Hip Hop

Cultural appropriation, Igloo Australia, Latinos, some other stuff

ahhh, going back to a topic I’ve been over dozens of times already.  I got started thinking about it after listening to this interview:

A short background- Azealia Banks is currently beefing with Iggy Azalea.  I haven’t followed all the reasons why, but I gather it has something to do with Azealia taking issue with Iggy having a similar name, having success in rap despite having dubious ability and Iggy’s history of racist statements.  And Iggy appears to be just goading Azealia and accusing her of being a whiner about not having Iggy’s level of success:

“Special msg for banks: There are many black artists succeeding in all genres. The reason you haven’t is because of your piss poor attitude. Your inability to be responsible for your own mistakes, bullying others, the inability to be humble or self control. It’s YOU! You created your own unfortunate situation by being a bigot and don’t have the mental capacity to realize yet. Probably never will. Now! rant, Make it racial! make it political! Make it whatever but I guarantee it won’t make you likable & THATS why ur crying on the radio.”

Make rap racial?  Make it political?  Uh, Hip-hop has always been both.  You couldn’t take those two out of hip-hop anymore than you could take rural identity out of Country or class politics out of punk rock.  That’s pretty stupid on Iggy’s part.

But anyway, the interview with Azealia is fascinating, and it’s kind of put some of the things I believe in perspective.  I’m a bit older and maybe I’m too detached to be thinking about this constructively- no one is trying to take anything from me culturally. I’ve been back and forth on the concept of cultural appropriation before, but in the end, I kind of think that if you’re upsetting a lot of people, then maybe you shouldn’t do it.  Or just be careful, because not every white rapper gets the same treatment that Iggy Azalea and Macklemore get.  But I’m about to embark on a tangent.

Latinos and Cultural Appropriation

So far I’ve mostly been thinking about cultural appropriation in regards to black culture, and I think that’s useful, because black people in America get a different experience than any other group.  Yes, people can be racist and mean to other minorities, but there’s a special level of hatred that is directed at black people.  But I don’t want to start an oppression ranking system here, so let’s move on.

I had a question that I may be able to answer, or maybe not, let’s see what you think.

Why is Latino music so appropriation proof?

I mean, sure, people do it every now and then:

But listening to Mr Cash, I hear someone who’s probably heard some Mexican music and wants to pay tribute.  What I can’t imagine is some white dude even taking over Latino music as its heard on pop radio and especially not becoming the guy you always hear on Spanish radio.  Maybe it’s happened already and I’m too lazy to find out, but I doubt it.

One reason I suspect is that Latino music has its origins in other countries.  Hip-Hop is American music.  I suspect that makes some people angry- both because they don’t like Americans making music that calls into question a lot of what Americans believe, and because the makers of said music are explicitly reserving it for a certain type of people, based on color*.  People like to insist that all opportunities be available to everyone, even if they’re willing to ignore that some opportunities are not actually available to everyone.

But Sambas or Corridos or whatever do not belong to Americans, and so we can borrow them, but no one is going to claim a right to play them.

There’s also the obstacle of learning another language, which is going to deter an awful lot of American musicians.

I wrote this post like a week ago.  I’m not sure it’s all that great, but I was starting to get that feeling like I have to post something or I’ll just quit entirely.  I have some other stuff coming.


*Again, I don’t really have a problem with this.  Black people have had to deal with so much bullshit in this country that we can allow them to have a few things to themselves.  It’s literally the least we can do.




Random Thoughts

I’ve been doing a lot of writing at work, so lately it’s hard to get excited to write stuff.


I know lots of people hate Creed, and I’m not going to try to convince anyone not to, because I only heard them a few times and thought they were bad enough that my mind blocked their music forever, and I couldn’t even tell you what their songs are.  You could play Nickelback and I’d be like “oh, OK.”  I actually don’t know Nickelback’s songs either.  I do recognize the Foo Fighters.

At any rate, singer Scott Stapp seems to be on a very bad path either on account of addiction or mental illness and that’s not funny.  I hope he gets better.  In general, it’s fucked up to laugh at the misery of people who make music you don’t like.  Seriously, it’s just music.  The only artists that deserve condemnation for their art are propagandists.  Leni Riefenstahl, for instance.  Or really racist ones.  But there’s no reason to hate someone for putting out cheesy music.  I would say that even if I weren’t someone who makes cheesy music.

I haven’t heard anything from Kesha lately and since she’s fighting with Dr Luke, a guy who is behind a ridiculous number of pop hits, maybe we won’t again.  This makes me very sad, because Kesha is my favorite pop singer.  And there’s no one to replace her yet.  I am bummed about this.

This song is so good and the video is great.  Super lo-fi.

I love how Kendrick just wanders into the shot like a lurker and starts rapping- you wanna see a dead body?  Where does that voice come from?  He’s amazing

What is Kanye West trying to say? George Bush doesn’t care about black people

Sometimes the universe is perfect.  It does exactly what we think it will.  As possibly the two of this century’s most struggled to be understood public figures, George W Bush and Kanye West had to come into conflict with each other.  It just had to happen.

The definitive take on the whole issue, for me, was Amanda Marcotte‘s:

His accusation was that Bush’s animus wasn’t active, but passive. He “doesn’t care”. West wasn’t suggesting that Bush pushed the levies down or anything. And not caring about black people, I will restate, doesn’t preclude not caring about others. There’s a lot of not caring in Bush. Singling out black people was perhaps a little off the mark, since Bush does care about a handful of black people. But he was wound up. I’m not going to stomp him on a technicality.

I mean, was it really such a bad thing to say?  Do we really believe that Bush cared a lot about people?  That was part of his charm!  His not-caringness!

It’s pretty obvious from the video that Kanye was really upset and it just kind of came out, but again, oh well.

Bush apparently called the statement the worse thing about his presidency.  Err, OK.

But enough about Bush and Kanye.  I want to close out this defense of Kanye West with some parting thoughts:

Kanye West has written a ton of great tunes, and I don’t get why people expect him to be humble about that.  I know we like our stars that way, but I don’t get why.  It’s stupid.  Hugely talented musicians are not normal people.

He’s also a cautionary tale about why fame is probably a curse.  It seems like at this point, very people even have a concrete reason for disliking Kanye- they just remember they’re not supposed to like him.  And then it becomes a big deal that he’s rude to Jimmy Kimmel or something.

When did people start caring about talk show hosts?  Those people are media.  Media people are lame.

This song is awesome

As is this one

And I have nothing more I want to say on the subject.

What is Jay Z trying to say? Takeover

Taking a brief break from Kanye West hagiography- I’ve got one more left, it’s coming- to talk about a song that Kanye produced.

Takeover is my favorite diss song, not because it’s the harshest or the best, but because it’s a perfect example of how to argue.  This isn’t a style that guarantees a win, but if you want to argue and walk away with your dignity intact, this is how it’s done.

Takeover was on of the high points in a long-running feud between Nas and Jay Z and since I’m not sure about all the reasons for it, I’m just going to make note that one of the sticking points was Jay Z’s use of a line from Nas’ classic album Illmatic.

Mobb Deep was also apparently feuding with Jay Z, because Mobb Deep seemed to be involved in every major feud back then.

Four rules on how to argue and guarantee you won’t look like a fool:

Don’t argue with fools

Give your opponent credit

Stick to the facts

Don’t get angry

Don’t argue with fools

Jay Z says exactly this in the song, with a line probably borrowed from Mark Twain

A wise man told me, don’t with fools, cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who

This was a hard lesson to learn, and I still sometimes ignore it, especially on the internet.  You know who looks stupid in an argument with trolls?  EVERYONE.

Give your opponent credit

This actually dovetails nicely with the previous one.  Jay says “don’t argue with fools” almost at the end of the song.  We can look at that two ways- either he’s not taking his own advice or he doesn’t think Nas and Mobb Deep are fools.  I lean toward the latter.  Because regardless of their personal histories, Jay has some respect for at least some of their work.

Had a spark when you started but now you’re just garbage
Fell from top ten to not mentioned at all

You made it a hot line, I made it a hot song

You said you been in this ten
I’ve been in it five – smarten up Nas
Four albums in ten years nigga? I could divide
That’s one every let’s say two, two of them shits was due
One was – NAHHH, the other was “Illmatic”
That’s a one hot album every ten year average

Jay isn’t trying to deny that Nas was a good rapper at the start of his career.  How could he?  Pretty much everyone agrees that Illmatic was a landmark album, easily one of the best of the 90s.  He’s just pointing out that by the time Takeover came out, Nas had fallen off.  None of which was particularly controversial.

But it’s important to give your opponent credit, not only because it may just diffuse some tension, but because it’s just petty not to.  I don’t want to look petty, I just want to be right.

Stick to the facts

This is what I like about Jay Z.  He’s got the facts, he’s going to lay them out, fairly dispassionately.  Some of the highlights:

And you ain’t get a corn nigga you was gettin fucked and
I know who I paid God, Serchlite Publishing

Ouch.  Nas didn’t even get a check for the line that Jay used.  He didn’t have control of his own publishing rights for Illmatic.  That to me is the harshest line in the song.

No, you’re not on my level get your brakes tweaked
I sold what ya whole album sold in my first week

I showed you your first tec on tour with Large Professor
(Me, that’s who!) Then I heard your album bout your tec on your dresser

Nas isn’t selling records.  Nas is a fake gangster who hadn’t handled a gun before Jay showed him one.

When I was pushin weight, back in eighty-eight
you was a ballerina I got your pictures I seen ya

This is out of the Eazy E “Dr Dre wore makeup!” playbook.  It’s kind of a lame diss, but this is hip hop.

At any rate, sticking to what you know and to the facts is pretty key.  One, getting caught in a lie is pretty much an automatic loss of an argument.  Two, name-calling is just petty.  Jay Z does a lot of that on here too- calling Prodigy a “little fuck” (Prodigy of Mobb Deep isn’t a big dude)- I suppose some degree of that is unavoidable.

Don’t get angry

This is maybe the most important point.  When you get angry and start yelling, you look like a fool.  This is why I can kind of enjoy diss songs like Ether, Nas response to Takeover, or Tupac’s over-the-top Biggie Smalls diss Hit Em Up.  They’re OK.  But you can tell that the person they’re responding to really got under their skin.  That’s not a good place to be.  In Biggie and Tupac’s case, that led to tragedy.  Nas and Jay, on the other hand, were able to put it behind them.

Which is good.  One benefit of keeping your dignity after an argument is that you won’t want to shoot someone later.

What is Kanye West trying to say? Diamonds from Sierra Leone

Just like superheroes, every rapper needs an origin story.  It’s got to involve some hardship or another- usually some combination of being poor, being a drug dealer and/or gang-banger, being black, having a crazy drug addicted mother and an absent father or just starting from the bottom, wherever that may be.  For the record, I’m not trying to make a joke about these things- a lot of rappers probably had some terrible experiences growing up.  But making the origin story a virtual requirement for rappers, has occasionally meant that some people would experience a different, albeit less sympathetic, form of hardship- having to wrack their brains coming up with an origin story, with sometimes comical results.

I don’t know Kanye personally, so I’m just going off of Wikipedia, but Kanye had none of the classic challenges, other than being a young black man, to overcome.  He had a middle-class upbringing, with both parents at home.  So far as I know he never had to deal drugs.  He did drop out of college to pursue music full time in around 1997.  Within a couple of years he was a successful producer, who was also writing rhymes in his spare time.

While producing some huge hits for Jay Z’s Roc-A-Fella records- including a good deal of Jay Z’s The Blueprint- Kanye was shopping around for a record deal.  Finally he was able to convince Roc-A-Fella to release his first album, which they did in 2004.  Not bad right?  It only took him seven years, and by the time his first album was out he was already a very wealthy man.

But that’s Kanye’s origin story.  He had a hard time getting signed.  I know, it’s not much to go on, but every rapper must have an origin story.

I love this song and its subsequent remix.  It’s an old James Bond movie sample and Kanye telling his origin story and trying to explain the reasons behind the first of his awards show freakouts.

Award shows- everyone remembers how he grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift, but apparently he walked out of the 2004 AMAs after not getting the new artist award

I was sick about awards
Couldn’t nobody cure me
Only playa that got robbed but kept all his jewelry
Alicia Keys tried to talk some sense to them
30 minutes later seems there’s no convincing them

So Kanye didn’t get the award he wanted.  Oh well, right?  These are some of my favorite bars from him ever

What more can you ask for?
The international asshole
Who complain about what he is owed?
And throw a tantrum like he is 3 years old
You gotta love it though somebody still speaks from his soul

I love it because Kanye is doing two things at once- owning up to being a big baby and then taking pride in being a big baby.  I do admit, I love it that someone does speak from his soul.  Famous people are fucking boring.  You know with Kanye that he’s going to speak his mind.  Do I think I he is owed an award?  Not really.  I’m not even sure he thinks so.

And wasn’t changed by the change, or the game, or the fame,
When he came, in the game, he made his own lane

This is maybe the most important thing to take from his origin story- Kanye really did do something different.  By he made his own lane, he’s claiming to have carved out a new spot in hip-hop- something that was different than what Jay Z called “thug rappin’ & gimmicks”, the party rap that was coming out of the South or even the conscious rap of the 90s.  He did make his own lane.  That’s true.  Guys like Drake, Kendrick Lamar or J Cole owe it to Kanye for creating a space in hip-hop for them.

Speaking of conscious rap, Kanye went back after the original was released and recorded a remix of this song

This is part of why I like Kanye.  The original comes off as just another ode to being rich, Kanye brings that into context of what was going on in Sierra Leone at the time

The diamonds, the chains, the bracelets, the charmses
I thought my Jesus Piece was so harmless
‘Til I seen a picture of a shorty armless

What other big famous rapper would go out of his way to worry about where his jewels came from?  At that point I don’t think there was anyone who would have.  Part of why I like the guy.

What is Kanye West trying to say? Gold Digger

So I had this lengthy, epic post in my head for the last couple weeks- A Defense of Kanye West.  Because I like Kanye West.  He’s one of the most fascinating and interesting people in public life right now.  But frankly I couldn’t make it happen.  I started and stopped a couple of times and in the end the whole idea was just too daunting.  So I thought I’d break it down into more manageable posts and see what I could do.

A few things- Kanye West is an interesting man.  That’s not to say I always agree with him or that I can always make sense of what he’s trying to say.  Often you can tell he’s working out ideas in real time, when he’s giving interviews or even in his songs.  He’s a flexible thinker, incorporating different viewpoints into the thinks he says.  He’s not afraid to speak his mind, even when he knows he’ll take shit for it.  And few people take more shit for just having an opinion than Kanye West.

And in the end, why are people upset with him?  Unless you’re George Bush or Taylor Swift, he’s probably never insulted you personally.  I don’t get it.

I’m starting with Gold Digger, not just because it’s a great song, but because it’s an interesting one.

The basic synopsis of the song is this:

Verse 1: he meets a pretty girl at a beauty salon, she’s interested in him for his money and makes him take all her kids and their friends to dinner.

Verse 2: he talks about how young men should be careful with this type of woman.

Verse 3: he gives young women advice on how they should behave.

So starting off with the premise of the song- some women are just after men for their money.  It’s probably the case that some women are, but this plays into a fairly nasty stereotype about women.  Especially with verse two:

Eighteen years, eighteen years, she got one of your kids, got you for eighteen years

Holla we want prenup, we want prenup, yeah

It’s something that you need to have, cause if she leave your ass she gonna leave with half

This is basically the Eddie Murphy Raw act from the 80s.  I don’t think it’s a very positive view on women.

Verse 3 is the turnaround.  Kanye advises a young women who is “mopping floors” to :

Stick by his side, I know there’s dude’s ballin’ and yeah that’s nice

They gonna keep callin’ but you stay right girl

Annnnd the turnaround:

and when he get on he leave your ass for a white girl 

Ouch.  So there are no winners.  Men are terrible because they’ll drop women whenever they get money.  Women are bad gold diggers who will try to trap you by getting pregnant.  Or so it seems.

This is my favorite set of lines in the song

From what I heard she got a baby by Busta
My best friend says she use to fuck with Usher
I don’t care what none of y’all say I still love her

Busta= Busta Rhymes, the rapper, and Usher is the singer.  I’m sure he just used those names because they rhymed, but the point is that, this girl has been with other famous men.  Which is kind of a big deal, right?  Men with “traditional values”, which many rappers are, don’t like the idea of their girlfriend being publicly tied to other well-known men, especially if they’ve produced children with them.  Because it means someone else got there first.   “I had her before you” is one of the oldest insults in the book of rap insults.

But Kanye doesn’t care.  “I don’t care what none of y’all say, I still love her.”

What really makes this song though, is how Kanye’s life has played out since it was released in 2005.  Kanye got married this year.  To this lady:

Embed from Getty Images

I don’t know much about the Kardashians.  But to paraphrase- we all know the kind of dudes Kim’s messin’ with.  We also know that she’s been with other dudes before.  Anyone with an internet connection can find definitive proof.  But Kanye’s never hid from this:

Break records at Louis
Ate breakfast at Gucci
My girl a superstar all from a home movie
Bow on our arrival the unamerican idols

When I first heard that line, I was blown away.  What? Did he just say that?  I guess the idea of getting money by any means possible goes for everyone- Gold Digger reads like a condemnation, but it doesn’t always sound like one.  But I never thought anyone would proudly call attention to his own girlfriend’s sex tape.

And that’s the thing.  Kanye seems genuinely happy with his wife and child.  He proudly talks about them in interviews.  He even made this:

I don’t know him personally.  Maybe that video is a sign that’s he’s really in love or maybe it’s an act.  I tend to lean towards the former, because… well just watch it.  Who knows.

What does all this mean?  I don’t know.  Was Gold Digger prophetic?  Was it a mean song making fun of women?  Was it a cynical take on men?  Again, who knows.  I like questions with no answers, and Kanye gives me those.

Iiiiiii waannnaa beeeeeeee anarcheeeeee

I don’t really, I just happened to be watching this video and I saw the Circle A on Machine Gun Kelly’s stomach

And it made me think of the Sex Pistols


I don’t know if it was the first, but Anarchy in the UK was probably the best known mention of anarchy in a song and the subject was quickly picked up by other bands.  The Sex Pistols’ vision was of anarchy being a license to behave whoever the fuck they wanted.  Basically, it was a call for chaos.  It was obviously meant to be provocative, as almost everything they did was.  But the Circle A caught on and started showing up all over punk rock and heavy metal records and t-shirts, even on Dave Mustaine’s guitar.  Anywhere that angry young dudes congregated, the symbol was there.  Even now it’s in the name of a prominent television show.

What’s funny is that there were some bands that took the idea of anarchism – left wing Libertarianism- seriously.  I don’t, but I guess any idea will find some takers.  Crass may or may not have been the first anarchist band, but according to Wikipedia (…) they were the first to include the symbol in their imagery.

(this song actually dovetails nicely with my previous post- their anti-revolution song.  As a song though it’s really long and kind of boring, I’ll give you the shorter- don’t fight revolutions, peace is better)

I have no idea if it’s true if they were the first band to use the anarchy symbol.  But they were hugely influential for the peace punx or the crusty punx, or whatever those guys go by now.  They were deeply committed to their vision, living in a commune, playing deliberately abrasive music and dressing closer to Chinese Communist party members than punks.  I still find their bleak visual imagery really interesting, but I don’t listen them much anymore.  Except maybe this song- the most fuck you of fuck you songs I know of:

They ask me why I’m hateful, why I’m bad.
They tell me I got things they never had.
They tell me go to church and see the light.
Cos the good lord’s always right.

So what, so what?
So what if Jesus died on the cross.
So what about the fucker? I don’t give a toss.

It goes on from there.  Sex Pistols never managed to be that inflammatory.

The other notable anarchist band was also responsible for one of the most annoying songs of the 90s.  Can you guess who they were?

That’s right!  Chumbawamba!  I remember this song being in ads for Home Alone 2, along with just about everywhere else for a full year.  It was Who Let the Dogs Out level ubiquitous.  And people think they were a one-hit wonder, and maybe that’s true because they never had another true hit, but it was also maybe the longest of long cons ever pulled off in music.

Chumbawamba came out of the same peace punx scene that grew up around Crass in the early 80s.  They allegedly were a punk band when they started, but quickly abandoned the style.  Their first album, a concept record deriding celebrity charity records called Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, only occasionally hints at their punk roots:

They went on to cultivate more and more of a pop sound.  My favorite song by them is this one-

It’s actually pretty much a template for Tumbthumping.  I just like the chorus-

have a good time all the time, cause you won’t get nothing when you die

Punx, of course, quickly distanced themselves from Chumbawamba for going off the reservation but at the time when they hit their biggest I remember reading an interview with them that I thought was pretty interesting.  They were taking a lot of crap for “selling out” but they responded with- every time we get paid for one of these ads, we donate the money to anarchist groups.  So every time Nike or the NFL played that song, some European anarchist collective was getting a check.  That’s maybe the cleverest thing any anarchists did, ever.

And according to them, at the same time their leftist fans were calling them sellouts, their working class friends were happy for them that they were finally making money.  That struck me as something important and made me rethink my opinion of a lot of acts.

At any rate, to recap, I’m not an anarchist, at all, in fact I find their ideas mostly naive and implausible.  But it’s interesting how a simple idea went in two wildly different directions.