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This review is from: The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop--and Why It Matters (Paperback)
Black Noise was a very interesting, poignant analysis of the development of hip hop. Tricia Rose provided insight on the social, political, technological, and economic factors that contributed to the creation of hip hop. It appears, however, that Rose is no longer a hip hop expert. If anything, she is only an expert on the early days of hip hop (up to the 90s) but her ignorance to recent hip hop developments is painfully obvious in this book.
I don't believe that she has listened to hip hop seriously in 10 years nor do I believe she understands the sentiment of young (16-28 year old) hip hop fans and followers. The people who buy 50 cent, TI, Lil Wayne or Jay-Z cds and understand their music as "autobiographical" are the same people following Us weekly's coverage of Britney Spear's mental breakdown with schadenfreude-istic pleasure, or buying Mylie Cyrus cds and fighting to the death to attend her concerts, naive consumers whose reductive understanding of culture feeds their need for sensational media. The parents of these idiotic consumers are the only ones who are causing all this political concern (them, and the bougie blacks like Bill Cosby who are overly concerned with what whites think of us).
Most rappers are aware and vocal of the fact that they are producing a persona, a character. Jay-Z, TI, Lil Wayne and even Cam'Ron have all explicitly said in one interview or on their albums / mixtapes that they draw a distinction between who they are as people, and the character that they are crafting in their music for entertainment purposes (interviews Rose does not cite). Why does Jay-Z get shot at the end of his 99 problems video? It was supposed to represent the death of Jay-Z the character and rebirth of Sean Carter the person (didn't last long...but that was the point). Watch 50 cent's video for In Da Club. We see Eminem and Dr. Dre doing physical tests and experiments on 50, in essence, creating 50 cent, juxtaposed with his resulting club/market persona. Most serious hip hop fans understand this divide, and the most successful, perennial rappers are the ones who consciously and creatively craft their persona in contrast to their real selves.
The reality is, hip hop was party music to begin with. It is no surprise, then, that hip hop functions mainly as party music in popular culture. People like Kanye West, Common, and Lupe Fiasco provide a much needed alternative, but I would hate for them to be the only hip hop archetypes.
What we see in a lot of discussions around hip hop is an anxiety around what others (mainly whites) think about black people. A fear of reinforcing stereotypes and "airing our dirty laundry." This is the psychosis of the Baby Boomer/X generations that most young people reject but that Rose proves herself incapable of overcoming. That is not to say that racial stereotypes do not manifest themselves anymore, or that these stereotypes do not negatively affect black people's status in America. Rather, I argue that young black and white people are tired of the monomaniacal fixation with the politics of positive/negative racial representations. We are willing to be aware of our biases and attempt to judge individuals accordingly.
The bottom line is, black people are people like anybody else with diverse sentiments and opinions. If white people want to pay black people to market themselves as thugs, this should have no bearing on black people's overall consciousness. Instead of promoting exclusively "positive" representations that appeal to white/bourgeois standards, we should promote a consciousness around persona and blackness in America (one which acknowledges the difference between the perception of black life and the reality of black life) that seeks to exploit the market, rather than change it. Until race and culture no longer serve as capital to be commodified and sold, I believe the market will not change. Consumers want what they expect and will pay handsomely for it. Let's take advantage of that, while being conscious of who we are and our potential as a people. Instead of simple saying "I'm gettin' mine" we should say "I'm gettin' mine for us"...which many rappers do (see the philanthropic ventures of TI, Cam'ron...etc)
Ultimately, Tricia Rose provides more of the same arguments we've been seeing for the last decade, and, even in her progressive section, offers nothing new to the discussion.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 9, 2009 5:10:38 AM PDT
Ten Anthonys says:
Interesting views--you should write your own book. But in it you would say many of the same things Rose was saying because you've coincided here with some of your comments. I do see the difference in what you're saying too. I was perusing Tricia Rose's book yesterday at Borders while drinking coffee. I'm hardly in a position to argue anything. I'm a post-middle aged Republican blue-eyed devil who, for reasons I can't explain, developed a liking for rap, and mostly for gangsta' rap, and I was reading this book to get a clue as to why I am drawn to the music. For a long time, I've been associated with boxing gyms and schools for bad kiddies and that's probably how I came in contact with the music anyway. It kind of became part of me through osmosis or something. At home, my wife listens to classical mostly, and I like that, too. You make some good points about how the writer lost connection to the current rap scene and was bringing it up to the 90s only. It kind of irritates me that Rose blames "corporate America" every third line but I thought her book was very good, all in all, and very literate. I never looked at the background or roots of rap or anything like that. I just like listening to it...like 50 cent wrote that song "Window Shopper" just for me :)... I listen to lots of really violent stuff (although I don't like "cop-killer" stuff) and my dark secret is that I like it because it represents some of what I see when I used to go to the ghettoe boxing gyms though I see lots of nice things, too, and not only street violence which, truth to tell, frightens me but makes me excited to stay alive like when somebody's shooting bullets and you want to do the Macarena.
Anyway, I found your commentary interesting and it does sound like you know what you're talking about. You ought to develop it, for real, maybe write a book.
Posted on Mar 19, 2009 5:14:03 PM PDT
A. Page says:
Nothing in your review indicates that you read this book specifically because all of your criticisms are generic (other than the specific charge that Rose fails to include specific interviews for which you fail to provide a source, date or even cursory description). Your "criticism", in that regard, is wholly useless.
Posted on Mar 19, 2009 5:19:54 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 19, 2009 5:20:39 PM PDT
A. Page says:
ps: Knowing hip-hop "up to the early 90's" would mean having a thorough understanding of half of the genre's recorded history, which would be a larger knowledge base than most hip-hop listeners. However, are you seriously positing that Rose has not listened to hip-hop since "Black Noise" was published, in the early 90s? What is your proof of this assertion?
And why do you fail to cite the interviews where 50 Cent, Jay-Z and TI alternatively defend their music as an accurate reflection of life in their communities? I haven't encountered a rapper yet who posits that his or her music is exclusively fictional and not meant to reflect anything that exists in actual life. Even bizarre rappers like Kool Keith don't make such statements, although they are obviously true.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 2, 2009 2:45:39 PM PDT
"EXCLUSIVELY fictional and not meant to reflect ANYTHING that exists"
I would not argue that. I don't argue in absolutes. I challenge you to find ANY form of artistic expression that does not pull heavily from the real world. After all, what is art besides a re-imagined representation of the world around you? However, there's a difference between someone creating a fictitious representation of the real world and the actual real world. There's a difference between a real Cuban cocaine dealer and Scarface diving headfirst into a pile of cocaine and going out in a blaze of glory. And if you listen carefully to how 50 cent and others talk about their work, they're talking about creating music that speaks to the physical reality of hood life. So, I reject the idea that Jay-Z and 50 Cent are attempting to create an *accurate* reflection of life in their communities.
As a cultural analog, think of John Wayne's (or Dirty Harry) persona of a rugged cowboy that resonated with many white American men. Did John Wayne's acting provide an accurate depiction of American life? No. But it resonated with the white American experience of uncompromising individualism.
And on your point about Tricia Rose's knowledge base, my point was that Rose has not listened to rap *seriously* in 10 years, I don't doubt that she's turned on the radio and heard a pop song here and there, or bought a Lupe Fiasco album, but has she immersed herself in the world of hip hop and all of it's productions like avid hip hop fans do? Her text does not suggest that she does. If she had, she would realize that Jay-z 's music is not understood autobiographically by his fans, that the most popular artist now is not a thug, but a bougie hipster from Chicago named Kanye West, and that Lil' Wayne (the other character on top) has rapped explicitly in his hit song Hustler music:
"***I AIN'T NEVER KILLED nobody*** I promise
I promise if you try me
you gonna have to rewind this track and make me go back, that nigga go that
That boy will lay flat so flat
That act is what I ****PERFORM**** amongst you haters"
And there are countless other examples of mainstream rappers drawing a distinction between their real selves and the persona that they perform. And since I am not writing a pseudo-academic book like Hip Hop Wars, I don't feel the need to " provide a source or date. " I am making my argument based on my knowledge and experience with modern rap. And although there a lot underground / street rappers who profess to be true to street, I think you will find that most if not all successful / mainstream rappers do not attempt to do so. As a last note, listen to TI's new album Paper Trail, it is essentially a album about how he regrets projecting an overly aggressive / disingenuous thug image.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 11:05:26 AM PDT
"Rather, I argue that young black and white people are tired of the monomaniacal fixation with the politics of positive/negative racial representations. We are willing to be aware of our biases and attempt to judge individuals accordingly."
What does that statement mean? That because you're "tired" of hearing about the matter that the rest of the general public should not be made aware of it? I believe the problem is that many AREN'T aware of these biases and are simply fed to believe that is the case. Discrimination as Rose argues pervades our senses of right and wrong and things such as institutional and structural discrimination are the real culprits. I don't believe that one can easily judge individuals because for those who don't listen to hip-hop, they simply don't know what goes on behind the curtains; of each and every individual who is apart of the hip-hop industry. I believe she aims to spread recognition and awareness of the issue to not just blacks within the "hood" but everyone.
"If white people want to pay black people to market themselves as thugs, this should have no bearing on black people's overall consciousness."
I find this statement to be very unnerving. I believe everyone should have "bearing" or care that blacks are being paid to market themselves as thugs. What these "thugs" do matter and they have created an image for society to condemn and shun at.
"We should promote a consciousness around persona and blackness in America (one which acknowledges the difference between the perception of black life and the reality of black life) that seeks to exploit the market, rather than change it."
I have not finished the book in it's entirety but isn't that the point of her book? She does so by targeting the system that is corrupt within our society; causing youth to believe in xyz.
"Let's take advantage of that, while being conscious of who we are and our potential as a people. Instead of simple saying "I'm gettin' mine" we should say "I'm gettin' mine for us"...which many rappers do (see the philanthropic ventures of TI, Cam'ron...etc)"
I will quote on excerpt from her book:
"Fighting despair and fighting for justice also require youthful artists and leaders who have hope, who are willing to sacrifice for the large good, and who have a fighting spirit for creating better and stronger communities. This isn't just a matter of helping kids achieve personal success; if it were, we would have no way to challenge the "I need to get paid" philosophy of creating personal wealth that has gripped society at large and taken root in hop hop, too. The future of black grassroots leadership's ability to fight structural oppression depends on winning the war against the current national embrace of profits over people" (The Hip Hop Wars 92)
(I believe this counter-argues your point that we should "take advantage" of the matter and instead of doing it for individuals that we should get 'em for us. This creates division and a us v.s. them mentality. We would be no better than them.)
I will end with:
"Efforts at the level of individuals are not sufficient; they can't be effective without far more serious investment in stamping out SYSTEMIC injustice. Publicly beating up those who have the shortest end of the stick without exposing and keeping our eye on the deep forces working against black people contributes to our collective denial about the profound role of discrimination in our society, and may even end up 'justifying' it" (The Hip Hop Wars 92-93)
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 28, 2009 1:30:48 PM PDT
Ancient Hierophant says:
man.. you seem to have one of the coolest heads in this (national/international) debate!! respect.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 15, 2010 9:25:31 AM PST
Amazon Customer says:
Very well put in your response. Thank you.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 30, 2010 3:41:23 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 30, 2010 4:15:15 AM PDT
The John Wayne comparison is completely fallacious, because unlike Wayne, these rappers actually pretend to be hard on and off the camera. that's where the analogy breaks down. If hip-hop is all an act, why do so many of them get in trouble with the law? Why do they threaten each other? Why do they take it so personally? Did John Wayne ever shoot anyone on set? The idea of accepting rap as a kind of weirds absurdist theatre, like wrestling, is tempting, but ultimately flawed.
I'd say in the case of Jay-Z, his persona is simply an exaggerated version of himself, but even it is just a representation, in the media world we currently live in, the line separating the representation from the real is blurry, so it still strikes me as irresponsible to flaunt a persona that is negative.
And how is 50 just creating a persona when he was marketed as this tough guy that got shot 20,000 times and as a result no major would touch him? he rode that ticket to stardom, and continued to reference events from his past life in music. that's not to say he doesn't blend fiction with reality--he does--but a lot of his so called 'persona' is clearly based on his own character, or lack thereof.
The other problem with the gangster persona argument is that most of these guys don't offer a critical perspective on the lifestyle. They tend to deal with it in a nihilistic, matter of fact kind of way which is completely different to old rappers like Ice-T etc. how often do you hear a rapper in interviews say 'oh yeah, the problem with the streets is this..........and i wanted that to be reflected in this carefully constructed persona?' Never. But rock stars talk about personas all the time. Why is rap different? And if the need is so pressing to maintain this image in public life at all times in order to be convincing, isn't that an issue in itself?
In my view, it simply isn't enough to say 'this is reality, this is representation, the end'. Having said that, the idea of rap being the 'black CNN' is nowhere near as viable as it was when 'Black Noise' was first released. She is allowing her own personal bias to come through here, and that's not necessarily a problem, but the reality is that the younger generation of rap fans do not share her idealistic view of the medium, and i'd say this change is for the worse, at least if you take the genre seriously as a vehicle for personal expression.
In reply to an earlier post on May 15, 2011 5:59:34 AM PDT
Ok, so I wrote this review what seems like a LONG time ago. But, after reading it again, I have to say, my position is still mostly the same.
If you say that Jay-z's or Lil Wayne's persona is simply an exaggerated version of themselves then you have not really watched an interview with either of them. I suggest watching the Katie Couric interview with Wayne and any interview with Jay-Z really. Also check out 50 cent on the Rachel Ray show! (if the Rachel Ray show ain't gangsta, then I don't know what is).
Like I said before, there is always a reference point in reality. So 50, Jay-Z and any other rapper may very well be basing their persona on a lifestyle that they had when they were teenagers/in their 20s. And you mention it's "irresponsible to flaunt a persona that is negative," which gets back to my central point....it's not about the image being negative or positive, it's about how young folks (or folks in general) understand the image. It's trivial to say, but conversations like this point out the need to say it: there will always be negativity in the world. Saying that no rappers should project a negative image suggests that we should return to the austere popular culture of the 50s. A more realistic and advantageous approach would be to make sure we have informed consumers who understand the nuances and politics of the images/personas/concepts that they see in popular culture.
Posted on Sep 28, 2011 1:14:51 PM PDT
Thomas Sawyer says:
I loved reading your review! However, I think being a young intellectual you are operating under some major presumptions about the public or the mass's ability to draw distinctions between the reality of rap and the fantasy of rap, between the rappers' individual persona and their rap persona. Your intellect places you in a select purview of American society, not the mainstream. The line you try to distinguish is difficult to demarcate because many rap artists draw the strength and intensity of their music/lyrics from reality of their lives, which accounts for the majority of the success of the rap medium: it's "real" springing up from their street creds. People revel in the idea that the rappers have survived or made it out to tell the tales, as people have done for centuries when heroes and villains tell the tales of their encounters. This is what the masses are drawn to. As well, not a few of them (rappers) are still entangled in the lives they rap about, hence the criminal charges sustained by the likes of TI and Lil Wayne. On this account, it is rather dubious to claim they distinguish their individual personas from their rap personas and too generous to think the public can or should also make the distinction. Were this the case we would have little need for books like the one under review or for your rebuttal. Sadly, I fear the US Weekly readers you refer to are the majority here. But we need people like you to remind us that such distinctions can be drawn and we should be conscious of them, particularly when dealing with celebrities.
It would be lovely we if could fundamentally recognize each on their own merits, but that time has not come, the time Dr. King spoke about in his, "I Have a Dream Speech." People do and will continue to judge the black community by rap and hip-hop. People do and will continue to judge the black community by our numbers in prison; by the welfare rolls, by the school test scores, etc. That's the ugly reality and there are too many of us in the black community that fan those flames. Is not a vast part of the sociological debate about rap about the degree and extent to which rap and hip hop exacerbate these judgements and stereotypes? You seem to disavow this yet it is a primary theme in rap/hip hop commentaries.