“On Gluttony as Statements and The New Yorker’s Unique Brand of Yup-Hop”

People become so enamored with the form of reception, sometimes, that they fall blind to the original form of expression, or in some cases, its eminent dissipation. Like, if every album is good, then the critic really has no job — and not to say that this is the case, but some critics can seem timorously wary of this fact, marked at times by a sort of glib implication of a cosmic perfection which is purportedly being breached, forsaken.
Now, just as the unwarranted bashing of innocuous albums like Tapes ‘n Tapes’ Walk it off firmly earmarks a certain compulsive snobbery, the converse of this can be almost as offensive, as in the case of The New Yorker’s hip-hop coverage. Nas himself, the subject of a current TNY blurb in the “Night Life” section, has, for instance, already issued an album titled “Hip-Hop is Dead.” And in touting the emcee with a sort of rote, vanilla praise, The New Yorker fails to mention not only this, but also what is by far the most prominent token of our Nas cognition of the past half-decade: the Hennessy commercial he shot for major television release, taking place on a New York subway, to top it off, of all things.
Strangely, it doesn’t seem that unthinkable to me right now to designate Tapes ‘n Tapes as mortal, and Nas as immortal (or “transcendent,” to use a better term), so for purposes of my current argument I’m going to do just this. In this most recent issue, The New Yorker takes an angle on Nas’ upcoming performance at the Brooklyn hip-hop festival as one of artistic purity, and the way the article postures, we are led to believe that the Nas set at this shin-dig will TEACH us something, will somehow imbue a feeling of the “Queens vignettes” the magazine ascribes to the emcee.
Ok, let’s just treat the situation as if Nas’ performance here is in any way significant, which anybody in the contemporary rap know would assure you, is a bit of a stretch, given that the emcee is now doing commercials and declaring the destitution of his own chosen art form. Let’s say the performance actually ends up FUNCTIONALLY meaning something to someone, rather than simply representing high-profile celebrity name-dropping and an excuse to don an obligatory tough-guy scowl. One thing is for sure: it will be an OLD, recycled message, as the rapper currently has no new albums out since the one where he’s shown on a throne in a robe, the approximate exact opposite of his sociological upbringings.
I remember reading this article one time by Lester Bangs wherein he is assuming the perspective of a dead Jimi Hendrix returned to life, and issuing the admission that “I actually hate the blues.” This is how I think of Nas now, a man of television commercials, a man of firsthand hip-hop detonation edict, and the extent to which this Brooklyn festival set will mean anything to the audience should obviously be proportional to its ability to deviate from hip-hop entirely, if not  shame it wholly as an enterprise.
Just listen to one of Nas’ great classic albums, like It Was Written, for instance. These are not songs of “Queens pride” per se — there is not sonnet-like romance for his neighborhood to suggest something bespeaking the realm of “vignettes.” There’s a song of drunkenly speeding in a car, a song graphically, actually gratuitously, detailing the systematics of crack dealing, and a song of fantasy entirely, “If I Ruled the World.” None of these messages, in other words, you might say, exactly make for anything to which an incumbent mayoral candidate would point. They are songs of anguish and unrest, songs delineating the impossible situation of growing up in a ghetto. Hip-hop was born under a gun, and died by a rose. The sooner The New Yorker realizes this, and stops ascribing to it this absurd yuppie retro appeal, the sooner we will all be able to progress as a culture.

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