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Friday, September 12, 2003
Thinking more about Diz, I kind of suddenly made a connection between Simon R.'s long-term gushing appreciation of Dizzee and a post he made a while back about how horrible it must be to be a white American and have the mainstream culture, hip-hop, be one you're not privy to. (I replied to it; the actual post itself I can't seem to get to, which is annoying.) I didn't connect the two at the time (see, for instance, my reply to his reply), but now it strikes me as funny that he's placed himself in basically the same situation he saw as problematic for white USA teenagers: an avid observer but necessarily excluded as a participant. Simon acknowledges as much in this post which jokingly misquotes Dizzee as thanking the blogosphere in his acceptance speech, since unlike certain other artists, he's never really acknowledged the way internet-only sources influenced his critical reception. Partially, of course, this is because he doesn't have to; his actual popularity grew through a much different star-making system, i.e. pirate radio (kind of the street-corner mixtapers of the UK, it seems like). But I definitely got the sense that Simon et al were treating him like a mixture of Morrissey and Tricky, as a musician they could approach and kind of understand, who was speaking their language. (Which was borne out with Tricky's recent self-outing as an XTC / Smiths fan.) But he's not Morrissey, because he didn't do things like write letters to Melody Maker as a youth and carefully consider his publick persona, and he's not Tricky, because he didn't rise through the faceless medium of dance music. From all accounts, the culture Diz has risen through has modeled itself on the star-making US hip-hop culture, thus its focus on MCs, and so for all his talent and experimentalism, Diz is not a pop purist; like the rest of his crew, he's looking to get paid. The E revolution is over, and the much-hated materialism of US hip-hop (along with the misogyny, as Simon notes) has made its way to the UK.

The point is that while a lot of the acts Simon and his crew have talked about in the past have used at least some part of their music to communicate with the critics (even rave stuff communicated with the critic-as-listener), the audience Diz is working for has little or no connection with the one Simon et al are a part of. (It's perhaps worth noting that hip-hop critics, with the notable exception of Davey D, haven't really had the kick in the pants yet that rock critics got back in the 60's, and so members of the garage audience, who would be qualified to write about stuff from the more traditional rock-crit stance, probably won't; they'll be too busy dancing and/or creating.) So there they are, in love, but on the outside.

Then, of course, there's the issue that Simon brought up about USA hip-hop: race. It comes up in those noxious BBC comments, of course, but it also seems like an issue for the blogocrits. Dizzee and the rest of the people making this music (gutter garage?) all come from, or say they come from, council flats. But if the Timelords are any authority, there's been a rich tradition of council kids in UK pop acts, and there's no doubt that critics were happy to slag off most of them, in no small part because they were dumber and more violent than the critics themselves. Sure, the occasional artist was lauded for rising above their humble beginnings and/or representing the Real True Gritty Truth of the Street, but by and large they were pretty easy to slag off. Now, though, it's a good bit harder, because the council kids in question are black. It's already hard enough to criticize someone working outside your own cultural heritage (you're always open to accusations of "you just don't get it,"[1] one we'd doubtless throw at the BBC hataz who say hip-hop isn't music), but when they're a different race, too? Pfaff. It's easy to criticize some poor white kid for being stupid or vapid or greedy or untalented or unsophisticated, but when you've got a black MC from the council blocks spitting verses about bitches only being good for swallowing, the Dizcrit krew step a little more gingerly around that one. "Well, it's not the best song, no..." And so there you are, outside again: you're not being talked to, but you're talking back anyway.

The difference, I guess, is that gutter garage really hasn't had any big hits yet, no pop sensations outside of So Solid Crew, which itself gone through enough turmoil to bring a smile to most critics' faces, whereas all the girl-groups in the UK right now, filled to the brim with council kids, are blatantly being manipulated. In other words, the black council dwellers have not been co-opted. But what the hell does that mean, and why should it matter? I guess that's a subject for another time, but I will say this: US critics found a way around the conundrum by declaring materialistic hip-hop "not real" (hahaHAHAHAHA!) and making this undie scene, in which they--or people like them, anyway--could actually participate. It's an interesting situation, and I've no doubt the UK will get there in another few years, but for now, the unrequited lovers of the blogoverse will look like the chaperone at the high school dance.

Incidentally, you might ask if "popists" (or whatevs) don't have this kind of connection to music, too--they're never going to interview Mandy Moore or really influence her music, so why bother? Well, aside from it being pretty well explicated by the multiple audience thing Tom Ewing talks about, I think we regard Mandy much the same way we'd regard the Detroit Tigers or a similar sports team. There they are, and they're fun to appreciate and enjoy and even understand the inner workings of, but we're not really a part of them, and that's OK, too. Dizzee seems to be more regarded in the way a politician is: we feel we should be able to effect their decisions, and their choices end up effecting us personally. I guess this is because he's the Great Black Hope (sorry) of "good" UK Garage right now, but...

[1] From the BBC comments: "I love rap, and hip hop, and whilst I don't see Dizzee as my particular choice of music, who are we to say if he is worthy of some recognition for his obvious hard work. After all, unless we want to try and attempt it ourselves, how can we judge?" Hmm...