Against the Giants, Cont.

All-Star commenter Sklute on Fallon and Timberlake doing a hip-hop medley:

A few folks sent this my way on some "OMG you have to check this out!" and my reaction was similar. Partially because neither of these guys, for their assumed "I grew up on hip-hop" bona fides, made any of those songs sound any better than your average karaoke performance. Timberlake especially, considering his otherwise professional performances and his serious attempts at beatboxing on his own records, should've been able to pull it off; it rang hollow. 

There's often a "wink wink, nudge nudge" thing going on with hip-hop appreciation among white entertainers, a sort of "laughing at you, not with you" whether intended or otherwise. I couldn't imagine being The Roots and not cringing. Hip-hop can be lighthearted, and self-effacing, but at one point it was a weapon. Serious as cancer. And that's why I don't think we won, with hip-hop. We lost. The courage to create anything more challenging than LCD mixtape and radio fodder is largely gone, and much of the canon can't even remain in print because of the licensing issues and ridiculous legal precedent surrounding sampling. 

I just learned that a serious documentary on NOLA Bounce is tabled because the rights holders to a commonly used breakdown - "Drag Rap" - are requiring a list of every usage, and requisite licensing fees, in the film. A perfect example of coming to do good and staying to do well. And if all it is is a legacy, we're not even really tending to it (compared to other musical genres - even dead ones).


I'm trying to put my finger on what exactly makes me cringe about it. I guess the main thing is, when these guys say they grew up on hip-hop.... I don't believe them. I don't get, from that performance, that these guys ever spent days and nights in their headphones trying to unravel the latest BDP record, or stayed up all hours to tape a radio show from two area codes away, ventured to the rough part of town or snuck into a club to hear a DJ or see a group perform. Perhaps that's a high bar to set for hip-hop fandom. But that was standard behavior for everyone I knew, growing up. Maybe it was different elsewhere.

Sklute, who if memory serves is white, is a bit more fundamentalist about all this than I am. But reading his comments helped me get clear on what bothered me about the video. I don't think it's "cultural appropriation." I don't think it's the fact that the two dudes are white. I just didn't think that Timberlake and Fallon were very good. I should state that every time I've seen the Roots, I've seen them do a similar medley, and have been similarly unmoved. I don't really question Timberlake or Fallon's hip-hop bonafides. I just didn't enjoy their exhibition of it.

Overfocusing on race and cultural appropriation, I think, may be misleading. I love Andy Samberg's take on the music, mostly because I feel like, as self-mocking as his stuff is, he's actually creating something interesting--a kind an absurdist remixing of gangsta rap, BBD or Color Me Badd. I actually consider Samberg, among other things, to be a hip-hop artist himself. That said, I think I'll spare you the list of white hip-hop artists who I love.