Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

Gangsta Gumbo And The Hip-Hop Nostalgia Shuffle

It’s Nagin vs. Landrieu. Should be an interesting runoff.

In the meantime, here’s Kelefa Sanneh at his best, musing on New Orleans rap, the Smithsonian, and New Orleans’ Gangsta Gumbo.

I love K–although I don’t always agree with homie, he deserves his rep as one of the smartest crits out there, and it’s undeniable that he’s a helluva writer–but I often feel like he’s holding back at the keyboard. These days I think it’s a common malady among younger hip-hop writers (especially bloggers, whose constrictions of form have now permanently affected print writing) to be shallow. I think this is because we’ve got a generation of aesthetes who are learning to be activists–to be advocates for a particular kind of form or style, not to mention geography and ideology. It’s also much more fun and comment-generating and technorati-scaling to be breezy than earnest, the default mode for those of us over 35, many of whom were activists before aesthetes. But I often feel like the easy irony hides the more difficult emotion, and all too often, the real insight.

Here K doesn’t hold back and I think he perfectly calibrates the anger and ambivalence many of us older hip-hop genners who still love H.E.R. feel about the way outside moneybaggers, high-powered cultcrits, our Nuyocentric “Golden Era”-nostalgic peers, even our own damn crack-rap-aghast selves do us alldayerrrday. You don’t have to not believe Mardi Gras Indians are the shit, and you don’t have to be a 50 or Jeezy fan–even a Juvie fan–to feel deez nut graphs:

“If all the dying traditions are valuable, does that also mean all the valuable traditions are dying? If a genre doesn’t need saving, does that also mean it’s not worth saving? If New Orleans rappers seem less lovable than, say, Mardi Gras Indians or veteran soul singers, might it be because they’re less needy? Cultural philanthropy is drawn to musical pioneers–especially African-American ones–who are old, poor and humble. What do you do when the pioneers are young, rich and cocky instead?

Believe it or not, that question brings us back to the Smithsonian, which has come to praise hip-hop. Or to bury it. Or both. The genre is over 30 years old by now, and while its early stars now seem unimpeachable (does anyone have a bad word to say about Grandmaster Flash or Run-DMC?), its current stars seem more impeachable than ever. From 50 Cent to Young Jeezy to, well, Juvenile, hip-hop might be even more controversial now than it was in the 80’s; hip-hop culture has been blamed for everything from lousy schools to sexism to the riots in France. In a weird way, that might help account for the newfound respectability of the old school. To an older listener who’s aghast at crack rap, the relatively innocent rhymes of Run-DMC don’t seem so bad. If the new generation didn’t seem so harmful, its predecessors might not seem harmless enough for the national archives.”

posted by @ 9:21 am | 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Gangsta Gumbo And The Hip-Hop Nostalgia Shuffle”

  1. mr says:

    It’s true that today’s writers are more concerned with style and irony than earnest analysis and music activism. But I also get a palpable sense that it is their era, just as it is the “crack rap” era. That doesn’t mean, however, there aren’t alternative streams of thought or style out there, even among us 35 and younger.

    By the way, Sanneh didn’t note that Juvenile is performing at the New Orleans Jazz Fest this year, which means his music must have some sort of respect from the establishment.

  2. mr says:

    Oops, my mistake. Sanneh noted Juvenile is the only rapper at New Orleans Jazz Fest in the fourth graph.

  3. Hummingbyrd says:

    and it’s undeniable that he’s a helluva writer–but I often feel like he’s holding back at the keyboard
    What we write and how our audience is are inextricbly tied to one another. That being said.
    Perhaps Sanneh’s ‘ish is lighter than say his BLOG would be because it appears in the Times.

  4. lori says:

    I dunno, the issue of irony, style, earnestness seems more complicated. Coming from the lesbian music writing trenches, I definitely felt pressure to be light and breezy to counteract the idea that us dykes are too dull and take ourselves and our culture too seriously. Didn’t we know how to have fun?

    You know, the old “lighten up, it’s just music,” i.e. a disposable capitalist commodity, trip. In other words, I wonder if it’s not inevitable, as hip-hop became more mainstream, that the tendency is to skim the surface, to get static if you try to go deeper. Pop music isn’t *supposed* to be deep. it’s supposed to be disposable. If you spend too much time thinking about it regardless, then you’re a drag. An egghead. Taking yourself way too seriously.

    I would expect blog spaces (like this one) to actually have the more detailed and insightful commentary. With no word count limits and no editorial oversight and all. Except that I’m aware the online readership tends to prefer short and pithy. Hm. Pressure from both sides, then.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think it might be a mistake to throw this ‘new generation’ together. A lot of different motives going on in the pfork and rap crit communities.

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