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Decoded: Jay-Z in Conversation with Cornel West

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navarreg Avatar
Posted: 12.12.10, 04:37 AM
There's a joke shared amongst biologists. What's the difference between America and bacteria in a petri dish? Over time, only one of them grows a culture. The amount of intellectual attention being paid to urban culture is really unwarranted. It doesn't make sense. Urban culture - club culture, block parties, hip hop, house, funk, breaking, housing, popping, locking - it's all very simple. People had hard lives, and those same people were historically excluded from the rest of the consumerist outlets that middle class America had. These were black people, hispanic people, gay people, white people, whoever was in the poorer neighborhoods/buroughs. Middle class consumers had a variety of more costly diversions which were much easier to take part in because they required one only to observe, watch and listen with cool aristocratic detachment. It's why jazz caught on, why tap dancing caught on, and why hip hop has caught on. Middle class consumers have a deep cultural void because of television, disposable income, and a host of cost-intensive diversions which they have been taught to experience as rewarding. Who fills that cultural void? The mass media. Who thinks hip hop is any more important than any other street culture? The mass media, and not anyone on the ground who still actually participates in street cultures. Urban culture is a culture of participation, not consumption or observation. I personally know plenty of people who rapped from Jay's era, to hip hop and to house music, and they were all good. In New York City, in certain communities, everyone's a DJ, everyone's a dancer, everyone participates because they must, their desire to love and be loved, to be a part of something and to create is overwhelming, and it doesn't matter if they're getting paid to do it. I know people in their 40's who were sneaking into clubs at 15 not to get drunk, but to dance, because it frees them from the pressures and expectations of class and running on that futile treadmill trying not to be without. However, the mass media machine - ultimately a metastasizing malignant outgrowth of technology and consumer culture - had a way of randomly lifting up and rewarding people for doing what they did naturally. Moreover, hip hop is not the beginning and it is not the end of urban culture. It's not any more important - musically, culturally, and especially academically - than, say, house music, or broken beat, or contemporary funk. Hip hop descended from disco and funk music. Disco and funk music inspired another musical style which is roughly as old as hip hop, is as important to as many people, and is just as culturally valid, namely, house music and the associated club culture. Anything with a 4-on-the-floor kick and syncopated hi-hats/snares at 120bpm (a remarkably large proportion of mainstream "dance" music) owes it to the anonymous kids messing around with Roland 808 drum machines in their garages in Chicago and Detroit in the early 80's, making what they knew - Disco - with electronic instrumentation. It's also interesting that Cornell West emphasizes rapping, when in reality, there are far more dancers than there are rappers. To the majority of people who have been a part of street cultures, yes, the DJ and the rapper were important, but the dance was every bit as important. There are literally thousands of great hip hop and club dancers form the 80's and 90's whose names no one will know, and they like it just fine that way. I haven't seen Cornell West interviewing Brian "Footwork" Green, or Caleaf Sellers, or Henry Link, Buddha Stretch, or any other foundational contemporary street dancers. These are the people who brought the hip hop social dances which were popular in the clubs at the time to the mainstream (the cabbage patch, the Rambo, the Reebok, the Smirf, the Steve Martin, the Running Man, etc...), but all we hear is Jay Z's intellectual posturing as he plays along in the farce to sound relevant. I'm not trying to make street cultures sound exclusive. On the contrary, anyone who has a desire to be "hip hop" or be "house" can do just that, and people in the community will only be welcoming, as long as it is in genuine good faith. But somehow, the very nature of street music and culture has been grossly tortured in the mainstream media. Healthy street cultures are about forming a community of people, coming together to make and share music, dance, fashion, and life. It's that simple. Even if Jay was subjected to discrimination and lived a "hard knock life," well, so did everyone, and why does the rest of America have a prurient interest in obvious cultural pathologies, especially if they aren't willing to do anything about it except nod their heads then turn around and spend another $500.00 on the latest superfluous tech gear while complaining about how the government takes so much out of their paycheck?
Rotaryknight Avatar
Posted: 12.10.10, 10:26 PM
Quote: Originally Posted by tom merle No question that Jay-Z communicates with great skill and talent, but is there anything more damaging to the well-being of young black males than rap? Racism, bigotry, ignorance, hatred... Rap isnt the problem, there is a lot of different rap scenes and not all of them are destructive. The problem lays with the mindset of a certain rap scene not rap itself.
ICBM Avatar
Posted: 12.10.10, 01:33 PM
Come on, let's not try to rewrite history. The following IS the chorus. "[Chorus] 99 problems but the bitch aint one If you're havin' girl problems i feel bad for you son I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one Hit me" He CLEARLY is calling his/a woman a bitch. Stop with the bs. Thanks.
calberrho Avatar
Posted: 11.26.10, 06:50 PM
In reply to Tom Merle: 'More damaging to the well-being of young black males than rap' is ignorant intentional human hatred (better known as racism). This is just one thing more damaging...
yahvision Avatar
Posted: 11.19.10, 02:50 PM
It's good to see Jay-Z in this light, being conscience and looking toward the future for the better of all. (YAHVISION.COM)
mvanderford Avatar
Posted: 11.19.10, 02:19 PM
Maybe one day misogyny will be as despised as racism - but it is not today, not here, not in this generation.
Taylor Avatar
Posted: 11.19.10, 12:57 PM
Quote: Originally Posted by tom merle No question that Jay-Z communicates with great skill and talent, but is there anything more damaging to the well-being of young black males than rap? Answer Yes. Planned Parenthood, which has contributed to a 40% plus abortion rate. Also The American education system in which so-called black boys are expected to want to learn after stumbling through America's outrageous glorification of (SOCIO-PATHIC) SLAVE-OWNERS like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and other convoluted justifications for "Manifest Destiny". Or do you perhaps want to talk about the Prison or Mental Health systems? Are you seriously saying that the infrastructure of "Rap" is greater than any of these? That black freedom of expression somehow has an intrinsically more negative quality to anyone else's freedom of expression?
donib517 Avatar
Posted: 11.18.10, 01:41 PM
Quote: Originally Posted by tom merle No question that Jay-Z communicates with great skill and talent, but is there anything more damaging to the well-being of young black males than rap? the environent of young black males is the most damaging. rap is a outlet for the emotions of those victimized by there environment and subsequently a means for some to escape that environment
jamal a. jones Avatar
jamal a. jones
Posted: 11.17.10, 01:54 PM
I am lifelong fan of Jay-Z, but he needs to be viewed in the proper perspective. What kind of a world do we live in where a scholar such as Dr. West holds Jay in higher esteem than our president? He has such disdain for Pres. Obama yet treats Jay like a hero and a revolutionary figure. Did they have Obama on this program when his books were released?
derekhcd Avatar
Posted: 11.17.10, 02:03 AM
^Poor parenting.