I read it. Loved it. Then got pissed off. Then I learned something…I was wrong.
I was reading an article that I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook page. It was addressing the judgement on the Pharell Williams/Robin Thicke vs. The Estate of Marvin Gaye case over Blurred Lines. The piece was informative and eye opening. It specifically challenged Pharell’s statement about the situation. It addressed it both by calling out the holes in his statement and educating about music. It met the statement right where it existed and blew it apart. I loved it.
Of course, Nicholas Payton is the right one to challenge someone’s musical bullshit. He is an accomplished musician, writer, and scholar. He is a Grammy award winning artist who is world renown and highly respected. He is also a scholar who has taught at Tulane and is also an activist. You can read the piece below.
An Open Letter To Pharrell Williams (Blurred Lines Vol. 3)
Then I got to the bottom of the post. Payton is known to give it to you straight. He has addressed topics and called to light issues that many aren’t ready to handle. So I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I guess I was in my feelings on the day I read it. It took me a minute to realize that I was totally in my feelings and needed to take a step back.
This is the part that sent me reeling… “And to those of you who say I know nothing about Hiphop, if “Blurred Lines” is Hiphop, I don’t want to know anything about it. So let me officially go on record now and say that I hate Hiphop. There are certain artists who claim Hiphop that I dig, but Hiphop as a whole is wack. It’s a parasitic culture that preys on real musicians for its livelihood. I may not know anything about Hiphop, but I don’t have to. Without real artists and musicians like me, you’d have nothing to steal. I know enough about it all to know that.”
I lost it. I was blowing air in the sky. Pacing around my room. Shouting curse words. I started typing on my computer, said something stupid, and then I went back to the quote. Dammit, I was wrong. I was wrong.
The commercial music industry, and more specifically the commercial rap industry, is parasitic. It has been a pariah on the art of music for some time. It has become even more of a harbinger of ills for Hip Hop Culture. It has done the amazing job of bastardizing a beautiful built thing for the sake of a higher profit margin, very well I might add. Hip Hop has become a global culture. It has also become a global commodity. Often it is the commodified representative that continues to piss off so many. It’s like when you realize that the person you’ve been spending time about or keep hearing such good things about is really an asshole. The good ole representative.
I got pissed because I saw leader in music call the culture I love and represent parasitic. I wanted to scream, “No, how could you?” But I ignored the context. If Pharell’s (among others) placement of foolishness under the banner of Hip Hop is what people meet as the representative of Hip Hop, then I can understand how they would feel.
After I got a better sense of things, I wanted to run to social media to tell the Hip Hop community that we have to continue to let people know that Hip Hop is alive and well, that it is not this representative. But that would be good ole respectability politics and I will not play that game. The Hip Hop community doesn’t need to try to sanitize Hip Hop. The NAACP learned that sanitizing Black Culture doesn’t help us win (RIP Tupac). Black conservatives seem to be relentless in trying. We know better. There is a double consciousness in Hip Hop (on top of the double consciousness of Blacks in America). We are Hip Hop heads within a culture that was wonderfully built and is all encompassing. The elements are rooted in spiritual traditions that are redemptive and inclusive. But we are also Hip Hop heads in a commercial entertainment industry that could care less about the tenets of this powerful culture. It’s an industry that makes money regardless of what the impression of the music is because all press/reactions/attention is good for business.
As a Hip Hop Head and member of the Universal Zulu Nation (Z’s up), I know what Hip Hop really is. I know that we as a community just need to keep forwarding the culture and representing it as we know we should. The truth of the culture is bigger than the industry no matter how they make it look (it’s not dead people!).
I also know that there is some stuff I have to let be bullshit. Pharell’s comments are bullshit. The Husle (another tangent for another day) saying his current play dress up musical moment (sorry Musiq) is his contribution to Hip Hop is bullshit. The rap artists who continue to create divides that we on the streets have to be accountable for (I’m looking at you Kendrick) are on some bullshit. I could go on (Rick Ross mentioning Trayvon in an Usher Raymond love song, Young Thug putting money over social accountability in response to Ferguson, etc.), but I wont.
I know the culture is fine, wonderful, powerful, and alive. But when members of that culture (whether they properly represent or not or try to Iggy Azalea distance themselves from responsibility) piss people off, we got to wear that too. We can call it for what it is, but we can’t dismiss it like that aint us.
See, I am an artist that is part of a wonderful community of talented people. I have worked hard to bridge genres and close gaps. That includes working with dynamic musicians on our scene across the state. When one of the culture bearers talks, you listen. You hear what he is saying. You understand. You recognize. You learn.
Then you get back to work. My aim is to continue to be present in my arts community, to collaborate and contribute in a way that adds positively to the canon of urban comtemporary music and art. I will do that as a representative of a culture that I love. I will do that open to learning from those I respect and admire. I will not be on some bullshit. I also will not wear that hat. Peace and Love y’all!