Hatred Of Music: More Than The Music

Ian Maleney
Posted December 3, 2012 in Opinion

BIMM may-june 22 – Desktop

I came across this article on Chicago hip-hop a couple of weeks back and while I’m no expert on (or even really a fan of) hip-hop, Jordan Pederson’s message in the piece is clear. He links the rise of homicide and other crimes in Chicago with the unchecked influence of various hip-hop artists who use violent images in their work. He focuses on the “Drill” scene and Chief Keef in particular, the 16-year old rapper who reportedly signed to Interscope for several million dollars earlier this year. Pederson looks at the ways in which major media like Pitchfork, The Fader and Spin have covered this scene but failed to engage with the dark underbelly of rising violence and crime in the city, giving the music (and its associated imagery) an ever-widening platform, without any thought of what impact this is having in the places where it is made and listened to.

This quote near the end is the killer blow:

“Don’t hide behind your status as a music blog. Start earning the “journalist” half of what you call yourselves: I depend on you guys to tell me what’s going on in the hip-hop world — good and bad — and you let me down. But more importantly, you’re letting this city down by reporting with blinders on.”

The piece raises a question about the way modern music press engages with the culture it is apparently attempting to cover and broadcast to its audience. This is a problem that is particularly explicit in the age of internet journalism. As has been said a million times before, it’s now possible to become familiar with music from any place and any time from the comfort of your own room. You can trace the histories of Detroit techno or Balinese gamelan music via Wikipedia, Discogs and the inevitable blogs dedicated to the subject. Discovering old records and traditions is one thing but when this is happening in real time, as in Chicago, with teenagers being teenagers and multi-million dollar record deals at stake, the kind of tokenistic, surface “reporting” offered by online music news sources is going to come up severely lacking.

The contrast between Odd Future and the rappers mentioned in Pederson’s piece is striking. While Odd Future were mostly seen as pranksters, just kids acting out violent or misogynist fantasies in their songs, there is nothing fantastical about a lot of what the kids of the drill scene are talking about. This makes it a lot more difficult for primarily white, middle class journalists on the other side of the country (or world, in this case) to engage with. It doesn’t, however, excuse anyone for failing to understand the gravity and real-world consequences of the music they’re writing about.

The question really is, can (modern music) journalism really engage with that which is outside of its environment or experience? When covering a scene that is blowing up in the way that this one seemed to, the emphasis is always on speed. This obviously the first problem when it comes to deeply engaged journalism; it’s very hard to get deep into anything very quickly. By focusing on just getting the music out there as quickly as possible, we miss out on the human aspect which is equally important and even more important in the long-run, from both a business and emotional viewpoint.

Lamenting the state of long-form music journalism is nothing new but nothing seems to be really changing in that regard either. What is truly troubling is the way in which, so much of the time, modern mainstream media doesn’t engage with culture on a human level, taking the product of that culture which most suits our own desires and using it for our own purposes. Then we wonder why we have so much floaty, inconsequential “alternative” music and auto-tuned, soulless pop. And very confused kids rapping about murder, guns, drugs and bitches. We wonder why nothing is getting better.

By exploring, questioning and engaging with the human elements of the music we’re listening to or writing about, we open up a whole new depth of connection with the artist. I know it’s the post-modern, post-structuralist way to say that it shouldn’t matter and that personal interpretation is everything, but that just doesn’t fly when you’re essentially talking about the reflection of various (usually less privileged) cultures in the eyes and words of another. If there is no human connection, there can be no understanding and nothing in the end but exploitation. If you don’t understand the ground from which the music you’re listening to grows, however bleak or dangerous, then you’re just not going to be able to do anything but appropriate it in an inoculated, detached way. The little bit of something new that sparked your interest will be jumped on, eaten up and discarded because soon enough you won’t care about it any more. So the churn continues.

 

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