Why Q-Tip is wrong
Sometimes life imitates art. Sometimes art imitates life. And sometimes 24-year-old Australian blondes imitate 44-year-old black men. Unsurprisingly, when that happens the hip-hop scene gets really angry and starts delivering history lessons.
If you’ve been procrastinating in the interwebs these past few days, you know that I’m talking about the latest celebrity rivalry; Iggy Azalea vs. actual hip-hop artists. It all started when Azealia Banks tweeted “its funny to see people Like Igloo Australia silent when these things happen… Black Culture is cool, but black issues sure aren’t huh?” Iggy was quick to respond “Make it racial! make it political! Make it whatever but I guarantee it won’t make you likable & THATS why ur crying on the radio.” Thus started a social media fight that now involves Q-Tip, Will.I.am., Solange Knowles and so on.
The issue seems to be Azalea’s lack of cultural sensitivity in her work and disregard for the history of hip-hop. She uses the style of hip-hop to convey existential theses with epistemological implications, such as “I’m so fancy, you already know.” Apparently, this is not what hip-hop was made for.
As much as I admire and play on repeat The Low End Theory, I can’t help but disagree with Q-Tip. Hip-hop isn’t but a genre; a style of art used to convey all kinds of meaning. Yes, it may have originated from minorities. Yes, it was powerful in its expressing the disenfranchised. But that doesn’t mean that it belongs to them. Like all examples of good art it is copied and adapted. Often, that entails changing its meaning for the sake of dollaz in the bank. But that isn’t an insult or a sign of disrespect. It is merely an attempt to commercial success.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that commercial success is the defining trait of good art. It may even be evidence to the contrary in the modern music industry. What I do think is that common sense is the only prerequisite for understanding the difference between Murda Bizness and N.Y. State of Mind. One of them is a meaningless song that might as well have the alphabet as lyrics, the other is an exemplary of rhythm and words explaining an otherwise inexplicable situation -life in the New York ghettos of the 90’s. Any individual with a grain of critical thinking could understand that, in the same way that he’d tell apart Nickelback from the Rolling Stones. And it is those individuals that the hip-hop movement addressed in the first place (mostly because everyone else was too busy listening to Like A Virgin).
If there is anything we should be worried about it’s not Iggy’s lack of lyrical genius, it’s her popularity. It speaks of the downhill the music scene is facing. This may sound elitist, but it is no less true. Day after day we see the top charts replacing artistic value with Alexander McQueen bodysuits. But this speaks to a change of taste in society, not the loss of the artists’ integrity. After all, there have always been those who used music for expression and those who used it for a mansion in Malibu.
The standards for what goes down in history as changing the course of art have not changed. And there are many contemporary artists who live up to them. The way to producing great songs isn’t paved with criticism of lesser songs, but with working on the promising ones.