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Final Notes on Post-Lyricism

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A bunch of stuff that couldn’t find its way into the three “essays” but seems interesting and/or worth discussing and a few times, makes more sense than the “Post-Lyrical” entries…

“Post-lyricism” like all obnoxious terms, comes more out of a pragmatic want/need to discuss something than actually trying to be accurate. Like the apparently on-going fear and concern of “post-Modernism” in culture, within the rap world, what’s currently going on in mainstream or even semi-mainstream hip-hop freaks a lot of old fans out and kinda reminds me of reading old or new diatribes against “post-Modernism”. Also, like “post-Modernism”, “post-lyricism” is sort of a non-sense term that’s both all-encompassing and doesn’t really refer to anything.

Rap is and basically has to be “post-positive”. Here’s a wikipedia link to Positivism. Rap, as a “black art” primarily is post-positive because the argument made by most intellectual types that study and discuss black arts is that for so long, the concept of black people even making art was considered absurd and even offensive, that all black arts must oppose and conflict with conventional concepts of art, “beauty”, etc. This is fun to bring up because so many of the people that find themselves stuck on “lyrics” or “intelligence” or whatever in terms of determining what kind of rap is “good” and “bad” are kinda playing themselves by applying positivist terms to an art form that’s totally beyond such terms.

If we’re going to take rap seriously–which all bloggers do, even when they pretend not to–then we are taking popular culture seriously and if we’re taking popular culture seriously, then it’s sort of dumb to apply one’s subjective opinion of what makes something “good” onto it. That’s to say, if you’re gonna be some fucking aesthete about rap and hip-hop then you’re retarded. If something resembling conventional definitions of “quality” or some Platonic ideal of good’s what’s on your mind, go listen to like, Shostakovich or some shit.

As jay eff kay said in the comments section, the current era of rap–which I’ve selfishly dubbed “post-lyrical”–is still working itself out and gestating. To compare it to past ages which had more time to build and are in effect over, is sort of pointless. In that case, “post-lyricism” is figuring itself out and throwing shit out there and seeing what sticks. This is both exciting and endlessly frustrating. In time, the artist and musicians will figure it all out and keep going with the stuff that isn’t totally terrible or silly or has no shelf live and drop the stuff that does. In just the past few years, you can see how auto-tune went from being the thing that wannabe pop-stars did to stream-line their albums, to a goofball production trick, to an R & B staple, to maybe even something that can be meaninful or affecting (certain T-Pain songs, Kanye’s “Put On” verse and “Love Lockdown”). Auto-tune is now being used like “reverb” or something. Personally, I’d like to see it go away all together, but its use hasn’t been stagnant, even if it has devolved into another musical cliche.

On bad lyrics. There’s a difference between whatever-ish similies and some of the lyrical turds that Kanye or Lil Wayne drop. One’s a kind of place-holder between more poignant and successful lines–and in that case, connects my “rap minimalism” rant in Pt. 3 to an older tradition–and one is an active seeking-out of groan-inducing joke one-liners. There’s a sense of fun to these bad one-liners and it can be traced back to the earliest rap and stuff like “and the chicken taste like wood”. The bad lyric-dropping too, seems to be something of an extension of what was once called the “bling bling” era and before that, the beginning of rap when wearing crazy chain and looking outrageously fly and all that was a part of the culture. The implicit message of dressing out-there and handling over-sized chains was in part, something about looking absurd and being powerful enough to pull it off or just plain not giving a fuck. Making even your music this absurd and out-there is again, not something I’m too into or excited by, but I think that’s what’s going on when Kanye jokes “whipped it out I said/Bet you’ve never seen snakes on a plane”.

Blame the critics. The internet, file-sharing, and all this other good stuff has made the borders between genre significantly more porous. This has led to musicians, especially rap musicians, to be as exposed to numerous genres and musical ideas as the sophisticated or pseudo-sophisticated critics writing on the music. For many years, rock critics reviewed rock music and rap writers wrote about rap and only the smartest like say Ego-Trip really got how to bridge the two and not come-off as a jerkoff. Not anymore. Now, pretty much every critic listens to everything. So, the same guy who listens to bullshit like Of Montreal or something, is also Google Blog-Searching the new T.I album. In one way, it’s wonderful and democratic and all that. In another way, it’s horrible because in my opinion, you can’t really make any sense or have any kind of refined taste and like both of those things.

The most hilarious way that this has manifested itself is in rap writers and rap bloggers who often dip their toes into the indie rock pool and so, you have guys who complain about how rap’s not like Mobb Deep anymore and then are going to tell me Wolf Parade are the shit. Guys who make fun of Pharrell or Kanye for dressing like homos and then go watch the guy from Of Montreal rip-off David Bowie. Besides the kind of unfortunate racism inherent in these expectations, it’s also not a surprise when rappers would respond to taste-making critics and follow through. So, quirk and tween-ness and overall sense of juvenile fun is celebrated and embraced in indie rock–basically a mainstream genre now mind you–it shouldn’t be a surprise that rappers would start to employ a similar sense of all-out fun and goofiness in their music. This again, explains jokes and one-liners as being really pervasive in rap.

Another point that’s been brought up a great deal is how rap is, in some ways, moving back to its original “roots” of facilitating dancing and partying and first and foremost, entertaining. I’m not totally comfortable with the comparison but there’s some truth there. The biggest difference of course, is that simply by MC-ing and breaking and all that stuff, even when it wasn’t explicitly political or “meaningful”, the simple act of doing those things made it political. The same can’t be said for Kanye West.

Still, this sense of a return or homage to earlier and the earliest era of rap is kind of palpable. The same way early rap moved between different areas and art circles, rappers like Kanye or Wayne are collaborating or sampling other genres, working with those artists, and coming up with something newer and different than what’s come before. For better and worse, post-lyrical rappers are really open-minded, reaching and grabbing from all different places to forge something new.

Now, let’s never speak of this again.

Written by Brandon

October 7th, 2008 at 4:14 pm

One Response to 'Final Notes on Post-Lyricism'

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