I recently posted a comment on the blog of a staff-writer at a well known British music magazine. The blog post had been inviting suggestions for your favourite music of 2010 so far.
I had been very much enjoying the new album from Sage Francis, Li(f)e. Whilst not the traditional fare of said magazine, I thought I would recommend it anyway. After all, comments had been invited for any and all suggestions. Here’s what I wrote:
“I’m plumping for the new Sage Francis album… A socially concious rap/spoken-word album that contains collaborations with Joey Burns and John Convertino, Mark Linkous and Yann Tiersen? And one that doesn’t spend an hour boasting about “bitches”, “hos” and how much gold a man can wear before falling over? Well worth at least a cursory listen, surely?”
I didn’t think that I’d written anything particularly controversial or offensive. So imagine my surprise when I got this response from the blogger:
“…very wary of creating a binary between what you call “socially conscious” rap and what you criticise in a pretty reductive and cliched way. I’ve personally found, as a crude generalisation, that mainstream rap has given me more enjoyment (stimulating both sonically and politically) than most alternative backpacker stuff (Can Ox being a big exception that comes to mind right now). Sorry, but give me “Big Pimpin'” over Dan Le Sac & Scroobius Pip any day.”
I don’t mind saying that the comment really got under my skin (appropriately enough given the title of this SBA feature.) Sure, the world is a complex place that can rarely be summed up in black and white. After all, there are so many shades of grey. But:
- In a comments box that allows a small amount of alpha-numeric characters, one can hardly write a feature article on the state of modern mainstream rap
- ‘Reductive and cliched’? Has the writer listened to most of the rap music that makes it to the airwaves in 2010? I would argue that IT is ‘reductive and cliched’
- I am being ‘reductive and cliched’, but then Sage Francis and colleagues who write – yes – ‘socially concious’ rap, are seemingly pigeonholed as ‘alternative backpacker stuff’
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am aware that this minor footnote of a spat is hardly an issue that will make or break the world of music. Rather it is something that just pissed me off. But do me a favour and look up the lyrics of Sage Francis’ Little Houdini or The Best of Times and then compare them to Jay-Z’s Big Pimpin’. ‘Nuff said.
Jay-Z is a great businessman, is sonically inventive and a clever wordsmith. As are many other mainstream rappers. But what he and his contemporaries often choose to say with those words leaves me cold. Rolling Stone summed it up well in a recent cover feature on Jay-Z himself:
“But, as in much of hip-hop, Jay’s lyrics, for all his wordplay, can begin to feel like tedious self-branding, exercises in image-building as unrelenting as political campaign ads. It’s like watching one of those television specials that collect the greatest commercials of all time. You can sit back and enjoy the celverness and artistry – but at the end of the day, you’re still being sold a bar of soap.”
You can buy Sage Francis’ new album from The Skin Back Alley Music Store.