Know The Ledge

A couple commenters and e-mailers were a little miffed that I didn't join in on the Atlantic's rap convo. One comment from below:

When people like you opt out of these discussions, the discussions are framed by either:

1. (mostly white) rock/pop critics who don't know or care much about rap beyond what appeals to (mostly white) rock/pop critics.


2.) rap revisionists, KRS-type 4 elements zealots, hip hop "activists," simpletons who think in binaries ("conscious vs gangsta...underground vs. corporate...hip hop vs. rap"), and out of touch hip hop academics, who care so much about hip hop that they have an unhealthy and unrealistic view of its history and importance.

The absence of voices such as yours is why mainstream rap criticism is so terrible these days. Even worse than the music.

I used to care a lot about the race of the writers talking about black music, culture, history etc. Then I realized how much awful writing there out there about black people, authored by writers of all races. Moreover there's the fact that a lot of the work I adore about African-American culture is, in fact, written by white writers

This isn't because black writers lack any sort of ability or insight. It's because writing is a luxury occupation which requires time and resources--something black people are lacking in at the moment. We're still in the "Go to school, study something that can get you a job" phase. A brief perusal of the wealth stats in black community, as compared to white community, will demonstrate why this is the case.

One way to add to the pile of ill-informed opinion out there is to presume to know more than you do. When you do that on the basis of skin-color ("I'm the black guy, I have to have an opinion on all things colored") you do a disservice to the noble aims of diversity. You really shouldn't be making big pronouncements about the current state of hip-hop if (like me) you don't know what the Asher Roth or the latest Kanye West sound like. You especially should not be making pronouncements if you don't really care what either sounds like. It may be genius, or it may be whack--I knew what Hammer sounded like, I knew what Vanilla Ice sounded like. And I knew why they sucked.


One of the things I absolutely hate about Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch is how they pair a complete ignorance of hip-hop, with an irrepressible need to analyze it. And then people, themselves ignorant of hip-hop, solicit their opinions. It's like watching a bioligist opine on the vaugeries of constitutional law--then seeing the court-room crowd around and mutter, "Hmm, this guy really knows his shit."

Assuming I'm lucky enough to continue my career as a writer, what I just described is a nightmare scenario. Contrarian is a four-letter word around these parts. I fear blogging (and opining in general) because I fear coming to love the megaphone too much. I fear simply to make my assembled commenters applaud, and laud me  as "provocative." Or worse--so that I can be the life of some sitff, bougie-ass dinner party. Nuts to that.
I keep Kenyatta around to (among other things) prevent me from inserting my head into my hind-parts, to remind me that the golden rule of writing is to write about you know, and shut the fuck up about what you don't. Every time I've violated that I've ended up walking back some dumb shit I spewed.

As sad as it is to admit this, I don't listen to much rap. I'm old enough to remember when fools who couldn't tell Chuck D from Chuck Yeager would make these loud denouncements the music. I swore I would never do that. It seems I am now accomplished enough to make denouncements myself. But I'm not going there, kid. I know the ledge.