“Art” and “artistry” in itself enables people to take one thing and create another. A pocket knife in the hands of a carpenter can change what was once a discarded shoe box into a small children’s toy. An idea generated by one might motivate another to embellish upon it. Now that original idea serves only as the inspiration, not what came from it… i.e. the “finished” product. Actually, its never quite finished.
Where are we going with this?
Music. Hip hop music in particular, is said to have been inspired by a concoction of poverty, creativity and ingenuity in the black community of New York City. Baby boomers will most likely recall its early stages (1970’s) with artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kool Moe Dee, and others, who brought into the studio the spoken word performances by youth on the street corners of the Bronx and gave it the name, “Hip Hop.”
It grew from there to become a massive vehicle for young, black, raw performers to channel their frustration in a skillful and cohesive manner to the accompaniment of a bangin’ beat.
But does that mean black folks “own” hip hop, and only they can legitimately perform it? Or, as the originators of the art form, should it be recognized instead as the inspiration for others, non-blacks, to take elsewhere; channel the art from another perspective? And because one element of the artform was borne out of poverty, where does that place a white hip hop artist like Eminem, who came from poverty himself; and is unquestionably, an icon in his own right to all races. Is his poverty any different than ours? Is he any less authentic in his right to channel his frustrations — from his perspective — in this way?
Is there any room for “perspective” here?
There is a claim “out there” identifying “racism” in pop music motivated by the fact that two of this years’ pop hits are by white performers who are gaining profit from mocking hip hop. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop,” is a song that treats shopping for used clothes as something fun for white people to enjoy. (Incidentally, we are aware that white people do buy second-hand clothing too, right?). Macklemore, who recently said he knows he wouldn’t be as famous if he were black, raps that people who see him in his new duds call him a “cold-ass honky.”
Now recognize this: The “art” has now been taken out of this equation, and has now introduced class and status because thrift shopping is treated as an amusing hobby, and not as an economic necessity. But “in the real world” this too, can get complicated, because there are people who choose to go to thrift shops because even though they don’t have to, they feel some of the discarded items are better made and more desirable than the new ones.
Anyway, we’re getting off topic here….Perspective.
Journalist Daniel D’addario writes, Lorde’s single “Royals” has been at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks — enough time for pop listeners to begin expressing their discontent at the perceived politics of the song. A common critique has been that the young New Zealand native is specifically mocking the tropes of hip-hop when she sings about rejecting “Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece / Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash.”
The perspective she has chosen to demonstrate.
But its mockery of hip-hop may stand out in part because that mockery places it squarely in the middle of American pop music right now.
So we guess the resounding question(s) here is this: Would the perspective the artists took with their music still be an issue if they were not white? And are we saying that because hip hop was inspired by the social condition of black youth that this is where it should remain?
Read the article that “inspired” this piece here.