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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Visualz

It's been more than a minute since I last posted. I could blame clinical depression from the Raptors' horrendous slide of late, but that would be a cop-out. My (hopefully first) degree has taken precedence in its waning hours. As it should.

(Outside of final touches on a degree, I've written a few things for the Martlet: a dated article on the Suns; some thoughts about the 2010 Lebron sweepstakes, most of which manages to slander King James despite the fact that he's playing basketball better than anyone in the world; and a review of Q-Tip's latest album, The Renaissance.)

I'll toss a couple links your way:

Malcolm Gladwell, via an old article from the New Yorker, tackles the age-old question: why are African-Americans kicking such serious ass in professional sports? Now I'm sure some of his facts could be disputed on several grounds - as is common with his articles - but there's some good reading here. And it's nice to have a sports writer who may have been a good athlete. Not that Mike Toth doesn't dominate his rec league squash tournament or anything.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a solid young writer I recently got hip to, has a friendly discussion with John McWhorter over hip-hop and society, via BloggingheadsTV (fantastic site). McWhorter takes a black conservative approach and states that hip-hop, beyond its role as music genre, does not inspire constructive thinking in poor black culture, but rather influences its followers with a message of cynicism.

So while McWhorter makes some valid points, I must lean to Coates' side of the debate. Sure, a lot of music which comes out of political inequality uses a cynical tone, but cynicism doesn't necessarily beget cynicism. There's a reason why Chuck D called himself and Public Enemy the 'Black CNN.' And that was the need to present black history from an African-American perspective. You can inspire people even when your work uses a jaded tone, and that's what socially-conscious music has done across more genres than rap.

On the first day of a poetry workshop our professor told us not to assume that the speaker in the poem is the writer. This is the type of thing you need to tell undergraduate writers or they'll start thinking that half their peers are doing smack or come from abusive households. (ie. Many student writers write about incredible sex, only most of them are quiet and solitary and write a fantasy land to dwell in. So yes, do not make assumptions about someone's personal life from their poetry.)

Hip-hop is probably the closest in mainstream music genres to poetry, from its rhythms to line structures, and like poetry, the writer can and will access different states of emotion and/or write from another perspective. Do not assume that Big Boi in "Ms. Jackson" (by Outkast) is referring to himself when using the 'I'. The song is an examination of custody battles, money, and post-relationship frustration from the perspective of a slightly angry young man. The song succeeds in part because of Big Boi's ability to juxtapose down-tempo vitriol with Andre 3000's falsetto-laced fairy tale hook. A reproduction of these emotional states through hip-hop seems like an awfully constructive activity.

I could go on forever about, what I believe, are faults in McWhorter's argument, but I'll leave with one thought: how terrible would popular music be without cynical artists?

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