Friday, July 04, 2008

A lyrical dispute

When John McCain's nomination to the Republican ticket started becoming apparent, you should have known that there was more Soulja Boy coming on this blog. Lately, I have been following a spat between Soulja Boy (the real one, a 17-year old Atlanta hip-hop sensation) and Ice-T (a"caked-out" L.A. rapper). Ice-T accuses Soulja Boy of "single-handedly killing hip-hop" with his nonsensical lyrics in a genre where lyrics mean everything.

Below is Ice-T's counter-response to Soulja Boy's response to Ice-T's original comment. I am sure there is more traffic to be expected between the two.

From a sociological perspective, I find the YouTube exchange fascinating, for it symbolizes the ingenuity with which black Americans find self-expression in a culture where the mainstream media makes little attempt to address black tastes and concerns. Since this may not be self-evident to many- (a) Advertising-driven media like newspapers, magazines, and TV, mainly cater to the tastes and sensibilities of that group of the population that does most of the buying, (b) In the US, the aforementioned economic group happens to have a disproportionately small number of blacks, and (c) Black tastes in the arts are emphatically different than mainstream (read white) tastes.

If hip-hop had had the same status in the cultural life of urban whites as it does for blacks, this debate would probably have found a far more formal forum than this. No, you will certainly not find criticism or defense of Soulja Boy in most mainstream newspapers or magazines. Let alone commentary on a divide as fundamental as this (lyric-based hip-hop versus non-lyrical hip-hop, or simply "good hip-hop versus wack hip-hop" as Ice-T puts it), most publications rarely even carry well-informed reviews of hip-hop titles. I bet the best-known pop music critics for nationwide media outlets still swear by U2, or worse, The Beatles. How can you write well, or write at all, about something you have little regard for?

As Eminem puts it in The Real Slim Shady:

You think I give a damn about a Grammy?
Half of you critics can't even stomach me, let alone stand me

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