Saturday, June 11, 2005

For the Pandagon community

Hey, many thanks to Amanda, my neighbor up the street for asking me to pitch in for the Amnesty Blogathon. I'm humbled to be invited to speak to the Pandagon community, especially considering the other guest bloggers actually write stuff. On their own blog. So thanks Amanda for the kick in the pants to actually write. Feel free to look around, but there's not much here right now.

OK, enough throat clearing. I'll be writing today about hip-hop. I have no idea how many regular Panadagon readers listen to it, although I guess more than listen to contemporary country. If you do like rap, let me steer you in the direction of the album that's been on constant rotation chez moi recently, Edan's Beauty and the Beat. If you like silver-era new school hip-hop (say 1988-1993), this album will slay you like it's been slaying me recently. Crackly, oblique beats and jazz samples, outer space sound effects, and shout outs to rap's founding fathers both known (Melly Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Ultramagnetic MCs) and unknown (Percee P, and the Threacherous Three MCs) make this the sweetest and most retro-innovative album I've heard in a while. His reverance earlier music makes him something like the Wynton Marsalis of hip-hop, if Wynton Marsalis were a white dude from Boston who looks like Jimmy Page, and if being the Wytnon Marsalis of any genre weren't inherently a douchey title to hold. Give it a listen.

So, the reason I'm writing about hip-hop today is not because there's a track on Beauty and the Beat called Torture Chamber, but because Amanda had a post eariler this month that's made me think about hip-hop, local and national identity, and political devisevness. I haven't read Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop, so I'm sort of going off Amanda's summation of Chang's argument. But I do think there's something upside down about the notion that the 60s consisted of a "nationwide push for a unified identity as Americans, a push that has two basic causes, one being the Vietnam War, since war tends to create a nationalized identity." From a certian way of looking at, that statement is right on. But the 60s are also the decade thats saw, as Rick Perlstein has it, the unmkaing of the American Consensus. Part of that consensus was founded on an unquestioning acceptance of racial division and a faith in the moral rightness of any American military adventure abroad. By questioning those two pieces of the consensus, the 60s blew upon a hole in American identity. The right realized there was political gold in dividing America (Nixon's quote, paraphrases "Let's tear the country in half, because we'll have the bigger half."), a poisonous coin that the Right is still addicted to.

So from my point of view, Straight Outta Compton is an extemely localized expression, but considering that I was a white kid from rural Iowa when that album came out and could absorb, if not fully appreciate, what Dre, and Ice Cube and Easy E were tallking about says something about the power of local expression to cross over to other communities. I feel NWA weren't rapping about local pride, but about local frustration about being left out of the national conversation. And I think that's what divides Americans today--the right is addicted to a narrow definition of Americaness and to maintian political power needs to feed and exploit the siege mentality felt by some of our fellow citizens. The left is more willing and able to listen to stories from comminities left out of the national conversation.

OK, thanks to Amanda and Jesse for use of the hall.


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