Shot Of Rhythm

[ Wednesday, January 24, 2007 ]


Tighty whitey

In spite of myself, I've really been enjoying VH1's latest addition to their growing "reality" canon, THE WHITE RAPPER SHOW. I say "in spite of myself" not because I'm not a trash-TV addict (which I am), nor due to the show's relatively impeccable pedigree (EGO TRIP producing, MC Serch hosting), but because of the fact that I - for one - have an inborn resistance to anything celebrating attempts by white folks to become successful hip-hop artists. I don't come to this opinion from some sort of ill-defined "authenticity" argument, of course; anyone who's been around me, either virtually or in real life, knows that the potential of interracial music is one of my greatest intellectual/spiritual loves. Naw, I'm just unconvinced that hip-hop's in need of the kind of white involvement that defined first ICE-T'S RAP SCHOOL (also on the mighty VH1) and now THE WHITE RAPPER SHOW, where black teachers help out the funk-deficient white folks to increase their value in the cool equation. Call me cynical, I guess.

But THE WHITE RAPPER SHOW is both really entertaining and surprisingly good on the complicated racial politics involved with being a Caucasian in the hip-hop nation. (Now, one of the best contestants, Persia, is observably Iranian, which calls into question the nature of "white" in the first place. But I'll let that one go.) Not that this is an essay on race and hip-hop culture of Jeff Chang or Mark Anthony Neal quality, but it's much, much better, and more ambiguous, than most of your standard "celebreality" fare. (I could get into examples, if you'd like, but I'll refrain from doing so for now.)

On top of which, the MCs are pretty damn good, on the whole. Nice mix of regional styles and artistic influences, interesting range of emotion and tone, and an overall respect for the importance of innovation (and musicality) within rap lyricism. The only thing I haven't seen thus far, oddly enough, is an attempt by the MCs to satisfactorily address their whiteness. Sure, they've tried - including in last week's challenge, when they were asked to rhyme about various aspects of being a white rapper - but nobody has gotten into the grimy mess that lives at the heart of American white supremacy, nor at the possibilities of transcending those entanglements, nor at the negotiation necessary to do so. They've offered a few platitudes, a few guilty confessions, and a couple rather misbegotten attempts to link "white trash" culture to hip-hop. None of them have said anything patently offensive or stupid thus far (except when Persia decided to wantonly throw the term "nigga" around, or John Brown's ongoing blubbering about the "ghetto revival"), but they haven't gotten anywhere near the real shit.

Which is funny, because Eminem has. Em's cultural standing has basically plummeted over the last couple years - a function of his lackluster output and increasing inability to shock his audiences - but I think, in this moment of musing, it might be worth revisiting some of his best stuff. Here is honest, unflinching, funny and literate material that acknowledges the complexity of the white hip-hop experience at a level that truly deserves to be called keeping it real.

"White America"

"Without Me"


On the box right now: John Mellencamp, FREEDOM'S ROAD. I like Mellencamp, but - on second listen - this ain't much.


Dove With Claws [8:39 AM]