Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper: The Week in Pop-Culture Writing

The highlights from seven days of reading about entertainment

Chance the Rapper performs at Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco earlier this month. (Amy Harris / AP)

How Chance the Rapper’s Life Became Perfect
Zach Baron | GQ
“Los Angeles is a weird, complicated town for him. It's where all the record labels are, for one thing. And Chancelor Bennett, as he was born, is unsigned. Won't sign. It's maybe the most interesting, improbable music-industry story going right now—a young, obviously gifted rapper, universally hailed as the heir to Kanye and leader of a new generation of Internet-savvy kids who think of Jay Z as a failed tech entrepreneur, now on his fourth year of refusing to sign with a label.”

Making a Home For Black History
Vinson Cunningham | The New Yorker
“The collection’s dependence on viscerally affecting items reflects the Smithsonian’s tendency toward a broad, largely artifact-based history—Here’s somebody’s Buick! Here’s something Walt Whitman once touched!—meant to induce gooseflesh, or thoughtful moans. Its curators know how impatient tourists and students can be.”

Donald Glover’s Community
Rembert Browne | Vulture
“Glover’s been thinking about this sense of place for a while. ‘I needed people to understand I see Atlanta as a beautiful metaphor for black people,’ he said to me when I interviewed him last year. In other words, the city—encompassing Martin Luther King Jr., Aquemini, Freaknik, Madea, Gucci Mane, a cluster of historically black colleges, the legacy of Jim Crow, the legacy of the Black Mafia Family, extreme black poverty, 40-plus years of black mayors, extreme black wealth, and perhaps America’s largest black middle class—is an ideal laboratory to explore the true variety of the black experience.”

Welcome to Planet Havana
Paul La Farge | The New Republic
“Fidel Castro’s socialist island state was a utopia, at least in aspiration: Everyone who lived there was meant to be ‘working for a more Utopian existence,’ as Wollheim had put it. Even as science-fiction writers in the United States moved on, to inner space and cyberspace and apocalypse, their Cuban counterparts continued to dream of saner lives and better worlds.”

Here in My Car
Micah Peters | The Ringer
“From the Mustang 5.0 on the cover of the external-hard-drive-dump The Lonny Breaux Collection, to the Sunkist-orange BMW E30 that graced the cover of Nostalgia, Ultra, to the begrudging respect he showed the new Bentley truck on his personal website, cars, for Ocean, are like waypoints, signposts for memories, or living, breathing dioramas that can provide complete systems for living.”

The Harambe Meme Is Still Going Strong. And It’s About a Lot More Than a Dead Gorilla.
Aja Romano | Vox
“The parts of internet culture that thrive on this multi-layered interplay coalesced around the Harambe meme. It served as an opportunity to deconstruct the histrionic level of modern media and social media commentary. It favored irreverence and cynicism. If you were a progressive, the Harambe meme gave you a chance to mock what you viewed as the hypocritical haranguing of the mainstream while avoiding real issues of social justice; and if you were a conservative, the Harambe meme gave you a chance to mock liberal hysteria.”

The Ballad of Big Freedia: How the New Orleans Bounce Icon Was Betrayed by Her City’s Housing Crisis
Alison Fensterstock | Pitchfork
“The entertainment industry is one of few that offers the opportunity to climb dramatically upward in economic class, and quickly. Unlike professional sports, probably the closest analogue, though, there’s little infrastructure in place to guide a newly-minted star through unfamiliar financial territory. The history of the music business is full of artists whose talent took them out of poverty, only to flounder in the face of things like bad contracts or newly complex tax issues.”

Playing For Time: A Father, a Dying Son, and the Quest to Make the Most Profound Videogame Ever
Jason Tanz | Wired
“Amidst all the plasma guns and power-ups, it can be easy to overlook the fact that video games are inherently metaphysical exercises. Designing one is like beta-testing a universe. Its creators encode it with algorithms, maps, and decision trees, then invite players to decipher its hidden logic. Intentionally or not, games contain implicit messages about purpose, free will, the afterlife.”

Little People, Big Woes in Hollywood: Low Pay, Degrading Jobs and a Tragic Death
Seth Abramovitch | The Hollywood Reporter
“So why did I see a minstrel show where others saw a fun night out? Particularly now, with Hollywood on high alert about its representation of marginalized groups, how is it that the hand-wringing never extends to this one—not even among little people themselves, at least not consistently? Perhaps it’s because Hollywood’s little people are at once beholden to the entertainment industry, which remains their biggest employer, and enslaved by its vision of them, which, in 2016, largely remains that of the eager-to-please freak.”

Radical Flâneuserie
Lauren Elkin | The Paris Review
“These paradoxes and contradictions encapsulate what we all face in the city. Do we want to blend in or stand out? Do we crave anonymity or fear loneliness? But women experience this in a particular way, wary of attracted unwanted attention, but also wanting to be noticed, to exist, to count, to be seen on their own terms. This is the radical move of the flâneuse: I will shop, or I won’t shop, but I am not defined by it either way.”