“On the Natural Midwestern Aversion to Moby and Play.”

I’ve sort of been obsessing over the late ’90’s lately, and guess why… I was a pubescent teen at that time? Exactly right! It was the artistic summit narrowly preceding free file sharing? Exactly right! It had Missy Elliot going “VROOOOOM!”? Exactly right!

Play, toward the exact thematic and moral topic of my discussion, essentially ushered in the age of musical nose-picking-and-clicking, and in recalling that album’s pluses and minuses I realize that nothing could be more appropriate, because it is in fact the progeny of a certain larceny, by its own right. The album gets by on, and gains boisterous artistic prowess from, samples of “old Negro spirituals” (please excuse the general term, I feel it’s “specific enough” for my discussion). Basically all Moby did was set the stuff to beats: “produce” an album whose entire tectonics are easily manipulated on a computer. He’s basically the epitome of “whiteness” which Common details in “Soul by the Pound”: “While we was on the streets / You was at home on your computer.” What’s more, he’s stealing pretty much exclusively from blacks.
Now, does Play make for an enjoyable listen, on many levels? Well, don’t take my word, just ask New York’s The Village Voice which ranked it the #1 album of 1999, the year Napster was created. So with the Midwest being more economically depleted, you’d think we’d be all for this new era, chomping at the bit for all these free tunes to loosen up some room in our bank accounts.
Well, a couple of cultural barriers get in the way here, and maybe we retain a certain taste in spite of ourselves. First of all, both whites and blacks in the greater Chicagoland area and surrounding states are often subject to acute racial rifting. Again, don’t take my word. [1] [2]
Now, farbeit from some audacious thinkers to actually take qualm with this, but if things are wrong, you have to criticize, in a way, before you just go doling out praise to things like some “techno” album. [3] Anyway, if there’s nothing morally commendable about enjoyment of music, there’s CERTAINLY nothing morally commendable about music for which a white man gets paid for propagating black melodies.
So when we see Play topping Pazz & Jop, but only getting a five out of 10 in pitchfork (the Chicago-based, at this time), it now becomes a little clearer what standards are at work here, and how life in certain geographical sectors of the country entails wielding a certain lens through which to indulge in music. White music and black music are pungently divided in the Midwest, because that’s often how the people themselves are. [4]
[1] from Anthony Bozza’s Whatever You Say I am: The Life and Times of Eminem comes “George Edwards, a liberal police commissioner in the sixties… concluded that a ‘river of hatred’ ran between the city’s whites and blacks.”
[2] from the “Big Black” chapter in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: “After growing up in Montana, where race relations were relatively placid, it was a chock to come to Chicago, one of the most racially divided cities in the country. ‘Half the population doesn’t speak, interact, eat, or hang out with the other half of the population,’ says (Steve) Albini. ‘And that just seemed bizarre to me.’”
[3] Guess who hates Moby more than anyone: I’ll give you a hint, he’s white, he’s from Detroit and he ain’t an old Lincoln…
[4] And not to say that the music can’t meld into an interracial punch (I know lots of people who enjoy the Method Man/Limp Bizkit stuff, though D12 certainly only seem to unite around drugs and violence), Play is actually, in a way, the OPPOSITE of what hip-hop is founded on, which was providing new and original vocals to, or to go over, preexisting soul tracks — the ultimate artistic armament of the ghetto.


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