Monday, May 16, 2011

The Common Clearinghouse

Usually, I'm more nuanced than this, but Common's appearance at the White House and subsequent Fox News pants-shitting based on the "burn a Bush" line has only two sides for me: You either understand Common's rhymes in the context it was written and then compare that to his entire discography or you don't. This is one of the few times where black OR white thinking is completely correct. There's right and there's wrong. It's clear, Fox News is on the second side.
Oh, and this is obviously manufactured outrage. No one ought to be surprised.

(Also: I use rhymes here as opposed to lyrics not because I want to devalue the message in hip-hop, but I instead don't want to use rock parlance to describe hip-hop where I don't have to.)

The song that got Fox News' knickers in a twist, "A Letter To the Law", based on its last part is, explicitly, about moving beyond that kind of violent language and rhetoric the news organization took for the song's core aim, to make a better, more safe world as a community. Period. There is no grey area on this one. I accept none. So let's use this as a test: Are you for Common or Fox News? Life hardly ever gives us these clear choices, these easy distinctions between knee-jerk crank yankerism and you know, truth, bolstered by accuracy. Take this moment and hold onto it.

Side point: Since when does anybody, for any reason, go to Fox News for any meaningful critical dissection of art? Seriously: When was the last time you or any of your friends thought "There's a new record from [Artist H] coming out. What does Fox News think of it?"

Then, Ron Grossman wrote in the Chicago Tribune an idiotic op-ed with the point that hey, Common, as a rapper, is not a poet. And his poetry isn't really that good. He's certainly no Keats, and thus Common ought not to be mistaken for a poet. To support his point, he chose the line I'm a renegade. I ain't never been afraid, I'm fresh and gettin' paid.

Now: Let's ignore the Grossman sheltering himself in his description of himself as a fuddy-duddy. I'll get to that later. What he's doing is using a particularly, say, bad line of Common's and saying it's indicative of the quality of his rhymes. It's not, of course. I don't even listen to Common and I can smoke this guy. Here. I spent an entire...3 minutes on rap genius and found this one: so many raps about rims, I'm surprised niggas ain't become tires.

The genius of rap genius is that you can click on the rhyme itself and get the explanation of it, sooooo, when I click on that, here's what comes up: [Common]’s surprised that even after rapping about rims so much, people aren’t tired of it. Also, play on the words raps/wraps. What wraps around a rim? A tire, of course.

That is some wordplay that Grossman dismisses entirely. Shit, most of rap's best lines are double, triple and quadruple-entendres that you need to be in the community to get. And pursuant to sharpening my point, I don't even listen to that much hip-hop! The two I listen to most often are Dessa and P.O.S., not exactly Hall Of Fame material. I don't even LISTEN to Common! I know he's Kanye's friend from Chicago that isn't Lupe Fiasco. I bought one of Common's CDs, Universal Mind Control, for my brother, for Christmas. That's it. That's the extent of my Common knowledge.

Now: Let's get back to the point about Grossman sheltering himself in the phrase fuddy-duddy. He's old. He doesn't understand kids these days. It's a phrase to give him wiggle room, to show that, well, he might not have everything right, but he has the gist. Fucking wrong. If he's going to call out Common for being bad with language and saying he's an old teacher, then he should at least have the temerity to back up his "Common isn't Keats because Common occassionally writes lyrics that are putrid" statement with his full authority. Plus, I'm Keats wrote subpar stuff and it doesn't get collected with his best work. Why not the same for Common?

And, finally, a recursive point, independent of Common's ability as a poet, just because he's bad doesn't make him not a poet. One can do things and be bad at them. What all of this boils down to is vivid: Common's getting a lot of flak that he simply does not deserve. That it is this simple is something that does not happen terribly often.

This song is by Common. It's called the Corner. It's about the corner and its importance in black culture. Enjoy.

Monday, May 2, 2011

That Guy Who Is Now Dead

I'm not happy with the announcement that Usama Bin Laden was killed.

Don't get me wrong, Usama Bin Laden killed a lot of people. I hate that. I don't like it, not one bit. But the President announcing it was the wrong thing to do. Yes, it gets a bunch of political points and by now you've probably seen the .jpg at right in five different places, but hey, hopefully it's still new, even if it's not fresh.

(Quick aside: It's a sign of the times that an image that hasn't been out 24 hours is already old news. Or maybe it's just me.)

I'll even go so far as to say I don't mind that he's dead. But dude, Al Qai'da sticks around even after Usama's gone and it's already adrift from being largely left out of the uprisings in the Middle East. With their symbol's death, it will almost certainly galvanize them to some kind of reprisals, and guess what, that's exactly the kind of shot in the arm a terrorist organization need to realign its priorities.

Let me say now, by the way, that I'm okay with the U.S. finding and killing Usama Bin Laden, let's call it an assassination, if we're to be honest. But announcing that he's dead and you've killed him makes him a martyr. Hopefully, this assasination, which again, few people in their right mind are going to argue against, is the above the water bit of the iceberg that is Al-Qai'da's declining importance and not the thing that gave Al-Qai'da their M.O. back.
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