Thursday, June 23, 2011

Forth



Just read this great op-ed on Rick Perry and capital punishment by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The New York Times. I read it because I follow TNC on Twitter and he linked it because he wrote it.

I don't read The Times that much as "The Times." I don't load it up the way I load up, like, Gawker or Slate or Altered Zones (LOL) when I want to know what's poppin in the world via the internet. When I read The Times, it's usually because somebody linked something on Twitter or Facebook (or sent me an article etc etc). So good on TNC for linking his op-ed. But, I only saw it because I'm up at the ungodly hour of 8:30 AM (DJ hours = 11-4, just sayin). Because he's only gonna tweet about it once.

When rappers, DJ's, bands, etc. put anything up for their fans to check out, they don't tweet about it once when it drops. They tweet about it for a week+ before it drops. They tweet the moment it drops, then they tweet regularly to remind you it's still there. And then they RT everyone who says anything nice about it. It's kind of annoying, but it's also a fact of modern promo: yelling loud wins and people will deal with it if they like you.

So why don't writers do the same thing?

If you write for The New York Times, it probably seems gauche to swing your dick around so much on the internet. But if you are writing for The New York Times you probably a pretty great writer with something well-considered and interesting to say. I know The Times has feeds for all its articles, chopped up into mini-feeds by topic, and TNC probably figures anyone who wants to read his column is going to see it in their faithful perusing of The Grey Lady. But I'm a young creative with unconventional hours, and I don't faithfully peruse The Grey Lady. So on an average day, I would have missed it (as would a lot of readers far-flung in different time zones).

I'm not saying TNC should be sending out hourly tweets like "NEW HOT SHIT DROPPIN TOMORROW!" but a couple reminders during the day wouldn't hurt and wouldn't annoy anyone too much.

(PS: There is a much longer piece here about why writing gets this kid gloves treatment... every writer I follow, from Farhad Manjoo's nerdy ass to J. Smooth (who, as a thought leader on hip-hop, is familiar with aggressive self-promo), is pretty demure about their own work, even while avidly tweeting the rest of the time.

PPS: There's also something here comparing publications to record labels, in that artists keep pushing their work even after they get signed.

PPPS: But really though, I just want to see Carl Zimmer start tweeting like Riff Raff.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

In defense of Kreayshawn



Man, nothing like a swagged-out, #based white girl who raps questionably about thug shit, hangs out with Odd Future and maybe says the n-word to get a lot of people upset, huh?

In case you missed it, Kreayshawn unleashed the video for her single "Gucci Gucci" a few weeks ago, and the tried and true path of viral video success followed. Homegirl is now puffin blunts with Snoop Dogg and signed to a $1 million deal with a major. Meanwhile, the haters are hating in full force for all the obvious reasons. And as with the internet's reaction to Odd Future before it, the number of opinions far outweighs the number of unique or thoughtful critiques. But it wasn't until the homie Dr. LawyerIndianChief put this article from The Root up yesterday and I felt a need to respond.

In that article, Timmhotep Aku makes the claim that Kreayshawn's novelty is what's getting her over. She is, after all, a white (!) girl (!!) rapping cutely about selling pills while dressed like Minnie Mouse. It's a recurring idea in critiques of her, and it's frequently linked with the fact that The Fader, champion of all things "hipster", was an early adopter of the "Gucci Gucci" video.

The prevailing understanding on Kreayshawn's success from these dudes seems to be:

1) Quirky white girl makes video for her rap song
2) Rap song has n-words, guns and drugs in it
3) Rap video has apparent cosign from weird rappers the kids seem to love so therefore...
4) ...The Fader likes it and...
5) ..."hipsters" like it so...
6) ...hip-hop is dead.

This sells Kreayshawn really short (and gives The Fader waaaaaaaay too much credit).

Say what you will about her music, K had been putting serious work into building a personal brand, along with the rest of White Girl Mob, long before "Gucci" dropped. She was acting weird, partying hard, making porntastic pixel art and shooting videos for Lil B for years. She did a (pretty bad) mixtape with DJ Woogie called "Kittys and Choppas" last year. She also did a really great screwed and chopped Spice Girls tape. She had like 10,000 followers on Twitter (40k+ now, I think?). None of these things are reasons for someone to like a rapper, but they are reasons to be interested in somebody's work.

So suffice to say, she's not an overnight success, propelled to fame by The Fader and its ilk. As a matter of fact, anyone saying she is is really out of touch with how the industry works these days. You can't really get up on Fader unless you have some pull. Major blog/magazine plugs don't come without management and connections. And for all the reasons listed above, I don't see her lasting three days in her new hometown of Los Angeles without some young, smart type-A dude signing on as her manager. "Gucci Gucci" went out on a handful of high profile sites and she was tweeting about it for a week. It was planned, and it was planned well, and whether or not you like her music, you should give her her props for a successful explosion into the national consciousness.

Also, for anyone lazily writing about "hipsters" in New York: they live in Bed-Stuy and Bushwick now (not Williamsburg), and they're way more into dubstep and future garage than rap.

Next up: not being able to rap isn't and long-since hasn't been a good reason to not like a rapper. I like a lot of rappers who can't really rap. Some of my favorite rappers are pretty useless on the mic but have a good ear for beats, write good hooks and make really fun music. Biz Markie, Group Home, Waka Flocka Flame, Shawty Lo, Soulja Boy, Missy Elliot etc etc etc. "Rubba Band Business 2" is the best album of 2011 so far and there's nothing resembling lyricism on it. So if rhyming ability is your rationale for hating Kreayshawn but you think Lil Wayne is right calling himself the best rapper alive, you have a lot of research to do.

Timmhotep Aku makes Kreayshawn sound like she is the harbinger of an era in which Hip-hop is being co-opted by hipsters, white people and white hipsters who are cashing in on things they say rappers doing on TV. Or something. I can safely say that's not the case. Hip-hop is being co-opted by a bunch of young, weird, creative kids, a lot of whom are from the incredibly multi-cultural megatropolis that is California. They like rap but they also like other music, and rapping well doesn't have to be a priority (although, in the case of Odd Future, it's really great to see some good rapping on the scene). It's ok.

I wonder how Timmhotep feels about Mac Miller, with his true school beats, dextrous lyrics and videos that cameo the Sons Of Bazerk record. If you want hip-hop as you know it, there you go.

We're veering dangerously into "THAT'S NOT HIP-HOP!" territory when we start disqualifying rappers for their lyrics. In 2000, the dividing line was between "real hip-hop" and "that commercial shit," with Rawkus Records on one side and, for some reason, Puffy and every single southern rapper on the other. These days it's "Action Bronson, Freddie Gibbs, Big Krit, Bun B and every underground rapper that paid Bun B to be on their album" up against "Lil B, Soulja Boy and rappers who wear tight pants and probably own a skateboard." And that's totally weird because "real hip-hop" somehow had room for Company Flow and Anticon. Dose One was at least as weird as Lil B. Probably a lot weirder.

(No shots, I'm really into every single rapper I've named by name in this article. I can't put into words how happy the video for Big KRIT's "Country Shit" remix makes me. Go watch that right now.)

I understand why people are uncomfortable with Kreayshawn and her crew's use of The N-word. I'm uncomfortable with it too! But you know what? I'm not black. I reserve the right to tell my friends to chill out when they use and I reserve the right to tell people I just met who use the term "nigger rich" in conversation with me like it's no big thing that they need to fall back. I don't think I have the right to judge someone I've never met, never spoken to and whose social life I know very little about for saying it.

I still think white people are taking a big risk by working it into their regular vocab. See: the kid on Long Island who beat a black dude down with a baseball bat while yelling "WHAT N****!!!", who got charged with a hate crime. I don't think that guy was getting his ass kicked for any kind of racial reason, but this is the world we leave in and that's the risk you take when you're a white kid using the N-word freely. But if your social life looks like a Benneton ad where everyone calls each other "my n****," I'm not the one to tell you that's not OK.

As for the deal she signed, $1 millon is chump change for a deal. They'll make that back with a few licensing placements. Just sayin.

Addendum:
Look, I'm not saying you have to like her. And I'm not making any excuses for her aesthetically: if you're not feelin it, you're not feelin it. But don't try to give your opinions extra weight by painting Kreayshawn's success as the downfall of humanity.