lately i’ve been thinking about rick ross, date rape lyrics, and Reebok dropping him; lil wayne, emmett till lyrics, and Mountain Dew dropping him; tyler the creator, boyce watkins excoriation, and Mountain Dew dropping him. three established rappers, none of whom are making their first politically problematic public gesture, but all of whom are being held very publicly, politically accountable in a very specific way for the first time in their careers.
lately i’ve been thinking about grimes’ manifesto, the knife’s manifesto, savages’ manifesto. three high-profile, critically-respected artists on more or less the same circuit who have chosen to explicitly articulate their politics such that, to one degree or another, you can actually call what they’ve written a “manifesto” without really stretching the truth too much. in punk rock this kind of thing is old hat, but in the realm of indie rock, strong political statements by high-profile artists have usually come artfully concealed - tending more often to be easter eggs for voracious listeners rather than main course for casual consumer.
sure, none of these q1/q2 2013 music things might actually be connected. but it’s when patterns appear in the landscape that it gets tempting to make up some little lies to explain them. so indulge me, i like playing philosopher even if the job prospects are shit.
from my vantage, both stridently apolitical mid-2ks indie rock and odd future’s busted suburban excess originate from more or less the same fountainhead of willful political disengagement. in retrospect, that is probably one of the many reasons why odd future was more appealing to the assorted fans and gatekeepers of indie rock than it was to more conventional rap outlets when it surfaced a few years ago. i’m not convinced the same would be true today.
if you’re looking for what might be the saxophone, or pitched vocal sample, or glockenspiel of music in 2013, and coming up empty handed, it’s because you’re not listening.
there have always been explicitly political artists, there have always been people who’ve felt that rap’s engagement with issues of race and gender was sometimes unforgiveably ugly, corporations have always tried to wipe the bad smell off of themselves when controversy of one kind or another erupts.
but what feels new in 2013 is that power has rearranged itself so as to give these voices a public platform. artists decided to foreground these issues. various people at various institutions who grant or deny access to the public have decided more or less at the same time that politics are a matter of both pr and broader public concern. and so, to one extent or another, they will be.
on its face, this seems like a good thing. like, i want kids to be feminists and i don’t want rappers to rap about date rape. do artists and press have the power to make those kind of things happen, or are they just mirrors of things that are already happening? probably both.
but also, and importantly, when you’re operating at the level of abstraction of social phenomena, nothing is ever straightforwardly good or bad - its fallout will always be motley and kind of unpredictable. so this is a development i am watching eagerly - after all, course correction of unintended accidents could be possible, or then again we could be traversing the kind of landscape that only reveals itself fully once you’ve finished scaling the hill and are able to collect yourself and look around.
one thing that afaik hasn’t really been discussed is that certain political perspectives lend themselves better to music pr cycles than others. another, less sexy way to put it might be to say that certain political outlooks are more readily commodifiable by the music industry (no judgment here, just description). for instance, the unmistakeable line-drawing and crystalline calls to action of second-wave feminism lend themselves much better to news bites or song lyrics than do the murkier, more heterogeneous and conflicted offerings of the third wave. similarly, convicted anti-capitalist screeds have always looked better on a t-shirt than subtle analyses of new economics. not saying either belief is better than the other, just observing the ease of transmission.
although it’s undeniable that i make music that represents and sometimes even straight-up articulates a set of values, i’ve always been a bit uncomfortable interfacing openly with politics in the context of my music. i think that the above is probably one of the reasons - most of the things i believe don’t conveniently lend themselves to concise or clear expression. they’re the sort of things i would need a few nights sitting on a rooftop with somebody to really show them. i can live them readily, but till now anyway, can only express them with great care and careful hands. a platform like twitter or a song lyric or a news headline is anathema to that kind of intimate + longform levelling.
but that also sounds like a lot of alibi. since i have something to say, i should just be getting better at saying it. aphorisms seem like my ticket - they are useful in the context of trying to communicate unintuitive thoughts with brevity. you might even be able to get away with that shit on twitter. but the history of the aphorism more or less conclusively shows that misunderstanding follows it like a shadow.
part of this process of engaging with others through art and press, i suppose, even if you are espousing something crystal clear - which i rarely have done to date - is just consigning yourself to misunderstanding.
own it. (or so said the capitalist)