It’s easy to tell from reading Part 1 and Part 2 of this post series that I have at least a few questions and thoughts related to Jon Caramanica’s recent New York Times post: White rappers paying homage to the past . I’m going conclude these posts with a few remaining questions and thoughts.
From what perspective is Jon Caramanica looking at rap? Is he an actual fan or is he just a cultural critic?
It would be nice to know how genuine his interest in hip hop is. He’s paid to know about it and write about it, but he doesn’t have to like it. Regardless of the answer, the next question would be…
How deep is his knowledge of hip hop?
I can’t help but question the white, NY Times blogger, who seems to be most well known for covering American Idol. Based on the fact that he didn’t mention a lot of successful white rappers from the underground, such as Atmosphere, El-P, Aesop Rock, and Sage Francis, one might think that he’s unfamiliar with them. I think he dropped enough names to convince me that Caramanica is pretty on his game, but it’d be nice to know how how wide his rap radar actually is. I may have to check out more of his posts to get a better idea of where his head is. This brings me to the next question…
How does he feel commercial rap represents rap overall?
It’s a simple question.
Which artists does he expect to dominate hip hop over the next few years?
He says, “by and large, this wave of [white] rappers doesn’t operate near the genre’s center, which is forward-looking and rapidly-changing.” I can only assume that he’s thinking of artists like Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Drake and a couple of others when talking about “the genre’s center.” But then again he said “rapidly changing”, so maybe he’s also thinking about attention-getters extraordinaires, Lil B and Odd Future. It would be nice to know for sure.
Why is Caramanica questioning the legitmacy of white rappers when a more pressing issue is the legitimacy of rappers in general?
Legitimacy won’t be determined by race, instead it’ll be determined by the actual quality of the music and the personalities. I know, it sounds ridiculous but it actually makes sense. There’s no shortage of good, free music, and people with developed tastes will choose the good over the garbage when given the chance. If a rapper makes legitimately good music and is getting the attention of listeners, that artist will gain fans whatever their race. We’re currently in an age of very few, very weak gatekeepers. There’s very little in the way of anybody with talent from developing it and presenting it directly to a worldwide audience.
White rappers can take advantage of this new paradigm as easily as anybody else, and this is why they’re succeeding. Now, white rappers don’t have to rely on major label sponsorship to get their name and music out; which means they no longer need to be legitimized by anybody. It’s not race that will determine which rappers will rise, it’ll be who makes music that sounds good and who will attract and hold the attention of the largest audience. It doesn’t matter whether it’s ‘conscious’ or ‘gangsta’, it just needs to be truly likable. Sub-par music survive shouldn’t survive when dope music is waiting a click (or screen touch) away. Don’t get me wrong – wack music won’t vanish. As long as there is bad taste, bad media and bad schools, there will be bad music.
Race will factor into hip hop music and our perception of it, but it won’t define it’s future to the extent that it defined its past. That said, rap will always be Black music, just like jazz and blues. And just like jazz and blues, it’s made by everyone and for everyone. Race matters and doesn’t matter at the same time. It makes no sense, but it’s the way it is.