Monday, August 31, 2009

Um, Excuse Me? I Actually Know the Artist, and He Thinks What You're Doing Is Garbage

Does knowing the artist behind a particular piece of music make it more satisfying to listen to? I tend to think yes, probably because my experiences along those lines have almost always been positive. For instance, the Whigs-esque dissolute romantic tone of The Beauvilles' music would probably leave me questioning whether it was an honest lifestyle reflection or merely a Rock Debauch pose struck to sell attitude if I didn't know and like songwriter/frontman Shawn Kyle.

You're either the real deal or as totally committed to the pretension as to make no difference when you spend the night sleeping on a tiny loveseat, try to deal with your hangover by reading Yeats, then pass up drinking water, eating food and nursing your bad head because you totally agree that you should be driven home before the NFL playoffs start because no one should miss game time. After bearing witness to that, any song about the city imploding and/or getting shot over a broken heart instantly seems less histrionic and far more sincere. After all, even if the song's evocation of a quintessentially male mindset were a lie, the lie itself is one honestly attended to even outside the song's boundaries.

(I wonder, though, if there's a converse to this phenomenon: if bad music somehow seems worse because you know the otherwise legitimately nice people behind it. I wouldn't know personally because I stop talking to people if I see them get onstage and turn into the new New Edition, but you have to imagine that there's someone out there for whom Linkin Park is actually acutely more painful because he actually knows Linkin Park. Like, the guy's just sitting there, already hating the music on its own merits, but adding just another layer of pure revulsion at the memory that his buddy wrote the "crawling in my skin/these wounds, they will not heal" lyric over a soda break between racing go-karts and hitting the batting cages.)

Anyway, I bring this all up because I kinda, sorta, maybe a little bit peripherally know legendary hip-hop artist Johnny Boob. Who's that?
Johnny Boob is a groundbreaking and influential artist from California's South Bay -- or as some know it, Boobtown. Johnny has long had a fascination with boobs and the culture surrounding them, and his lyrics paint a picture of a man with an insatiable hunger for boobs.
(Click here to read more bio.) Boob's music is about boobs and for the educated boobficionado. Unsure if his music is right for you? Just answer this simple quiz:
Q: Are you alive?
A: Yes, therefore you like boobs, because everyone, even girls, likes boobs. (You will enjoy his music.)
A: No. (Please click on every Google Adsense link to your left before death catches up with you.)
Or, you know, just click and watch this video here:

I'm not really sure which is funnier, the fact that someone thought of and followed through on a rap solely about boobs (which is itself already hilarious), the fact that it got set to a slideshow featuring the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf, or the fact that my lame ass instantly recognized it.

If you like that sort of stuff, you might like the similar-sounding but totally unrelated and not at all similarly-staffed Satellite High, a fellow Bay Area MC I coincidentally also kinda know, who's got a Twitter, a Facebook page and a regular website for those of you who still like merely obtaining information and reading things without being able to instantly "friend" them. I like his music. It's good. Listen to it. Of course, I can't really tell you what makes his music any good, because I can't understand hip-hop at all (see pic above) unless explained to me by an unaccented black man on a panel discussion show or a PBS funding drive, or by a white Chicagoan staffer for The Onion AV Club who's so fucking real about being alienated from his suffocating white privilege that he can drop the word trenchant right next to an MC whose name is just a misspelled kind of weapon.

Speaking of which, though it's a one-off track and not representative of his stuff as a whole — for that, check out the above links or this Youtube channel — easily one of my favorite of his tracks is this one shitting all over "pirate rap" and Captain Dan and the Scurvy Crew in particular:

Personally, I think you have to have either a tremendous sense of gall or live in a tremendously insulated oblivion to create shit like pirate rap without feeling a deep sense of shame even at the conception phase. White people have already stolen delta blues and somehow, over a decades-long process of shittening, managed to evolve it into things like Hoobastank, the terminally fatuous Kings of Leon, or bands like Avenged Sevenfold or Evanescence, who sound like their names were forged in the fires of a "Mordor Word Randomizer." Going ahead and stealing rap and co-opting it even more than it's already been co-opted seems like a musical form of malice akin to salting the plains around Carthage. Blondie's "Rapture" was enough 20 years ago, and Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park have already synergized the co-optation to bloatedly crappy proportions, so anything more is totally unnecessary.

Leaving aside rhythmic chants and other African antecedents, just look at the history of hip-hop. It's a genre created on the streets in an ad hoc DIY way, using turntables and people's bodies to create new music. It specifically evolved in areas where people were cobbling together what things they had to entertain themselves and their friends, in the absence of costly musical instruments, expensive music lessons, expensive/unavailable safe practice space, prohibitively steep recording and mixing costs, etc. This is music that emerged from the cloud of dust left behind by White Flight flooring it out of the inner city and leaving the tax base to crumble and all its attendant elective courses, extracurricular and after-school programs to collapse along with it. Like delta blues, it's music made from and in segregation, alone, and like it, it's being increasingly made by people who either don't know its point of origin, are too shit-scared to actually visit it in person or wouldn't want to anyway because there's nothing but black people there.

Stuff like Captain Dan and the Scurvy Crew would be instantly forgivable if it were inspired by drunkenness and created before the buzz wore off, because everyone enjoys a stupid gag. But even 24 hours of sobriety is long enough to reflect on the almost insulting cruelty that a DIY musical genre created in such an absence of resources that people had to use their own mouths as the beat is now produced "DIY" on $3,000 iMacs with $300 copies of Pro Tools and with expensive mics and massive music libraries created by downloading songs, all to celebrate and recursively reinforce white cultural phenomena that no one outside the privileged classes gives a shit about.

Leave aside the insult to just the mechanics and hardware of hip-hop: what shit like the Scurvy Crew creates from a purely artistic-focus standpoint is this inward-turning involution where the cultural wellspring and commentary of hip-hop comes from and reflects on what you can experience only by mail-ordering subtitled animes, what you experience on a digital cable package after midnight because you don't work the next day, what you get from insular and predominantly white internet communities and what you see in meta-up-your-ass white movies choked with unrealistic dialogue riffing off scenes in other classic white movies about white people.

It's a co-optation total enough to embrace both form and content, such that it both supperannuates the original means of creating rap while turning its artistic and topical focus to something its originators likely can't or won't experience and wouldn't want to anyway. Try to imagine if every track on Led Zeppelin IV was about fluctuating stock prices, the difficulties of getting your wife on the country club planning committee, the capital gains tax, whether you needed to donate to Cornell to make sure your son got admitted, and the existential agonies of a hairline in retreat. Only somehow even that metaphor seems inapt, because at least Led Zeppelin's — to borrow a pirate term — plunder of its originating genre required a degree of creative sophistication just to equal the prowess of the genre in the first place and thus tacitly conferred on the original genre a token esteem for its sophistication and demands. Pirate rap is art theft without meaning or grace: it's the Pink Panther if he just smashed a pane of glass and ran down the street with a diamond. It's artistic segregation without respect; meta-creation without even self-awareness. It's Family Guy if the show were set in a Klavern.

Which, as I said, explains why I enjoy Satellite High shitting all over it.

To call on another artist Johnny Boob hipped me to — Das Racist, play me off!