Macklemore’s Real Problem With Black People

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Imagine a world where…

1. Justin Bieber and Beyonce performed together at a major event

…and…

2. During the show, Beyonce “accidentally” made an obscene gesture that kinda, sorta seemed planned by her and Bieber

…and…

3. When questioned about the gesture, Bieber threw Beyonce under the bus, allowing Beyonce to receive all the negative press by herself

…and…

4. Within the next several years, as Beyonce continued to suffer from the public relations hit, the Black community would begin to embrace Bieber while collectively forgetting about her.

Seems completely far-fetched, right? I’d even say that it was impossible. Like, not f*cking possible in a million Pharrell years. But that would make me a liar. Because this exact thing happened 10 years ago. 

Janet Jackson may not have been as big then as Beyonce is now, but she was close. And Justin Bieber today might not be as big now as Justin Timberlake was then, but he’s close. But those are minor details. The major detail remains the same: Black America collectively “forgave” a 20-something White male for his role in effectively ending the career of a Black music icon.

There are myriad theories for why this was able to happen. You could argue that Janet was already on the downside of her career, and this was just a nail to a coffin that had already started to close. You could argue that the entire controversy was just another example of the double standard for male and female and Black and White performers. You could even say that Janet was blacklisted because she was the one who actually had a body part exposed.

While each theory has some truth to it, none really explain why Black people have been so quick to embrace Timberlake. I mean, he’s on every Black awards show, he works with the best Black artists, and he’s the White celebrity crush for like 17% of Black women.

The answer is simple: Timberlake has talent.

That’s it. Talent is the great neuralyzer; powerful enough to make us forget and forgive anything. It makes us liars and hypocrites. Excusers and enablers. Things we say that really, really, really, really, really matter to us like integrity and loyalty and even racial solidarity stop mattering once someone is talented and cute and makes us laugh with his dick in a box.

He’s cool with us because he’s cool.

Timberlake isn’t the only example of this happening. I’m sure many of us can think of suspect stuff we’ve let slide because of how much we liked a person’s music or movies or pizza. It happens to me, too. Quentin Tarantino has a long history of saying and/or doing racially problematic things, but I look the other way because I love his movies.

All of this helps me understand what’s happening with Macklemore right now.

Macklemore is literally everywhere right now. And by “Macklemore is literally everywhere right now” I mean “Think pieces tying Macklemore to White privilege and disingenuousness and cultural appropriation are literally everywhere right now.” Seriously, on my way to the bathroom earlier, I tripped and fell over a 1,100 word long piece comparing Macklemore to John Boehner and Joseph Caiaphas. It was sleep on the floor. I gave it a granola bar.

He has become both pop culture’s and Black America’s punching bag of the week. I even joined in the fray during the Grammys, tweeting that he was the only Grammy winner where the “get off the stage” music is better than his. 

While the heat he’s receiving now will eventually die down, one thing is certain: He will never, ever, ever, ever receive the same type of embrace from us that Timberlake or even Eminem does. Never, ever, ever, ever. He’s not quite the male Miley Cyrus. But, as far as him symbolizing “everything that’s wrong with the music industry” and “White people stealing shit again”, he might as well be.

Which proves (again) that we’re all hypocrites.

The only thing really separating Justin Timberlake and Eminem and Robin Thicke — all White artists who’ve been embraced by Blacks despite doing and/or saying some racially problematic things — from Macklemore is that we think Macklemore sucks. We don’t diss him because of appropriation or undeserved Grammy wins or Instagrammed messages to Kendrick Lamar. I mean, we say that we do, and we do a very good job of seeming upset about that stuff. But, when you consider that some of the White artists we embrace have done much worse, the Macklemore hate comes down to the fact that we think his music is simple, saccharin, and stupid. If he was a little more talented, a little less awkward, and maybe a little more handsome, we could be convinced to look the other way. But he’s not, so we don’t.

Perhaps you don’t agree. Maybe you believe it’s not just about talent. That Macklemore comes off as fake and Timberlake seems authentic so that’s why we embrace him. And, you know what? I believe you.

Actually, let me rephrase that. I will believe you if you can do one thing for me: Name the last Janet Jackson LP.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

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)

Rappers Do Dumb-Ass Things, And Say Dumb-Ass Sh*t. Why Is This News Now?

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On the strength of his Ether-related “comeback,” there are few albums I anticipated more than Nas’s Stillmatic. (Honestly, Wu-Forever and MBDTF are the only other albums I waited for with that type of anxiety.) He didn’t disappoint, either, as tracks such as Second Childhood and Rewind exhibited the type of ambitiously—even painfully—detailed creativity long-time Nas fans had been expecting from him.

The album climaxes with One Mic, a track that somehow managed to pull all of Nas’s best qualities together to create a song that some critics called “the best song of the decade.”

Perhaps the most memorable and rewindable part of that song combines Jesus, bullets, and a bit of tricky math to create a four bar stretch that I considered to be one of the best, most creative, and most clever collection of lyrics I’d ever heard.

Jesus died at age 33, there’s 33 shots

From twin Glocks there’s sixteen apiece, that’s 32

Which means one of my guns was holding 17

27 hit your crew. 6 went into you

I listened to this song again the other day. And, while the track and those lines still sound as hot as ever, something dawned on me. A question. Three, actually.

“Wait, what the f*ck is he talking about? How the f*ck do you go from Jesus to shooting random n*ggas in a 13 word stretch? And, what’s the connection between Jesus’s age and the number of bullets you needed to murder this anonymous crew?”

Now, I’m not saying this to pick on Nas. He remains one of my favorite rappers. But, songs like One Mic and my reaction to it remind me of one of the first things I learned about rap:

Rappers are prone to say shit that sounds smart and clever and intellectual and witty but makes no f*cking sense. You could even argue that a very, very, very high percentage (I’d guess somewhere between 40 and 60) of the most clever, rewindable, and “higher-level” sounding bars are created because…

A) It sounded good

B) He figured out that “euphemism” and “new religion” kinda rhyme with each other, and thought it would be cool to find a way to put that in a song

Mind you, I’m not saying that all rap is like this. Most of the best rappers put a decent amount of thought and effort into constructing their lyrics, and even the nonsense is somewhat intentional. But, when an art form is based on braggadocio and hyperbole—and prominently features (relatively) uneducated street dudes—sounding “cool” and “clever” is going to take precedent over “making sense.”

I’m not making any new revelations here. People who follow rap are generally aware that what I’m saying is true. But, while the concept and the awareness of this concept aren’t new, the pushback they’re beginning to receive is. Yes, rappers have always come under fire for their lyrics, but between Rick Ross’s date rape anthem, LL Cool J’s bizarre forgiveness of slavery, Lil Wayne’s reference to Emmett Till, and Nicki Minaj calling herself as a Republican, there have been at least four instances in the last six months where a throwaway lyric from a popular rapper became headline news.

Making this pushback even more unique is that it isn’t really coming from people like Dolores Tucker or Tipper Gore but actual fans of rap music.

At the moment, I’m somewhat ambivalent about this trend. While a part of me is encouraged to finally see rappers asked to answer for their lyrics, this criticism seems a little disingenuous, and raises more questions than it answers. For instance, why now? We’ve all heard worse and more socially irresponsible lyrics than the ones being criticized now, so where is this pushback coming from?

Also, when does it stop? If we took a fine-toothed comb and went through the catalogs of each and every one of the 100 or so most popular rappers—even “conscious” and (generally) socially palatable ones like Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, and Common–with the goal of boycotting the ones with questionable lyrics and content, rap would be left with exactly zero rappers.

Lemme put it this way: Rappers like Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj are easy targets anyone with a blog and a petition board could hit with a blindfold; low-hanging, resume-building fruit. Taking shots at them will give you quick praise and easy co-signs among most educated Blacks and non-Blacks. But, if we’re going to do that, why not also go after Jay-Z for making half a billion dollars off of selling crack, writing music about selling crack, and writing more music about how he got rich from writing songs about selling crack? Or the Obamas for inviting him to the White House? If you’re going to boycott Lil Wayne, will you also delete every Wu, Biggie, Nas, Tupac, Snoop, and Kanye song from your iPod? Does Nicki Minaj really talk more shit than Lauryn Hill did?

Even everyone’s favorite rap band has a song with a couple lines that, if taken literally…

And when I’m breaking it off
Its no denying the fact it’s wrong
‘Cause you got a man who’s probably playing his part
You probably breaking his heart

“You want it gripped up, flipped, and thrown
And get stripped and shown, the way to get in the zone”

…would play out pretty much exactly like the oft-criticized rape scene in Temptation. 

Again though, I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing that rappers are facing some heat now. Whether it’s music, words, or just energy, we all should be responsible and accountable for what we put out to the world, and artists are no different. But, a part of me looks at the type of rappers being called out—and the people doing most of the calling out (college educated writers and bloggers)—and can’t help but wonder if there’s some intellectual class bias going on here. Basically, “smart” rappers—or, more specifically, rappers “smart” people like—are generally immune, while rappers we’re not supposed to like or support seem to be the targets.

As Nas would say…

Jesus was born in a barn

“Blog” starts with the letter B

so does bitch, Bane, and HBCU

Y’all need to listen to me!!!

Nasspeak translation: I have a tendency to include some pretty racist and misogynistic nonsense in my raps. But, as long as it sounds “smart”—and as long as I make the occasional song about my daughter—it’s all good.

-–Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Why Nas’ “Daughters” Is 100% Right And 100% Wrong At The Same Time

Full disclosure: I’m a “Nas guy.” 

What this basically means is that even though I recognize the fact that Jay-Z has had a (much) better career, better albums, and generally seems like he’d be a better person to be around, I’m more of a fan of what Nas represents. Now, what the hell does Nas represent? I have no f*cking clue. But, whatever it is that he represents, I’m more of a fan of that than I am of what Jay-Z “represents.”

If this makes no sense to you, good. It makes no sense to me either, but it helps explain why I still feel in my heart that “Ether” was a better song than “Takeover” even though I know in my brain that “Takeover” was better.

I’m bringing this up because, “Daughters” — Nas’ recent ode to fatherhood and raising a daughter — is not a good song, and it truly pains me to admit this. It’s pandering, saccharin, cringe-worthy, awkward, and just overall freaking annoying. Yes. Annoying. This is an annoying song. This song annoys me.

Thing is, although this song annoys the hell out of me, I appreciate it. I appreciate what Nas was attempting to do here. I appreciate his effort. This — the effort — is probably what it is about what Nas “represents” that connects with me in a way that doesn’t with Jay-Z. Basically, Jigga’s a chess player, a person who doesn’t seem to do or say anything without processing the dozen or so moves that will come afterwards. While this has definitely helped him craft the best career any rapper has ever had and become a true “business, man,” there’s a certain tinge of inauthenticity that permeates much of what he says and does. Jay-Z may in fact be a “realer” person than Nas, but Nas’ penchant for artistic implusivity makes him feel realer.

And, despite the fact that it’s pandering, saccharin, cringe-worthy, awkward, and f*cking annoying, “Daughters” is a real song. It seems to come from a man genuinely concerned about the type of example he’s set for his child, and genuinely concerned about his daughter’s well-being.

Now, you can make the argument that this concern may be self-serving. Perhaps he cares so much because he’s aware of how a daughter’s (mis)behavior reflects on the father, and he wishes to spare himself the embarrassment of hearing rumors that his daughter is becoming the type of woman attracted to men who treat women the way he has. Even if this is true, though, this feeling comes from a genuine place, a real place, and it’s understandable and laudable.

Nas’ implusivity gives him huge blind spots though, and none are bigger than the fact that “Daughters” — a song Nas made to protect his daughter and profess his love for her — shits on his own daughter!  He leads both of the song’s first two verses with information putting his daughter’s business and, ultimately, her reputation on full blast.

From verse two:

This morning I got a call, nearly split my wig
This social network said “Nas go and get ya kid”
She’s on Twitter, I know she ain’t gon post no pic
Of herself underdressed, no inappropriate shit, right
Her mother cried when she answered
Said she don’t know what got inside this child’s mind, she planted
A box of condoms on her dresser then she Instagrammed it

Forget about cutting off your nose to spite your face, “Daughters” cuts off his face to spite his face. Mind you, his daughter isn’t a seven year old who won’t quite grasp what her dad is rapping about or a grown-ass 27 year old who could deal with it, but a 17 year old girl — a person at the age where something like this has the best chance of having a negative impact on her life. Oh, and how do I know she’s a 17 year old girl? He leads the video with her f*cking birthday!

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by the cognitive dissonance Nas’ exhibited when creating this song and the accompanying video. It’s typical Nas (shit, it’s typical “rapper”) and, with all this being said, I do definitely appreciate the idea, effort, and (presumed) intent behind “Daughters.” As far as “rappers rapping about their kids” goes, it’s not in the same league as “Retrospect for Life,” but I do think it has a bit of a chance to eventually become (slightly) less annoying with repeated listens.

But, while I forgave Nas for “Braveheart Party,” “Nastradamus,” and “You Owe Me,” I don’t know if I can forgive him doing the ultimate disservice — making me agree with Carmen Bryan. 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

On Saturday, June 2, 2012, we’ve got another edition of REMINSCE at Liv Nightclub coming up! Except this time, we’re gonna be celebrating Panama’s birthday! Please come out and hang the VSB team. Plus, it’s free before 11pm w/RSVP (reminiscedc.eventbrite.com) and $10 after. AND there’s an open bar from 930-10:30 WITH NO DRESS CODE. You can come in shorts because it gets HOT in there.

Why It’s True That Men Need To Fall For Women A Bit Harder Than They Fall For Us

"I'm smiling now, but if you bite my neck again, this'll be the last time we have pier sex"

One of the best (and worst) things about being an adult is the occasional realization that certain things you never wanted to believe to be true are, in fact, true. On a macro level, these realizations are good because they help you grow and see the world for what it truly is and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But, however good this knowledge may ultimately be, it still stings a bit to learn that you believed some wrong-ass shit.

In the past few years or so I’ve had (at least) two such realizations. One was already touched on by Panama last week in “Is This What Growed Up Feels Like?” But, while P admitted feeling a little ashamed that he was a fan of such ignant rap, I feel no such shame. I’ve stopped trying to explain how the misogyny, nihilism, and overall misandry present in much of popular rap — even rap made by “conscious” artists — is just some sort of postmodern social commentary reflecting on the trails and tribulations of post-industrial inner city society and finally admitted to myself that I just happen to like some ignorant-ass, vulgar-ass, violent-ass music that’s ignorant, vulgar, and violent for no reason. I’m not sure what exactly that says about me, but it’s about time I stopped trying to believe that wasn’t true.

The second realization wasn’t as easy to accept. I was either at my friend’s aunt’s house or outside of a greyhound station bathroom (can’t remember which) when I first remember hearing that “a man should love his wife a bit more than she loves him.”  In both instances, I was too busy making sure no improbably fast six-legged creatures crawled on my chicken to pay much attention to the phrase.

As the years passed, I began to hear it more and more, but it was never actually said with any type of sane explanation. A girl I dated in college once told me that her mom told her never to like a boy more than the boy likes her. When she asked her why, she apparently mumbled, shook her head, and said “because you don’t want to end up with the gout and worms like your grandmother, that’s why.”

Explanation or not, that sentiment just never really sat right with me. A relationship idealist, I believed that the best partnerships were formed when both parties fell in love simultaneously and loved each other equally. Plus, as a young man doing whatever the f*ck I needed to do to stay the hell away from any burgeoning relationship with “friend’s zone” potential, the idea that I need to be more into a woman than she was into me was an affront to my pride and the complete antithesis of everything I “learned” from the baseheads selling jumper cables outside of my barber shop through experience.

I don’t know exactly when or where I started to accept this sentiment as truth, but I do know today that it is undeniably, unequivocally, and uncomfortably true. Thing is, while (many) men seem to reject this sentiment because it seems to balance the dating and relationship scale in the woman’s favor, it’s actually necessary because that part of the game is already balanced in our favor. Us falling first and harder doesn’t do anything but even things out.

To wit, I’m assuming most of the thousands of men who will visit this blog today have been in at least one good relationship, and possibly more. I’m also going to assume that, in at least 50 percent of these relationships, the guy eventually “won” the woman over by “growing on” her. Basically, he was really feeling her, she was “eh” about him at first, but he eventually managed to somehow convince her that he was worth being with/sleeping with/swallowing, etc.

Now, if I were to ask how many of these men ended up happy with a woman that they were “eh” about at first until she convinced him that she was worth being with, I doubt I’d get many replies. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t get any.

Because of certain sociological and biological factors largely out of our control, women aren’t really able to grow on men the same way we can grow on them, making it paramount that we (men) are the ones who show the most initial interest. Basically, while there’s a good chance that a good relationship can spring if a guy has grow on a chick, there’s absolutely no chance of it happening if the opposite occurs.

Also, another completely unscientific and unresearched theory to add to the rest of the completely unscientific and unresearched theories presented today is that men who aren’t head over hills about the woman they’re with are more likely to do things that “unsettled” men do — i.e., cheat, be non-committal, stay emotionally unavailable, etc.

Obviously, men in love do still do these things, but I just don’t think it happens as often as a man who doesn’t really feel like he put the time and effort into “winning” anybody. Just as women are more likely to value men who are wanted by other women but chose to pursue them, men are more likely to value the women they chose to attempt to win. It’s a truth I didn’t really want to admit, but I guess learning new shit is the best part about being a grown-up. (Actually, being able to drink moosetracks milkshakes for breakfast while sitting on your couch butt-naked and watching “Miller’s Crossing” without anyone saying a gotdamn thing is a pretty good part about being a grown-up, but that’s besides the point)

Anyway, people of VSB, do you think think it’s true that the best relationships happen when men fall in love a little harder and a little faster than the woman they’re with? (For some strange reason, I get the feeling that the responses will be split along gender lines. I may be wrong, though) 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)