comfort is one often devoid of experience (I know this is a generalization, but I can extrapolate from experience)—very few of us who are in bands have every really had to do much with our lives or have done much of note; and it is also born of middle-brow American utilitarianism and pragmatism and as such has no contact with imagination at all (if you doubt this—consider people’s reactions to bands that have lyrics that are perceived as surreal/non-sequiterish—they shit themselves silly over how the song doesn’t mean anything—or is crazy—or how the band is on drugs).

It is art born of hobby and leisure and sadly lacks the depth and insight to even be aware of that and offer even a comment.

The world is fucked—why has American independent music not turned out much in the way of protest music? The Nein are actually one of the few bands that I can think of that have made attempts to deal with social/war issues. Audubon Park doesn’t do it. I think we are very much a poster child for the problems that I am discussing (I also have scrupuously not mentioned by name many of the bands that I am thinking of because that would be rude--especially when we are such a good stand in for all that is wrong with music today).

The problem is, that we all want what the bands in the 90’s had—the ability to be weird and fun—like Pavement and Guided By Voices—without having to engage the world. The best of those bands did engage the mind and imagination and were great because they were challenging on that level. But we mistook not having to engage the work lyrically to mean that we didn't have to engage it at all. What music used to be able to do, whether the music was thoughtful or not, was bring people together and create a community. Music no longer does that either. The whole universe bound inside of our earbuds--and endless stream of faceless songs on our iPods--no-one else listening with us--no-one singing anything to us that means anything any longer.

You know, perhaps the Geto Boys are socially irresponsible—but at least they wrote “Fuck a War”—and there are few songs ever with as much psychological insight as “My Mind is Playing Tricks on Me”. Those are the two paradigms of what music SHOULD do and what I see so little rock music today doing or even attempting.

I am not saying that all music has to be social protest music. I am saying that music should have some weight to it—some gravity—some intellectual curiosity—which I find lacking in almost all contemporary rock music and to claim that you are not going to listen to hip-hop because it makes you uncomfortable because of its content, or that it is socially irresponsible, but you still listen to rock music unquestioningly—that is just thoughtless.

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