Tuesday, July 2, 2002

big willie

Last night, I went with Bonnie to the PIRG social at some pool hall called Cue-nique, which was surprisingly pretty fun. Prior to going there, Bonnie and I had decided that we would spend twenty minutes max there, thinking that it would be a pool hall and scary. But, we didn't even end up playing pool - we sat in some cramped booth talking to all the PIRGers and drinking fun beer (Bass and Leinie's Red), the PIRGers were real fun to talk to and all of that, especially Jessica and Rebecca.

But, at the end of the night, I don't even know how we started talking about it, but I think it had something to do with Bonnie announcing to her PIRGers that if they thought she was a music snob (which she most definitely is) than I am ten times worse (which is not true - Bonnie really is a much bigger music snob than me, but anyways, I digress). I somehow ended up in a very animated debate with this Mike boy about Will fucking Smith. Mike really likes Will Smith. What the fucking hell is that shit? How do you even argue with someone who thinks Will Smith is talented? I think I was taking far more offense to his musical tastes than I should have, but come on, who the hell over the age of 12 seriously likes Will Smith? Oh, and get this - Mike doesn't even call him "Will Smith," he refers to him as "Big Willie." For Christ's sake, where was I to start? I remember saying something like liking Will Smith is the same as liking fucking Barney (the purple singing dinosaur, for those of you who have already forgotten that pop icon from just a few years ago). And then he said that Will Smith is better than the other rappers (rappers? I don't know if Will Smith exactly fits into that category, but whatever) because he doesn't rap about "my nigga this, my nigga that, bling bling bling" (this of course, is not verbatim). If I were sober I think I would have flipped out even more about this gross generalization, one which seems based in ignorance of hip-hop, and also seems the slightest bit tinged with a hint of racism. If I were sober, I also would have mentioned how Will Smith is just as much about the "bling bling" as even the most materialist of rappers, the only difference is Will Smith does it clean (or more accurately, in a sterile way), so that it is safe for little white kids. I mean, really, that is all that Will Smith is hip-hop made safe and marketable to pre-pubescent white kids. Do you remember that Richard Pryor movie, The Toy, where Pryor is bought as the toy for a spoiled little white kid? Let's just leave it at that, then. And I know this all sounds horribly patronizing to say these things about Will Smith, but the sad truth of the matter is that it is true.

But, instead of saying any of this (remember I had had six beers to drink) when he made that "bling bling" comment, I sighed loudly and did a Senor Love Daddyesque roll call of the positive (non-materialistic, non-mysogynistic) hip-hop artists that I could think of at the time: The Roots, Common, Mos Def, Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, Grand Puba, etc. There were so many I left out too: Blackalicous, Punch and Wordsworth, Arrested Development, De La Soul, Bahamadia, Kool Keith, Dead Prez, Jurassic 5, Outkast, Dilated Peoples, The Creeps, Public Enemy. Grr, what a fucking thing to say, "bling bling, my nigga this, my nigga that," even some of the rappers who might fit into this stupid generalization, are some of the most amazing rappers and totally don't fit into that stupid categorization - they say some of the most amazing poetic and political things like NWA's "Fuck tha Police," Biggie's "Juicy," and 2Pac's "Keep Ya Head Up." And while granted, there are a lot of dumb rappers that are heavily marketed that sing about nothing but "bling, bling," but you also have to look at who these artists are being marketed to. They are being marketed to white teens. Nelly's fan base along with Ludacris', Fabolous', Jay-Z's, , and all of those rappers who sing all those songs about either shaking your ass or backing it on up - their fan base is a white audience, and what I am trying to say by this is nothing about the musical tastes of white people, which are obviously just as varied as they are amongst any other huge group of people, what I am instead trying to point out is that these "bling bling" rappers are minstrel performers. Can there be any greater proof than the fact that the majority of their audience is white? What these commercial rappers are doing is simply an evolution of the minstrel show, and that is why I take just as much offense when people like bad rap because they think its funny (Bonnie, I am looking at you and your bad booty music), because what is the latent source of humor in this music is the image of blackness that is presented, the caricature of stereotypical racial attributes is what is laughed at, and this is what a minstrel show is. Welcome to the 21st century, aren't you glad to see how far race relations have evolved? And I know these are pretty serious charges to level at some rappers, that they are a 21st century minstrel show, because I am not black, and who am I to say how "blackness" should be presented, but as someone that is a minority (sometimes even perceived to be black, as the PIRGers apparentntly thought I was, according to Bonnie), and even more importantly as an American, as someone that is so bothered by the history of minstrelsy and how it is has been used to construct Otherness for those non-white, I think it is perfectly fine for me to verbalize this here, especially since these are my thoughts on this subject, and this is my goddamn fucking diary. I probably wouldn't say this out loud to a person, since it does sound oppresively patronizing, but it's so true.

Anyways, Will Smith sort of fits into this minstrelsy continuum too, he's like a training wheels of minstrelsy until kids can get big and dumb enough to like Nelly or "Jigga" (the nickname is perfect proof of what I am trying to explain about bad, commercial rap as a veiled version of the minstrel show) - I was getting so frustrated by even trying to explain this to Mike - I mean, I have never once in my life met anyone that seriously likes "Big Willie." What the fucking hell is that shit?

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