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Ye of Little Faith
A brief journey though the devolution of hiphop.
In that one word I think I can convince a reasonable person that Kanye West, the man who has called himself ‘Black Jesus’, is not completely alone in black America with his conspiracy theories and anti-semitic rants. Let’s open this moldy basket of bread and take a sniff.
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My second grade teacher was Mrs. Pollet. She was Jewish. She told me that I should not rub my nose, but that I should pinch it when I had to sniffle. Otherwise it would become ugly and flat. I never thought my nose was ugly and flat, nor did my parents. That is about as bad as black vs Jewish relations ever got for me in my entire life. I loved Mrs. Pollet and she loved me. She took me to see Mary Poppins way over in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. I think she loved my little brother more. He got to spend the night at her house. I don’t think I ever thought about the Jews much more in my entire life in Los Angeles. Not even through the OJ trial. But a few things happened along the way in my life as a critic.
Right around 1988 when I moved to Hermosa Beach, hiphop was about six years old. Spike Lee movies were about 4 years old and The Cosby Show was about 2 years old. It was clear that in this novel mix of pre-adolescent art forms that something new and exciting was happening. Nobody had any idea how far it would go or how long it would stay, but my young, gifted, troubled and energetic generation of black Americans were driving society in cultural ways previously unseen and unheard. I would say that the beginning of the new beginning started with the landmark film Fame. That was just about the last time there would be string sections in movie soundtracks. Hiphop was for real, and we New Jacks were just about to get into full swing. At the Comedy Act Theater in LA’s Leimert Park, cats like Magic Johnson who was a classmate of my wife back in Michigan, were digging the comedy renaissance. Chris Rock was just starting out doing McDonalds jokes.
My cliques were multiple. I wore the Nordstrom ties working in corporate offices of Xerox in the same El Segundo were Q-Tip lost his wallet. I had been an original Wild Style sort of b-boy kid during the toddlerhood of hiphop. But there were new underground sounds. My baby sister, ten years younger, was going to 16 and over clubs and handed me a DJ mixtape with a group called NWA. Of course I’ll never forget dancing at a club called Funky Reggae & White Trash in Beverly Hills with that Rosie Perez. I was hip to the Beastie Boys as well as a whole raft of oddball groups like Audio Two. It was the time to party all over Los Angeles, including the places Ice-T would DJ and rap. But nothing quite had the cultural impact of three new forces. They were Yo! MTV Raps, The BRC and Public Enemy.
For those of you who don’t know, BRC stood for the Black Rock Coalition. I was there for their first concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The BRC included the legendary groups Fishbone, Living Colour, Stetsasonic, 24-7 Spyz and Public Enemy. In my own personal legend, I was the dude in the moshpit wearing the oxford shirt, rep tie and jacket. I had long been a Fishbone fan, one degree of separation from the band members who attended Audubon Jr High with my same little brother. Anyway when P.E. finally came out on stage, things got a bit too rowdy and the show closed down. These were still the days when Crips were culturally overrepresented in LA and brought their idiot beefs with them. Rumor was it that somebody flashed a gun. I went home sweaty. I knew it was the beginning of something massive.
Before I left the disintegrating Los Angeles in the fall of 1991, I attended another Public Enemy concert at the Greek Theater. Like nearly everybody I partied with, I memorized every lyric of the Nation of Millions album. Unlike most folks, I wasn’t utterly taken in by their radical chic. Nor did I take their artistic credibility as a force to be reckoned with in real world politics. I certainly didn’t confuse their fanbase for a contingent of serious thinkers who helped define black political opinion. Even Chuck D knew that black radio stations weren’t playing him. That didn’t change the fact that in the late 80s Los Angeles was boiling for a reckoning. So the LAPD managed, on that fine concert day, to muster 100 mounted riot police - just in case. The entertainment went on without incident, and I was among the smug, insulted concert attendees who felt like spitting at some cop and the horse he rode in on. Was that before or after Rodney King’s beatdown? I can’t remember specifically. But there were plenty of other beefs that blackfolks in LA had. These were primarily about the collateral damage of the LAPDs massive gang sweeps, in which hundreds of innocent citizens were detained, arrested and/or fingerprinted for the purposes of identifying gang affiliations.
Bring The Noise
It’s difficult to express the kind of isolated frustration many blackfolks feel when they sense that the nation has no genuine way to appreciate their lives with accuracy and subtlety. This is especially acute for young adults trying to establish themselves. One of my frustrations was the extent to which older tropes of black politics and cultural expression were mixed with the black idiot on the street when news was reported.
There’s a great deal of time I might spend recounting what I saw and experienced when I was engaged in The Struggle, and I may have bored you enough already. My point here is to acknowledge the importance of the social currency of being a part of something that feels like a freedom struggle. It’s a deeply American thing. We’re aiming to be historical. It’s about paying attention to and glorifying the American Dream and publicly working your way into it somehow. We are free to argue and fight in our own ways, and we get genuinely angry when we feel thwarted. Living Colour had a song Which Way To America?
I look at the T.V. Your America's doing well I look out the window My America's catching hell
The Bottom Line
So ultimately, we have to ask the question of how afraid people in America have to be about Screwy Louie Farrakhan. When I lived in Brooklyn and Spike Lee was filming Malcolm X and the people of Crown Heights were all up in arms over the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum there was practically nowhere I could go without people talking about it. I lived in Park Slope for all intents and purposes, and that was a great distance away in Brooklyn terms. A moonshot away from Boreum Hill and Brooklyn Heights, so I was told. I certainly didn’t want to walk Franklin Avenue at night. Miniscule distances from my LA perspective, worlds away in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a city of layers, of high and low tides of immigrants and ethnicities. I talked to people who remember where they were the day Jews were allowed into Carroll Gardens. I’m like, so?
Yet somehow I inherited the Black / Jewish problems of NYC. I didn’t really care to, but I learned what a Lubovicher is. I learned that middle aged women were taking Krav Maga combatives. One day an Orthodox Jew even asked me subway directions. Freaked me the hell out. Was this a test? How the hell should I know and why don’t you? But I actually helped him. Felt good about it. On the other hand, people who listened to Public Enemy and especially those who were giddy over the expulsion of Professor Griff and the relegation of the S1Ws wanted to know what I thought about Khalid Muhammad. Who?
The sad fact was that I had hiphop ambitions, and one of my unpublished lyrics was “Choke on Cokely, monster makers.” That referred to some loudmouth named Steve Cokely that I knew grated on normie nerves. That’s what I thought in those days when I believed the new art form of hiphop could sustain some aesthetic and political weight - just enough to be less boring and more provocative than inauguration speeches. I was purposeful in being some sort of performance poet. After all, everybody loved Living Colour. I could write biting lyrics like that. It would be about my generation’s take - we all aimed to be studio gangsters, like Amiri Baraka and Richard Wright before us. But America feared Public Enemy and Spike Lee movies. The LA Riots reminded us about the violence behind political myths. It was clear and present, unlike the ghosts of Detroit.
The myth of violent black rebellion is still alive. We will always think of it as a national security threat until the myth of black racial solidarity is overshadowed by the reality of black American diversity. You and I know that probably won’t happen in our lifetimes, but we should remember that Barack Obama cleverly appropriated Trayvon Martin and no black leadership of any distinction has emerged from the black rage of Baltimore and Ferguson, MO. We should remember that BLM has yet to demonstrate one mayor and one police chief’s photo op celebrating improvement and reform. We should remember that the production of Black Panther and Black Panther 2 is something of a marvel, but not really. We’ve had black cast movies before. We’ve had blaxploitation before. Who is empowered? Nobody new and different. It’s the same old ruling class behavior. Today’s tokenism is called ESG & DEI, but is it really social integration? Nope. It’s a salad bowl.
I fell out of love with hiphop rather abruptly. I got married and had kids. In 1992 I was rocking with Ice Cube’s Lethal Injection, which was paying direct homage to Louis Farrakhan. Universal Music Group & Ice Cube are still making money. Here’s the YouTube. Cancel it if you dare.
The three last great albums of my American hiphop world were, Stakes is High by De La Soul, the legendary Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and the masterpiece A Tale of 3 Cities by Steve Coleman & Metrics. I began making my own beats so I could play instrumentals in the car with my younguns. I let them make their own lyrics, which were superior in every way to the crap on Radio Disney in 1998. I revisited French hiphop occasionally, but my rebel music didn’t stray far from the Stone Temple Pilots. The Black Rock Coalition disintegrated from the mainstream, slowly but surely, like the career of Avery Brooks. All of the seriousness got crowded out of the popular black American arts. There were no more subtle romantic duets to be sung. No more Peaches & Herb, no more Flack & Hathaway. Even Tracy Chapman disappeared. We conceded it all to Hova, Snoop and Dre. They are as American as Phil Spector.
So while it’s true that I’ve aged out of the commercial demographic, I don’t spend a lot of time cursing about it. What is anyone to expect out of hiphop in America? Specifically what is it about you and I that needs to expect of Kanye West? Well, I confess that I never owned a pair of Air Jordans. Did you? So if we can toss ideas around like hiphop inspires violence, or wearing expensive sneakers is a billion dollar business that caters to degenerates, or otherwise traffic in bullshit aphorisms, we must ask ourselves some basic questions about human psychology. In other words, let me say with some finality that hiphop cannot shoulder the weight. Certain artists at certain times can make works of art that capture our imagination and these artifacts deserve serious evaluation and critique, but the meta-arguments don’t hold water. You can’t map it to the genre or to the groups that consume the genre.
Hiphop artists have demonstrated their capacity to respond to politics and vice-versa. Sista Soulja anyone? An accurate art history will present that. It sucks that the mainstream of America wallows in slipshod art history. I mean Rotten Tomatoes? Is Rex Reed on welfare? Just as with film we are subject to the industry of star power with a little art on the side (and what Harvey Weinstein got on the side), music is an oligopoly of producers, studios and streaming services. There will be no surprises at the Grammys.
The Man Himself
West has titillated his industry far enough for me to have heard it even though I give about 2.7 shits for mainstream commercial music. I seem to recall he said something about George Bush not caring for black people. I understand that he snatched a Grammy out of somebody’s hands. I saw one of his fabulous videos with dozens of dancers on a large white stage. I heard and very much enjoyed his ‘Golddigger’ song on the rare occasion I could hear the unedited version. And I listened to his whole new album, the one where he weeped all over the radio talking about how he changed his thinking about his daughter. Meh. Honest to God many years back I really had Kanye West confused with Wayne Brady. But I did bother to listen to him for more than 20 minutes on an interview show where he talked to LA DJ Big Boi about his new shoe business, and I understand that he own some gigantic parcels up in Montana.
Kanye, by my reckoning, is rather the same kind of creature as Beto O’Rourke, which is to say somebody widely understood to be rich, eccentric and mediagenic to the extent to which the Ruling Class believes them to be credible to the masses. Such people can possess actual genius or they can be genuine sociopaths. I would place Lady Gaga more on the beneficent end of that spectrum. West is drifting closer to the other end.
I’ve remarked before about the downside of commercial success, which is that you tend to believe your bubble is of absolute rather than relative value. In a world of 4+ Billion middle class consumers, we are bound to generate markets that fund all sorts of funhouse millionaires. As we speak there are probably 3 joints in NYC who re-enact costumed freak parties straight out of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. In Hollywood, well who knows? Boogie Nights anyone? There is absolutely no doubt that the parade of freak parties associated with hiphop is legendarily deep, wide, degenerate and dangerous. I have been within arms distance of Jim Brown at his crib above Sunset Plaza, and having heard the man speak, I had to readjust my definitions of king and whore. It brings to mind my favorite sports exclamation. “How does he manage to sit down comfortably with balls that huge?” As we in the public can perceive the megalomania of Kanye West, we can only imagine how balls out crazy he might get in private. Then again, he’s playing the American public just the way we like to be played. That’s part of his real marketing genius. Freeze Peach innit?
Of all the concepts the world has to offer, including pop stardom, one has to be fairly intellectually stunted to need to evoke the name of Adolph Hitler to make a point. It’s even stupid to say Hitler defines evil. Kanye has now stepped over the wrong line. This is easy to see if you can understand hiphop the way I do, as an artform that has outlived 85% of its aesthetic inventiveness and is as about as close to soulless as is commercially possible. The moguls of the industry, within their bubbles of commercial success and cocktail parties are confident that they understand what mumble rap the next Lil star can get away with and idiot teens will buy. The market is already captured. The genre is fixed. Work your way through this logic on the Grammy’s website:
The origins of rapping can be traced back centuries to griots — traveling poets, storytellers and musicians from West Africa.
Rap in popular music started in the Bronx in New York City in the 1970s. It has since gone through multiple evolutions throughout the decades including: the emergence of "new school hip-hop" in the mid-'80s; the "golden age" of hip-hop and the rise of gangsta rap and West Coast rap in the late '80s and early '90s; the commercialization of mainstream rap in the late '90s; the alternative rap movement in the 2000s; and the global explosion of trap music and the so-called "SoundCloud rap" era in the 2010s.
In 2017, rap and R&B became the biggest music genre in the U.S., in terms of total consumption, surpassing rock for the first time ever.
At the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards in 2021, the Recording Academy introduced the Best Melodic Rap Performance category, formerly known as the Best Rap/Sung Performance category, to "represent the inclusivity of the growing hybrid performance trends within the rap genre."
Griots? Seriously? Is that what we are to make of Snoop? Well, he is the spokesdog for Corona beer these days. If Eminem and Kanye West are not rap legends then I’ll be damned. By the way, this year the Grammy for Best Rap Performance went to a song called Thot Shit. It’s porn. What a surprise.
If I was king rap legend ex-billionaire now only twice as wealthy as Justin Bieber, what would I do to get my mojo back? A great poet once said, you get the audience you deserve. So West is probably trying what other purveyors are trying - to weaponize the myth of black American racial solidarity against the mysterious conspiracies within the Nation of Millions that hold us back. For this juvenile exercise, Jews have a special role to play in the minds of certain contingencies of black Americans. It’s an old tired play. The optics are horrendous from a mainstream perspective. The substance is as impotent as Farrakhan. That’s probably why West is reaching further back in history. He is bigger than the Nation of Islam, and on his way to being just as irrelevant. You don’t have to be Jewish to understand Kanye West is a fool in deep over his head. We should all tell him so. ‘Ye has little faith in America because he thinks we won’t and that we can’t.
I’m a poor judge of the sensitivities of so-called minorities in the face of hateful diatribes against them. All of us have our Karens, I suppose. The more refined we are, the more it pains us to be put upon in the public sphere. Then again, some of us, like Jack LaLanne do our jumping jacks every morning, and on occasion can pull a barge through San Francisco Bay. The great burden of liberty is to maintain an open space and an open society that can percolate freely and sometimes even wildly beneath the ceiling of the law. It is thus our responsibility to recognize that chaotic jumble of legal bullshit and not be unduly perturbed by it. That takes courage and a thick skin, but it also requires us to consider the height of that ceiling and know what noise can echo below it. The sound may be sickening but we dare not let it corrode those of us who are the pillars and tentpoles that uphold the law. We are citizens. This is our obligation.
Hiphop and much of the counter-culture before it have degenerated our social standards. Some of that happens because we become unconcerned when we can pretend it only happens to that hoe over there. We must both deal with the public we have and be personally responsible for the civilization we must support. Life is not a free-for-all, even the wealthy must learn this lesson.
What’s real is that we have hate crime laws and have for decades. All violent crime is on the rise, but citizens are taking steps to reverse this maddening trend and the idiot politics behind it. Locks don’t stop true thieves and boneheaded rhetoric doesn’t animate true anti-semites, just the way nigger calls don’t lynch. But we are wise to stare down the loudmouths, mock their space lasers, and yes get better locks. Casual badboys are still influential to their little brothers. We can outsmart them.
Do I believe Kanye West is a threat? No. His fortune was wrapped up in fashion sneakers, not jackboots. His influence is greatest among people with no critical discernment. Nevertheless he is fucking embarrassing. I’m just interested to watch him self-destruct in indignant fury. Let’s see what dignity he can scrape off the floors he has muddied up.
Is Kanye West a menace to society? Yes. In the same way Wokies are. They employ ass-backward logic to try and defend their false utopias, and they bilk the naive, daft and dewey-eyed dopes out of their money funding impossible hopes. Imagine Kanye West as the new head of BLM. Perhaps he and SBF can do lunch. Do your worst, putz.
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