The Nerd Rapper Revolution

(The Champ’s latest at Complex on how nerds and nerd culture have dominated rap culture this year)

The most important person in rap today is a kilt-and-leather-sweatpant-rocking son of a college professor. The Best Rapper Alive was a straight-A student and belongs to a collective called “Black Hippy.” Some of today’s most controversial and cringe-inducing content comes from a skateboarder from the Black Beverly Hills. The last rap album I listened to was created by an Asian-fetishizing comedian who has been employed by two separate NBC shows.

The nerds—the kids without traditional street cred, the guys who don’t look and sound like the type of people we’ve always associated with hip-hop influence and relevance—are no longer obscured by the cool kids. They’re not even competing with the cool kids. Now, the nerds are the cool kids.

Attributing nerd culture’s dominance in hip-hop culture in 2013 to a soon-to-be 10-year-old Kanye West album seems like something someone who doesn’t really listen to rap would write. It feels lazy. Perfunctory. Still, it is true. Well, kinda true. The College Dropout is not the best rap album of the 21st century. But it has already proven to be the most influential. What made Ye’s popularity so astounding at the time wasn’t the fact that he wasn’t a street guy who didn’t rap about street shit. The same could be said for OutKast, De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and anyone else who found space and grew popular countering rap’s dominant street culture.

What made Kanye’s coolness “cool” was the fact that he wasn’t cool. He was awkward. He wore pink Polos. He was (and still is) a spaz. He talked funny. He didn’t seem to fit the hyper-heterosexual image expected of Black male rap stars, so he was considered soft. Some even derided him as gay (NTTAWWT).

The acceptance of and embrace of Kanye’s lack of cool didn’t exist in a vacuum, though. He didn’t create the wave. He just was lucky enough to get on it. A nerd (Bill Gates) already controlled the way we worked. A nerd (Steve Jobs) was beginning to control the way we consumed culture. A nerd (Mark Zuckerberg) soon found a way to control the way we interacted. A nerd (Sean Parker) forever controlled the way we listened to music. This wasn’t Revenge of the Nerds. It was—and still is—the nerds ordering everyone else to bow the fuck down. Jack Dorsey is no different than General Zod.

Hip-hop’s embrace of nerds was slow. Very slow. Which was expected for a genre built on braggadocio and brawn. The qualities associated with nerdiness contradicted what we expected to hear when we listened to rappers rap. Even if we were intellectually aware that some of rap’s biggest “bullies” were featherweights we could probably take in an actual fight, we still wanted to be bullied by them.

But, as the aughts continued, the nerd takeover became inevitable. Kanye showed us it could be done, and the other nerds were busy shifting culture in a way that changed the barriers to entry and relevance. Soon, Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, and 88 Keys started happening. ?uestlove, the “nerdiest” member of the world’s coolest rap band became its most popular member. Street cred and hot singles were still important. But social-media strategy and SEO savvy were even more important. And it wasn’t just that nerds and others outside of the traditional rapper archetype were being let in. Nerds were becoming the cultural arbiters—the ones giving Tyler the Creator and Kendrick Lamar millions of views and Wiki pages before they released any major-label albums and the ones downloading Chance the Rapper’s and Childish Gambino’s mixtapes.

Any doubt that nerd culture has reached a critical mass this year would be quelled by a visit to any inner-city high school. You’ll see jeans too tight to run in tucked into multi-colored sneakers. Oversized and occasionally lensless glasses. Intentionally ironic t-shirts. Suspenders. Bow ties. Knee-high socks with Disney characters on them. I saw these things when I was in high school, too. But the kids with them were getting stuffed into lockers, smacked with spitballs, and friend-zoned-ed by Laura Winslow. Not looking and acting exactly like the most popular rappers and NBA players.

(Read the rest at Complex)

Kendrick Lamar And Nigga Neurosis

(The Champ’s latest at Complex on Kendrick Lamar, GQ, and the psychology of dealing with racism)

If you don’t get how (Top Dawg Entertainment CEO) Anthony Tiffith found the racial undertones in the piece to be so problematic that he pulled Kendrick Lamar from performing at a party honoring Kendrick Lamar, you’re likely thinking Tiffith was being sensitive. Maybe you, like me, didn’t see any racial undertones in the profile. Or, maybe you also kinda, sorta, did see them. Either way, you probably don’t see what the big deal was.

You don’t get it.

I do not know Anthony Tiffith. Until two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who he was. I do know, though, that he’s Black. A Black American. I am also a Black American. Since we share this characteristic, I’m going to assume his relationship with America is, like many Black Americans, complex. I’m also going to assume that, like many Black Americans, this complexity influences the way he receives, processes, and assesses information. He, like many of us, sees America differently than you do. Not completely differently. We love ice cream and hate hipsters just like you do. But he, a Black American, sees America differently than you do because America sees him, a Black American, differently than they see you. And an effect of this cynical and neurotic relationship that America has with Black America is that many Black Americans return that cynicism and co-opt that neurosis.

 

This, this “nigga neurosis,” has a way of allowing race to color our interactions with non-Black people and/or institutions. Because we’re aware of the context behind both America’s relationship with race and our own relationships with America’s relationship with race, we have a tendency to question whether things (good or bad) happened (or didn’t happen) because we’re Black. Sometimes these things are (relatively) innocuous. Sometimes they’re not.

A waitress is short with me and fucks up my order. Is she just a shitty waitress, or is she acting shittily because I’m Black? Is my credit history or my Blackness the reason I wasn’t approved for that bank loan? Did I earn that promotion, or are they just filling a quota? Did he just randomly walk up and ask me where he could find black-eyed peas, or did he ask me because I’m Black and I look like I would know where he could find some black-eyed peas? Was I stopped…and searched…and “accidentally” shot because I’m Black, or did the officer just accidentally mistake his pistol for a taser?

After a lifetime of this, of training your ears to detect and distinguish racial dog whistles, you get how someone could read a relatively laudatory piece written by a White journalist and find disturbing racial overtones. Even if other Black people don’t see it, we get it. We get why he’s seeing what he’s seeing. We get why he’s upset about it, even if we might not have been. And, we get how an insistence that nothing is there, that this is all in your head, that you’re playing the race card, that you’re overreacting, that you’re being too sensitive, that “since I don’t see what you say you’re seeing, it must not be there” can make you want to shout.

(Read the rest at Complex)

Five Quick Takeaways From The 300 Sandwiches Internet Shindig

I love you

I love you

1. I lucked into my favorite sandwich. I happened to home during the afternoon one day, I happened to be watching Oprah, and it happened to be an episode where she had celebrities on to speak about their favorite foods. Chris Rock was one of the celebrities, and he raved about a shrimp and bacon club from The Cheesecake Factory.

This blew my mind twice! (Yes, I had a twice blown mind!)

A) Shrimp and bacon are arguably my two favorite foods, and it never crossed my mind to put them together!

B) I had no idea The Cheesecake Factory sold anything other than cheesecake!

You see, this episode aired maybe a month or two after The Cheesecake Factory opened their first Pittsburgh-area franchise. I’d hear people talk about going there all the time, and I’d always think “I like cheesecake, but not so damn much that I’d wait an hour for a table just to eat some for dinner. WTF is wrong with people?”

I made sure to go there the next weekend, and, well, let me just say this: This happened eight or nine years ago. In the time since, I’ve been there at least a couple dozen times. Despite the fact that they have a menu heavier than Drake’s conscience, the shrimp and bacon club is the only thing I’ve ever eaten there.

2. This whole hullabaloo reinforces the idea that certain things just don’t translate well to paper. And by “certain things just don’t translate well to paper” I mean “the internet is full of humorless shrews.”

Just take a look at this part in the original NY Post profile.

Each morning, he would ask, “Honey, how long you have been awake?”

“About 15 minutes,” I’d reply.

“You’ve been up for 15 minutes and you haven’t made me a sandwich?”

To him, sandwiches are like kisses or hugs. Or sex. “Sandwiches are love,” he says. “Especially when you make them. You can’t get a sandwich with love from the deli.”

“You’ve been up for 15 minutes and you haven’t made me a sandwich?” has drawn quite a bit of internet-ire. To be fair, this standalone statement does seem rather demeaning. But, while I (obviously) don’t know what’s going on in their relationship, I do know that many couples regularly say jokingly playful shit to each other that, if taken out of context, could be considered offensive. This actually seems rather tame.

For instance, there was a two week stretch earlier this year when the Gay Reindeer and I were on a Kendrick Lamar kick, and “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe” was our default reply to everything. It was nothing for one of us to say “How was your day?” or “Did you pick up some orange juice?” or “I’m going to the gym later” only to have “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe” as the response. 

Corny? Definitely. I am the corniest motherf*cker who ever lived, and I think it’s affecting her by osmosis. But, we thought it was funny, so we did it.

But let’s say she wrote a blog about it. And let’s say that blog was quoted somewhere without any sense of the context.

I’d wake him up, and ask him how his sleep was.

“Bitch, don’t kill my vibe” he’d reply, as he stumbled into the bathroom, leaving me alone in bed.

I’d call out to him again, reminding him to put the cap on the toothpaste or the lid on the toilet. “Bitch,” he’d sneer, “didn’t I already say you were killing my vibe?”

Now I’m an emotionally abusive asshole instead of just a corny one.

My point? J Cole is better for relationships than Kendrick Lamar.

3. Stephanie Smith and her boyfriend were on the TODAY show yesterday. A clip of it showed up in my newsfeed. I watched it.

She seems like a very nice woman who has unfortunately turned herself into one of those characters from one of those J-Lo romantic comedies from a decade ago where she’d play a single woman who was approaching 35 and was driving herself and everyone around her crazy with her need to find a man—any man—before her ovaries fell right out of her vagina and bounced softly into the grass before rolling into a sewer.

And, he seems like a very nice man who, unfortunately for Smith, seems to be the White version of the “Every. Single. Person. On. The. Planet. thinks he’s gay except for her” guy some very successful middle-aged Black women tend to write books about, marry, divorce, and write more books about.

4. While the idea of “earning” a man’s hand in marriage through cheeseburgers and Reubens seems rather odd, I think her blog is cute and creative and shit. I also realize I could just be saying this because of how much I love sandwiches and Black women who make sandwiches. Seriously, if Burger King or McDonalds ever combined the two and made a Black woman sandwich, I’d…well, I don’t like where this is headed, so let’s just move on to the next one.

5. All things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if this all were some elaborate prank. She does write for the Post, and he does kinda remind me of a villain from Burn Notice, so anything is possible.

I’d write more, but this subject is making me hungry, and I’m growing annoyed that the Gay Reindeer has been up for 15 hours already and still hasn’t made me any damn sandwiches.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

A Minute-By-Minute Recap Of The 2013 BET Awards

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8:20: As Gabrielle Union’s Being Mary Jane promo airs for the 1st out of the 67 times it aired last night, I’d like to welcome you all to the 19th annual minute-by-minute summary of the BET Awards, aka “20,000 cats who couldn’t do ASAP Rocky’s hair,” aka “that time BET decided to give everyone in the entire Diaspora an award.” 

If you notice, I’m starting 20 minutes late. I have a legitimate excuse for that, as well as a legitimate reason not to print it.

8:22: Robin Thicke hit the stage, reminding me of the fact that White male performers get a thousand times more love from Black people that White female performers. He’s accompanied by T.I. and Pharrell, who eerily look like they’re turning into the same person. Let’s just call it Tarrell.

8:25: (Overheard sometime last week in Dwyane Wade’s household)

“You got Lebron and Bosh’s goofy asses two rings and you can’t get me one? F*ck you and your typo-inducing name.”

8:29: An ad for a movie featuring every singing-ass nigga ever called Black Nativity airs. Can’t wait for the day I DVR it on TVone.

8:32: Wayne Brady appears to give an award, and decides not to take advantage of the once in a lifetime opportunity to mow down the entire crowd with an Uzi.

8:34: Gabby “Say something about my hair now, motherf*ckers!” Douglas receives some award for best something. Black people should be ashamed for forcing lacefront on her.

8:38: Erykah Badu’s ass can write a book on a calculator. When life gives Erykah Badu’s ass lemons, Erykah Badu’s ass makes life apologize. Erykah’s Badu’s ass once drew a triangle with four sides. Che Guevara wears a t-shirt with a picture of Erykah Badu’s ass on it.

8:40: Erkyah Badu’s ass is joined onstage by Kendrick Lamar and Erykah Badu herself, performing an inspired rendition of “Bitch Dont Kill My Vibe” and increasing the odds of Lamar being Badu’s next baby-daddy to 3 to 1.

8:45: I haven’t said anything about host Chris Tucker yet because, well, there really isn’t much to say. He’s doing a decent job, he looks like he lost a little weight, and he even got the opportunity to finally perform a 50 Cent/Michael Jackson mashup impersonation that he’s probably been sitting on for the last seven years. He had a good night.

8:48: There are middle-aged dark-skinned men all over the country who still hate El Debarge for ruining the 80s for them. Fortunately for them, right now Debarge’s liver is probably the same color they are.

8:50: On the list “the old end of middle-aged White women who can get it,” Helen Mirren has to be top four, right?

(My list: Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Jane Seymour, and Paula Deen)

8:59: Say what you want about R. Kelly, but he’s definitely the most talented, engaging, inspiring, and influential pedophile ever. I mean, seriously. That nigga who likes to pee on prepubescent girls has an unbelievable catalog full of hits. He’s a genuis.

9:05: Meagan Good’s boobs were kind enough to publicly challenge Erkyah Badu’s ass to a duel.

(Winner? America.)

BTW, where other than the BET Awards are you going to get gospel awards, R. Kelly, Meagan Good, and Meagan Good’s boobs all on stage in a 30 sec span?

9:10: Most underrated thing about watching a live event on BET? The local Black commercials that finally get some shine. Just found out that Cubana Lust will be hosting some party in Pittsburgh that at least three people will get shot at. Also, had no idea there was a gas station a mile away from me that also sells fried chicken.

9:22: In the last 15 minutes, Mariah Carey sang some song while covered in diamonds, Miguel appeared rocking a coat that looks like it was made out of dead bouviers, Kevin Hart got all stage to do some Kevin Hart shit, and Jamie Foxx gave a speech to remind us all that he’s the cockiest nigga alive.

But, they were all upstaged by Amber Rose, who, despite her Whiteness, managed to win a “Best Face” award. I guess no one here paid any attention to Dark Girls. 

9:32: The whole cast of We’re Doing This Cause We Need To Pay Our Mortgages, er, The Best Man Holiday appears, sans Taye Diggs, who obviously is dead set on proving that he really, really, really doesn’t f*ck with y’all niggas at all.

9:42: Between Miguel, Kendrick Lamar, and Kevin Hart, is there any doubt whatsoever that 2013 is the start of the short nigga revolution? Hide your kids, and your ankles.

10:12: The last half hour or so was spent giving Charlie Wilson a very entertaining tribute, ultimately proving three things:

1. I don’t like Justin Timberlake anymore. Don’t know why. I just don’t. (Strangely enough, I still like his music. Just not him.)

2. Since Pharrell, Snoop, and Charlie Wilson haven’t aged a day since the “Beautiful” video, I’m certain someone on that set was injecting them with shark blood between takes.

3. The only person there with an ass bigger than Erykah Badu’s? Stevie Wonder.

10:30: Everything I just said about Justin Timberlake can be said in reverse about J Cole. I like him. I like what he “stands for.” I like what he “represents.” I like that people like his music. I like that he’s finally seeing some real success after grinding for so long. I just…don’t like his music. I don’t dislike it either. It just exists, like lawn furniture, celery, and empty bottles of deodorant.

10:41: Chris Tucker pulls out a great Barack Obama impression. Only problem is that the impression sounds like President Obama doing an impression of George Bush. This is getting awkward.

10:45: Ciara finally found her way from underneath one of Amare Stoudmaire’s beds to join us all. Welcome back, babygirl!

BTW, “Goodies” was released 9 years ago. 9. I’m officially old as f*ck. (and so are you)

10:51: I apologize to you all for neglecting to mention the fact that I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s kinda striking how attractive a “normal” Nicki Minaj actually is.

10:53: I know you’re not supposed to reward songs like this with actual awards, but there’s no way in hell “Pop That” doesn’t win rap song of the year. I’m actually pissed about this. Seriously.

10:55: Is Debra Lee the Black David Stern, or is David Stern the White Debra Lee?

11:00: “So that’s what you were doing all season instead of getting your ass in shape and rehabbing your knee? Teaching kids how to read. I guess I can’t be mad at that.”

11:02: A dancehall reggae mashup performance starts, beginning with “No, No, No” = aka “the song that started the transition from rap to reggae at every college party between 96 and 99,” and ending with the Gay Reindeer starting an impromptu one woman Dutty Wine contest on my couch.

11:21: Chris Brown stops changing someone’s oil, and decides to come onstage and accept some award. I was wondering why Drake…and Rihanna…and Jay-Z…and Beyonce…and Kanye…and Lil Wayne…and Rick Ross weren’t there. I guess I know why now.

11:25: Mentally preparing myself to read the 4843747393 angst-ridden posts and articles that will be written about “The Butler” in the next year.

(And yes, at least one of them will be written by me. )

11:30: As Janelle Monae ends the show on an typically awesome note, I’m reminded of a tweet I saw from Panama a couple hours before the show began.

“I feel like Twitter is the reason people watch the BET Awards. If Twitter didn’t exist niggas would just go to Red Lobster for shenanigans.”

While Red Lobster is a bit too bougie for my tastes—I prefer Waffle House—he had a point. I think we’ve reached the point where talking about shows like this among ourselves surpasses the joy (and cultural relevance) of actually watching them. I mean, I can’t think of any other reason why I’d watch a three hour show that was an hour and a half too long.

Hmm. Perhaps I do it and write these recaps so you all won’t have to watch. I’m sacrificing my sanity for you. In that case, well, everyone else got an award tonight. where’s mine?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Kendrick Lamar and The Art of An Album

[We reached our goal of $20K - plus some - for our Indiegogo campaign. We will address that tomorrow but trust and believe, we are all moved and humbled by the generosity. Panama almost cried. I was cutting onions. Thank you all so much for the love, support, and donations.]

(You all will have to forgive me, sometimes I think I’m a music journalist. Today is one of those times.)

Man I love this album cover.

This past Monday, October 22, Kendrick Lamar released good kid, m.A.A.d city, (GKMC) one of the most puzzling yet fascinating debut albums of recent memory. My use of the word puzzling isn’t meant to be pejorative at all. In fact, because it made me go “hmm” so hard, I’m actually liable to think he may be some sort of genius sent from the Aftermath Gods to Earth to craft the most inaccessible album that actually does well commercially, if that makes any sense.

Let’s start a few years back though. I’ve been a fan of Kendrick Lamar at least since 2009. I was perusing some rap website I frequent and came across the song “Wanna Be Heard” from his Kendrick Lamar EP, a misnomer since the EP had like 15 records on it. I heard the song and instantly got hooked. At the time, the beat reeled me in though I came to find it was a looped version of a beat Black Milk made and put on one of his instrumental albums. Anyway, after listening to his EP I was completely sold on  him. I kept trying to put my boys on…some successfully, others just didn’t get it. That EP was my favorite of his “mixtapes” so to speak. (O)verly (D)edicated is the one that got him major looks for its diversity and breadth. Then came Section 80, the most cohesive of his works.

Now his progression as an artist and as an arranger could be felt from mixtape to mixtape. The albums sounded more cohesive and had a better flow. The tone meshed well and lyrics got sharper. You could literally see a man getting better at his craft year by year. And all of it was in preparation for his major label debut.

During this time, he gained the co-signs of everybody that mattered on the West Coast culminating on that fateful day when Snoop passed the torch to young K.Dot. And now, we got GKMC. He’s singed to Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) and has a deal with Dr. Dre via Aftermath/Interscope. Given the powerhouse moneymaking machine that is Interscope, you’d think that we’d get an album that sounded like it was intended to sell units.

We didn’t. We got a concept album that is seamlessly woven together via skits, interludes, and really long songs (“Sing About Me, Dying of Thirst” clocks in at over 12 minutes long). There are no discernible singles on this album. Even the song with Drake, Mr. Billboard himself, is a pretty subdued and non-radio friendly song even with its Janet Jackson “Anytime, Anyplace” sample. It’s a very dark and moody album that represents a day in the life of Kendrick when he was 17 years old and attempting to meander through his surroundings.

Most artists nowadays, if I can call them that, don’t really focus on albums. They make singles, package them together, and release the collection and add some non-sequitur title to it. Nearly all new major label artists are doing that nowadays. There’s very little thought required and most of these albums are easily digestible with catchy hooks and wanton ass lyrics.

SIMILAC.

When I listen to GKMC I keep hearing Jay’s “if skills sold truth be told…I’d rather be…” line from “Moment of Clarity” on The Black Album. His point there was that he’s trying to sell records and the people who buy records don’t want all that thought-provoking deep stuff. They want to be able to get it on the first listen and repeat it if need be. Part of that, especially for new artists is that you need to create enough buzz and pomp around them to get people’s attention. Dense rhymes and multi-syllabic rhyme patterns only works if you’re Nas.

Enter Kendrick who has pretty much been rapping about whatever he wanted – largely life, women, and humanity – however he wanted. He was just that interesting and picked up enough co-signs that people started listening. He wasn’t going to the streets, he brought the streets to him. He got the chance to work with all of the hot producers he wanted to and had everybody singing his praises. With that type of set up you’d think he’d release an album that sounds like I imagine Meek Mill’s album will sound.

Instead we get an album that sounds like what would have happened if Outkast made an ATLiens Part II. The tone, feel, and vibe is very dark, melodramatic and moody. This isn’t an album you throw in when you’re trying to get ready for the club. This is the kind of album you listen to on a long car ride when you’ve got time to digest everything. The closest thing to a radio single is “Swimming Pools (Drank)” which is deceptively dark and even that you have to really listen to in order to fully understand.

You have to listen.

For the first time in a long while, I appreciate a hip-hop album. It’s not the kind of album where you pick out your “jam” and bump that. Most songs feel incomplete without listening to them in context. There’s a story and you need to hear the whole thing. Hell, some people might not listen to it more than once.

Which again, gets back to this interesting cross section. Kendrick Lamar is on a major label and releases an album without a true identifiable single and is still projected to sell a couple hundred thousand his first week. That is cultivating a fan base like none other. And it speaks to his talent and what Interscope is truly banking on – that Kendrick is a rapper’s rapper and the type of artist that people truly care about. Buying his album means you’re not in it for the single and the throwaway pop-rap record. You’re in it for the experience of venturing into the world of Kendrick Lamar. That’s what albums are supposed to be about anyway. You’re supposed to take a trip with the artist into whatever place their mind has led you. Only then do you get to truly experience art. That’s the Kanye approach. It’s impressive to me that Interscope allowed this album to be released as it is because it signals to me that they truly think that Kendrick and his fans are in it for the music and they’re betting the farm on that producing at the retailers.

I hope it does. Short of Kanye, and for the first time in a long time, we got an album out of a more mainstream hip-hop artist and for once, that was crafted with care down to the white meat and intended to do what we always claim hip-hop is supposed to do…tell a story. That’s the art of it all.

When the lights go off and it’s my turn to settle down, my main concern…promise that you will sing about me…

Yep, I think they will.

good kid, m.A.A.d. city

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. YOU WEREN’T LOOKING FOR AN ALBUM REVIEW, NOW YOU GOT ONE aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3