clap clap blog: we have moved

Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Re Simon's reply: he seems to want to narrow the scope--no undie cos it's not pop enough, no Eminem cos it's too much--and I'm willing to go down that path. So as far as I can tell, he seems mainly concerned with white kids (and that "kids" is important) who listen to hip-hop made by black folk. These kids are the ones who prefer, say, Nas to Jay-Z, DMX to Ja Rule, Outkast to Ludacris, the ones who still listen to Biggie and Tupac and Wu-Tang. Kids, in other words, for whom hip-hop functions much the same way metal or Dave Matthews or drum 'n' bass does for other kids--something they enjoy listening to and something they identify with but something that people very different from them actually make (although this attitude can change), and it is this difference that makes it so alluring, to the degree that they want to preserve the difference rather than collapse it. Kids for whom, as I alluded to in my original post, no small part of the appeal of hip-hop is that it pisses off their parents, and a key requirement of that is that it be made (or presented) by black people. I don't know if Simon is intentionally dancing around this point or not, but it seems key: hip-hop being made by blacks is a huge part of its appeal to some whites, either for reasons of "authenticity" or for the same reason that we like rock stars--they're this aloof, inpenatrable, mysterious presence. And yeah, it's kind of sad that they think of black people this way, but that's the way it goes.

So there are some white kids who listen to hip-hop and want to participate, and if they want to do so, there are many avenues open to them, whether through producing or promoting or DJ'ing or MCing, the latter usually in an undie context. But then there are white kids who listen to hip-hop and don't want to participate, the same way you watch TV and don't want to be living with a wacky housemate or you watch a movie and you don't actually want to be killing terrorists to the degree that you will go out, buy a gun, and kill terrorists. If it's pop, it's entertainment, and entertainment is sometimes passive. I think music critics prefer music that is participatory, since of course music criticism is itself a way of participating in the music. But not everyone wants that. Some people want the fantasy that rap promotes, of guns and drugs and bitches and mansions, and they have no desire for the reality of spending years practicing and freestyling and living paycheck-to-paycheck and playing clubs and touring all the time. And that's OK. It seems so blindingly obvious to be saying, so perhaps I'm just missing something here.

Back to my original point: Simon seems to think it's bad or wrong that there's an "invisible majority of white rap fans," but what I'm saying is that they prefer to be invisible, and if they didn't want to be, there are participation options open to them. Most whites driven to participate in hip-hop probably would feel a certain revulsion at feeding other whites this fantasy of the black ghetto, and they wouldn't be very good at it anyway, so they seem largely happy to be confined to their indie-ish niche. He asks for "the examples, historically, of a music where such a high proportion of its consumers feel discouraged from participating creatively in the culture they identify with," but like I say, I think if you're going to talk narrowly about rap-as-pop, then it just becomes entertainment, which isn't really participatory. On those terms, I don't think rap would "implode through its own contradictions" any more than Jurassic Park does when you realize they aren't real dinosaurs.