I’ve been sitting on this topic for a few days now, but last night I read Jezebel’s re-purposing of Slate’s Nicki Minaj piece and many things struck me, tying back to this post over at The FADER. Mainly, The Way We Argue On The Internet, Especially When The Topic Is Rap Music.
We are all suddenly idiots when we visit websites. Regardless of one’s age or level of education, anyone is prone to calling someone a fag or a retard during an online disagreement. That doesn’t mean it will always happen, but when it does it’s unfortunate and annoying and drives well-meaning writers and bloggers batty. (There are, however, a number of bloggers that don’t mind this sort of thing if pageviews rely on the endurance of catfights.) Multiply that times music and pop culture, which attracts any variety of fans, “experts” and youth and it doesn’t matter how rich and entertaining your turn of phrase is if you’ve decided Gucci is wack, or dope, for that matter. People largely aren’t reading your opinions to be entertained by them; they want your opinions to be in tandem with their own.
And this is precisely why I no longer read The FADER. When it comes to Hip-Hop, I disagree with nearly everything they write and question the motivations behind their choices. The mag shows a chilling aversion to variety when it comes to the Black acts they cover. (As for the existence of Suite903, their R&B offshoot, there are some problems there as well but not worth picking apart.) The only way I can explain my position would mean I’d have to callback to those profoundly offensive articles over the past couple of years about what defines “hipster” and how musical preferences are built upon some form of irony or cursory Internet buzz or self-amusing interest in what cool Black people are listening to. No shots.
So when editorial director Peter Macia pens–
Someone somewhere on the internet recently said that FADER should have put Mos Def or Fashawn on the cover of our new issue instead of Nicki Minaj. Someone else wondered, after seeing Drake and Minaj on the cover of two of the last three issues, why we were paying so much attention to Young Money. We get these kinds of criticism pretty regularly, no matter who’s on the cover, but rather than try to appease the protestors, or even answer their complaints, our move has always been to ignore them and do whatever we want.
–I’m not sure if he is defending his brand or if he genuinely believes that the stuff he and his team are writing about is any good. That’s just my preference for burgers over pizza, you see. It’s too easy to say Nicki and Wayne and their ilk are wack based on the way my tastes have cultivated over the years. They just don’t appeal to me innately. Not my cup of tea. But arguing something as simple and relatable as that is foolish when framed in a discussion that exists online. The mere existence of my dissenting preference is enough to spark an emotional reaction from the other side. (In fairness, I’m pretty sure everyone over at The FADER knows way more about music than I do; I’m just a fan and it is their business. Any number of things might have lead to their choices.)
I think at some point in the late-90s/early ’00s, something happened with Hip-Hop fans, at least those of us that are now in our late-20s and early-30s. I believe tastes are informed by one’s own growth as well as the way culture develops and where those variables line up at any given moment. For example, I’m a huge fan of Total. Total was all about aesthetics and sex appeal and production, but not actual talent. Any argument I can make against some of the current crop can be levied at Total many many times over. But I was introduced to Total when I was fourteen in the mid-90s. If Total happened now I’d dismiss them.
So back to what I think happened. There was a burnout. Bad Boy happened in all its glossy excess, which led to debates of musical quality vs. the fact that Hip-Hop was suddenly a major commercial force responsible for creating young Black executives. These are discussions that persist to this day. Often Black success means assimilating or deferring to the white dollar. “When white people are supporting your shit,” it has been said, “Then you’ve made it.” Doesn’t matter if some of us think the product is slipshod, patronizing, insulting or low-end. If it makes money then it’s a win for Blacks and, in this case, Hip-Hop.
The Burnout resulted in a split. Some of us went the way of embracing commercial viability because it was always current, fun and made Black people rich. Then there are those of us that hungered for what we considered The Real Shit, where it was all about dope rhymes and original beats and substantial lyrical content and That Thing that recalled what it meant to be a fan of Hip-Hop music. This is why rap fans argue. This is why articles like this will exist well into perpetuity. We are a cynical, passionate bunch that wants everyone to hear things the way we hear them. Is there any wonder I cringed when I learned of Slate’s piece on Nicki Minaj? Far too much decently-written copy to devote to that rapper, IMHO. Burgers, my nigga. Write about burgers. It’s worth pointing out that a lot of Jonah Weiner’s piece relies on the anemic existence of female MCs, which gives Nicki an edge by default. (His earlier femcee article for Slate is here.) When it comes to discussing the lack of females in Hip-Hop and why that happens, there’s always some noble intent on the part of the writer involved. But it is difficult for me not to wish the copy was devoted to someone else, regardless of gender.
So what about when these discussions don’t unfold on music sites? Latoya Peterson for Jezebel cited the Slate article in her own “Nicki Minaj And The Issue Of Female MCs.” The result was fascinating. Look at the comments. The feedback should not be dismissed just because this is a women’s site that covers everything from politics to pop culture to sex. In the resulting discussion, you’ll find not only a love for female MCs over the past few decades, but also well-reasoned and passionate points about the lack of variety and how the development of Hip-Hop over the years has resulted in this. And the most prevalent touchstone for unsung females in Hip-Hop, Jean Grae, came up. There were no catfights. No one was called an asshole, retard or idiot. It was spirited, informed and fun. This is the sort of discourse you rarely find on Hip-Hop sites and this is what has Peter Macia is so annoyed:
This doesn’t mean everyone has to like the way Nicki Minaj or Mos Def raps, it just means you have to do better than calling someone else an idiot and then saying what you like is better to prove that one is better than the other. You have to actually make an intelligent, or at least intelligible, argument. It can’t be, “Pizza is better than hamburgers.” No it’s not! You have to say, “I like pizza better than hamburgers because my grandmother is Italian and when I was five she made a Napoletana in the brick oven that my grandfather built for her by hand. Ronald McDonald makes hamburgers.” And then someone can come back and say something about hamburgers. Pizza and hamburgers both hold a very generic image in every human’s brain: in a flash, if someone says the words, you see “a hamburger” or “a pizza.” But almost every human, if given a moment to reflect, has a distinct memory of a very specific pizza or hamburger that informs his/her opinion of pizza and hamburgers, in general, and that specific pizza or hamburger is what they are referring to when they say “I love pizza” or “I love hamburgers.” So imagine for a second, that you’re sitting around with a bunch of people, some you know some you don’t, and some nice old lady brings out a platter of hamburgers and a pizza pie. You take a slice of pizza and out of nowhere some random dude yells super loud, “OH DUDE YOU ARE SUCH A FAGGOT.” That would, without a doubt, be frowned upon, and it would not only ruin the pizza/hamburger party, but IT WOULD RUIN YOUR SPECIFIC MEMORY OF PIZZA FOREVER.
Perhaps he’s expecting too much of the audience he’s cultivated.