The New Yorker: Jay-Z, Freddie Gibbs and the end of Hip-hop

The New Yorker ran this article today.

Part of me struggles with his simplistic historical context he puts things in. Then I consider his audience and realize that not everyone versed in the history of rap music, it’s history or it’s roots. But then I realize that the only people that read articles like this are hip-hop heads. No one skimming the New Yorker will see a piece questioning the three year differential as to which year hip-hop died and stop to read the article to find out. Really. Try and guess or suggest who will be reading the article, and tell me who you think.

So flawed, where to begin?

How about the beginning.

The premise:

If I had to pick a year for hip-hop’s demise, though, I would choose 2009, not 2006.

Blunder number one:

Jay-Z’s new album, “The Blueprint 3,” and some self-released mixtapes by Freddie Gibbs are demonstrating, in almost opposite ways, that hip-hop is no longer the avant-garde, or even the timekeeper, for pop music. (Italics mine.)

Thank fucking god. And for the record, hip-hop never tried, attempted or claimed to be the avant-garde or the timekeeper for pop music. This is so hilariously out of place or context, it shows what happens when someone outside the culture or lacking understanding tries to write about it.

What follows next is a breakdown of Jay’s Blueprint 3. On the whole I actually agree with it. Maybe Frere-Jones does have a clue after all.

I did like this line:

The tempos and sonics of disco’s various children—techno, rave, whatever your particular neighborhood made of a four-on-the-floor thump—are slowly replacing hip-hop’s blues-based swing.

This was one of my gripes about BP3. I found it even more interesting to hear Jay talking about his next album is going to be experimental. What the fuck was BP3 then? But I think the point the author is making here is valid. I’m not sure if I am the old man looking back on and longing for my familiar days of youth, a mixture of appreciation for those times and sounds, who is unwilling to accept the progression of the music, or whether this shit is really fucking lazy, does suck, and is commercial pandering.

But after scoring points with a few insights about Jay’s latest album, he falls right the fuck off when he takes aim at Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2. (Disclaimer: I unabashedly love this album. I am a biased champion of it. One of my favorite online moments of recent history was listening to Peter Rosenberg interviewing Jay-Z on Hot97 with Cipha Sounds the day Jay’s and Rae’s album dropped, and Rosenberg asking Jay questions about Rae’s album. Pure balls, pure genius.) Anyway, in reference to OB4CL2…

It’s a sequel few thought would come and fewer thought would be any good. (Imagine if “Chinese Democracy” had been as good as “Appetite for Destruction.”)

I had NO idea what he was talking about with “Chinese Democracy.” It was only when I read about “Appetite for Destruction” did I realize he was probably talking about Guns N’ Roses albums, vaguely remembered some controversy about Chinese Democracy, and it was still just a guess. And I’m white. And grew up in the burbs. And I still struggled to make that connection. So who will? Not most people reading this.

Raekwon has drifted between uninspired beats and retreads since the nineties. He seems to have found his voice by simply returning to where he started. “Cuban Linx II” sounds like an old Wu-Tang record: scraggly samples from soul records and rapid, gnomic bundles of rhymes about drug-selling and agitated encounters.

This is the line I want everyone to read again:

“Cuban Linx II” sounds like an old Wu-Tang record…

Thank fucking god!!! As a group that created a whole new lane, as an album that changed a genre as a whole, as older hip-hop heads who struggle with the state of the game today, we have been absolutely fiending for this! This is not a problem, it’s the fucking answer. Frere-Jones seems to mistakenly believe this is a short-coming. And I have had this discussion with many hip-hop heads. Rae fucked himself by making a Part 2. The first changed the game, created a new lane (bring Mafioso style into the game with force) and was groundbreaking. Rae fell short for the next decade plus and it probably would have been a better career decision to just make a record instead of putting undue pressure and expectations on himself and the music. Then you factor in pushbacks to the album, label changes, etc., etc., aand he set himself up for a practically insurmountable mountain. And then he scaled it and put the Wu flag back on top.

And then comes the crown jewel:

Whether or not it really represents life as Raekwon and his bandmates know it isn’t relevant…

This statement could NOT be further from the truth. In fact, authenticity is what hip-hop is based on. Do you know the number one reason why Eminem was accepted? He portrayed himself and his life exactly as it was. A pill-popping, trailer trash existence. Of course Em has incredible skills and ability, but that would be dismissed if he was authentic. He wasn’t trying to be a drug-dealing dude on the block, moving birds in the hood. So that authenticity in combination with extreme talent propelled him to where he is at. And looking back at most of hip-hop’s history, rap has been the black CNN as Chuck D so correctly noted. It has been the accurate portrayal of what is going on. Rappers are constantly checking each others credibility. It is a staple of hip-hop’s diet to check or question if someone else is “keeping it real.” So to suggest whether or not what Rae and Ghost or rappers are talking about is real is not relevant undermines his credibility, and we are back to the idea of the writer being clueless and ill-informed.

Frere-Jones then goes on to round out his piece by talking about under-the-radar rapper Freddie Gibbs. I have never heard of Freddie Gibbs, not that that means anything. Apparently he has released a bunch of mixtapes, but really, who hasn’t. Frere-Jones apparently does not question Gibbs’ authenticity and feels the guy is the future of hip-hop.

Freddie Gibbs is the one rapper I would put money on right now.

But he never really qualifies why he feels that way. Is it because Gibbs is talented and unrecognized? (Frere-Jones meet the record industry, record industry meet Frere-Jones…) There is a ton of talent out there. A ton of talent. Look at dudes like Jay Electronica, Pill, Joell Ortiz, Rain, Crooked I, Trae… Oh you never heard of them or their music? Go ahead and listen and tell me hip-hop is dead. But talent isn’t what is selling (not that anything really is…) so the labels won’t be interested. In some ways, hip-hop has come full circle. Unless you are in the upper echelon of the rap universe, being signed isn’t the be-all end-all it was during the middle years of rap’s history. And even if you do exist in the upper-crust, it still isn’t what it used to be. And it won’t ever be like that again. (Music meet the internet, internet meet music…) Plus, it seems that Frere-Jones has only listened to Gibbs’ mixtapes and had a phone conversation with him. And with that, he is ready to dismiss the pillars of the rap community, and usher in an admittedly unknown artist.

So back to the premise. Backing up his argument of hip-hop’s death this year, he offers a bad record from a legend, a misunderstood record from an icon and music from an artist no one really knows? When I come across pieces like this in relatively mainstream media, my initial feeling is one of pride and hope. Pride that the underdog rap music is getting some recognition, hope that the piece is as good as it could be because getting the press is half the battle, the other half being that the music is fairly and accurately portrayed and presented.

And like usual, both are dashed by that uneducated prefatory writer doing a half-ass job and trying to pass himself off as some authority on the subject, and misinforming people who don’t know any better while insulting those that do.

If you think hip-hop is dead because it isn’t selling, or selling like it used to,
you’re frame of reference is off.

If you think hip-hop is dead, you aren’t listening or looking hard enough.