…but can you undermine it?

I’m paraphrasing the fortune cookie but it went something like this, the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know. That and how to say thirty five in Mandarin, useful when you’re trying to tell the mail order bride correspondent your cut-off age. But that’s neither here nor there.

Applicable to things near and far, the dictum holds true against the majority of individual perspectives I have had the pleasure of encountering on an ongoing basis, observing as they grow. Although a bit troublesome, it’s ultimately enlightening when I learn how ignorant my own perspective is also. Ignorant of the world, of people, of all things I try to understand (see stereotype in opening paragraph).

It can also be entertaining, like when I see the Cult of Personality that rap thrives on being diminished by the increased transparency provided by our digital age. Although putting so many cats on pedestals without so much as an inkling into their actual characters might make me blush in retrospect, in the end it’s laughable. Thank you twitter.

The nearly instant communication tools we utilize today help to expose personalities which would otherwise be filtered by PR machines and the limited scope of old mediums like vinyl and tape and the one-off published interview. Sometimes to their benefit, other times to their demise. In addition, direct access is provided for fans and critics alike. An uncensored stream of opinions, sure to tear down just as easily as it can build, is unavoidable.

@CrayonFlux: @SadatX u past ur prime, ole ass nigga. Ur next release gon come wit some moldy ass porridge, segway ridin ass nigga

@heydouche: @g___ how does it feel to have the shittiest blog on the internet?

By exposing unpolished communication, intent is often revealed. Following old time rap stars and execs, damn it if it ain’t a slap in the face. Their new rap language is frequently mired with self-improvement psychobabble and new age management principles. Makes me wonder if this is the way they communicate in their personal lives or if it’s just a kind of persona they create for public consumption. Are they just playing mind games, like 50 does? Are they as good as 50?

XXLMag.com: Earlier you said when you guys first started talking that he spoke to you about the Game situation. Was he looking for advice on that?

Robert Greene: …I was impressed about how he was weighing certain options and not just going with raw emotion, because you’d expect someone with the persona that he projects—which really isn’t who he is—that he would be looking for something kind of ultra-aggressive. That’s the entertainment part of 50. The real 50 is much more strategic.

This positivity verbiage, that sometimes makes me uncontrollably vomit in my hand like that dude in that David O. Russel movie, comes across more as a sort of defense mechanism than altruism or enlightenment. I recognize it well, almost as an archetype of corporate minded leaders (politicians) who prefer to avoid conflict with their constituency. A feigned neutrality, easily misinterpreted as inclusion, can double your fan base, why not be diplomatic? The question is, is you is or is you ain’t their constituency?


The idea of a once proudly defiant community of culture participants having been subverted by their economic predicament and the influence of consumerist institutions is not new (recommended reading: That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader). But is it just me or has the tide turned? With historically oppressive labels and their marketing machines weakened (not to gloss over the predicament of the financial institutions and the economic environment in general) more and more people seem to be questioning their ways of doing things. Actually, there’s almost a sense of disarray, as one time recording artists make sense of diminishing sales and dried up fountains of funding.

Earlier this month Ming and I headed uptown to the Museum of the City of New York to check out a panel discussion with early Latino contributors to Hip-Hop culture. Crazy Legs stood in for a sick Dj Disco Wiz and it was an unexpected but welcome addition. His unrehearsed remarks lent the event a nice touch of real talk. Not to say that the other speakers were in any way watered down, not at all. But an expletive here and there and some unabashed recounting of the ol’ part days helped to ground us a bit. That’s the thing about some of the things I’m trying to articulate here. It can seem so esoteric at times, it becomes an exercise to try and discuss. But that’s why we are lucky to have teachers in our midst, like Popmaster Fabel. On that night he gave us a short glimpse of one of his lectures which relates to the commodification of hip-hop culture.

As an aside, it’s nice to attend hip-hop inspired events at posh institutions. Although open to the public and not-for-profit, when I visit museums I still sense an air of wealth and privilege. Also couldn’t deny that feeling that, well, that hip-hop doesn’t really belong there. But it’s effin’ there anyway. Saying what it has to say. And although not the first time, by any means, that hip-hop has been featured at a cultural playground for the wealthy, that feeling of accomplishment was palpable.

But yeah, I guess my overall question is this. Over the years the culture has been undermined with other people’s goals of gains. Recently the machines that organized and projected the influence of the “few” appear to be weakening. Is it finally our turn to undermine them? If so, how do we come together to support this notion? Who are our leaders? Will the artists of yesteryear find their way?

(By the way, we are waiting to hear back about sharing the audio from the Museum of the City event, hopefully we get the ok. In addition, last week Ming and I attended the opening night to the “Is Hip-Hop History?” conference where Ralph McDaniels was the main speaker. He had a lot of on-topic, poignant things to say so I hope we get to share that also.)