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Saturday, December 09, 2017

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Great job, X.

Fascinating guest post (Thanks both to the author and our humble host for permitting this and its followup!).

It's interesting that you bring up how rap is spoken and influenced by Malcolm X's brand of identity politics. As it so happens, I'm reading Martin Jay's history of the Frankfurt School, The Dialectical Imagination and beginning the chapter on the School's aesthetics and analysis of pop culture, including popular music. X's distaste for singing, which you attribute as important to rap's adoption of speaking, almost yelling racial social commentary as a matter of form (your 2, 3, 4) echoes Theodor Adorno's purposeful decision to write in difficult prose. According to Jay, this was to force the reader to meet his ideas with a certain amount of seriousness and stimulate "critical" thinking as the first bastion of resistance against the inhumane conditions Adorno and company perceived as endemic in Western civilization.

This isn't to say that there is a direct lineage between the Frankfurt School and modern rap or Malcolm X, for that matter. Adorno notoriously loathed jazz. I don't think he would be too enthused with rap nowadays either, even the Critical Race Theory-laced tirades of Kendrick Lamar -- a rapper quite popular among my fellow millennials today. Rap, like Social Justice ideology, has been commodified by capitalism. Whatever "critical" potential for negation the culture and ideology of Social Justice may have had, it's been pacified, and in some ways via rap, which is passively consumed by millions one itunes download and or rotation of the radio dial at a time. So rap, I think, would be considered just another depressing cog in the barbaric Culture Industry by the likes of Adorno.

I bring it up because I find it interesting how different leftists arrive at remarkably similar conclusions and attitudes.

Sorry for the digression. I await Part II most eagerly.

X,

What is the difference between rap and hip-hop?

And can you honestly say you ENJOY listening to the sort of rap crap to which you have linked? To me it is interesting the way diseases are interesting to the pathologist.

Jan,

Please do not insert HTML codes unless you know how to turn them off.

Jan,

The backward slash is the off switch. I just edited your comment to turn off italics. Otherwise they get perpetuated throughout the thread.

Best to avoid HTML in comments. Use asterisks instead for emphasis.

Thanks for posting this! Great pictures!

>> What is the difference between rap and hip-hop?
Branding, as far as I can see. ‘Hip hop’ used to mean the scratching of vinyl, i.e. the repetitive backing beat, ‘rap’ means the Sprechgesang aspect, but popular usage conflates the two, so let’s go with popular usage.

>> And can you honestly say you ENJOY listening to the sort of rap crap to which you have linked?
Do I like it? Well I bought the first commercially successful hip-hop single in 1970, because I liked the backing sample, Good Times, by Nile Rodgers. Note Rodgers is a skilled musician. Grew up in East Village in the 1950s, parents were junkies into the cool bebop idiom, and Rodgers knows his jazz. And as I point out in the post, the musical basis of rap has a fine pedigree.

I listened to it until the late 1980s – this is a work of genius. Bu then, for reasons which will become clear in Part II, I stopped listening to it.

>> To me it is interesting the way diseases are interesting to the pathologist.
You should get out more. If you mean this (note to pedants, the title is actually ‘Bring the Noise’), it is masterfully done. Also, I wanted to avoid the kind of article you might see in a newspaper for elderly people about the degeneracy of the modern age. I have a cherished songbook inherited from my mother published in the 1930s, which goes on about the evils of ‘swing’.

Glad it attracted some interest, though.

My apologies, Bill. Thanks for cleaning it up.

X,

Do you know where the profane and pornographic lyrics come from? Does it follow from the widespread African American rejection of "white" bourgeois norms of civility and sexual modesty and restraint in favor of the idealized hyper-masculine "thug lyfe"?

@Jan - Part II to come!

I sent a few-hundred-word email to BV about my own experience (in the context of my intellectual development) with hip hop (rap) as a teen, which included a lot of 'gangsta rap', and which basically ended abruptly with the '92 L.A. riots. But I had my philosophical awakening as it were with KRS-One / Boogie Down Productions. (I owned on cassette 'Edutainment' and 'Sex and Violence.') In principle there is something to be said for the "conscious hip hop genre" but the less like Thomas Sowell and the more like Malcolm X (prior to his break with the Nation of Islam) it is, it'll probably have that much less usefulness. We're talking the wisdom of "bourgeois tradition" in Sowell vs. some rather radical-left, anticapitalist (Malcom X: "show me a capitalist and I'll show you a bloodsucker"), and other inferior intellectual products that surely have contributed to the cultural ills in the black community today.

I don't really know what would be the best example of KRS-One/BDP music to link to today; I haven't listened to it in a long time. But I have fond memories of that, as well as of lyrical specialists like Eric B & Rakim, Kool G Rap and DJ Polo, and Big Daddy Kane.

For more cultural context for the '92 riots, though, you need to go to the "gangsta rap" genre (e.g., N.W.A., Ice Cube, Ice T, Geto Boys), where you get more of the alienated-from-mainstream-white-America vibe, and lots and lots of vulgarity (dressed up in more-clever-than-wise lyrics). Place decades of economic stagnation, constant leftist meme-infusions, clear-cut problems with family coherence and stability in the black community (contributed to in part by a failed "war on drugs" that results in a lot of incarceration of black males), all into a cauldron along with media dishonesty surrounding the Rodney King beating - namely, the deliberate withholding from public consumption the first few seconds of the video showing King rising to his feet and going toward an officer - and the riots were basically the inevitable 'perfect storm.'

The other King, MLK, said something about riots being the voice of the voiceless, or words to that effect. Perhaps that is a true statement but it doesn't get at any wider context, like what would lead these supposedly voiceless people to voice their anger in *that* way rather than in another, more intellectual, more conscious, more own-soul-ordering, sort of way. More like the later (post-Mecca-pilgrimage) Malcolm X rather than the toxic Nation-of-Islam-period Malcolm X?


I should add that into that toxic cauldron you can throw some true injustice and marginalization of black people, but the causes of the problems in the black community go way beyond that, and they begin at home (ahem). "Social injustice" is the leftist explanation for every social problem it seems; leftists have been really long on that and really short on own-soul-ordering advice. This is the primary/fundamental reason for leftist intellectual bankruptcy today.

(The biggest leftist hero of all time, Marx, conditioned (ahem) leftists to think that political or social change is the way to make a better world, and that own-soul-ordering can be overlooked. Own-soul-ordering is all a product of the social environment, after all, or so they say. But just as culture is upstream of politics and the intellect is upstream of material factors in human life, in terms of causes of social change over time, so the leftists have been working from a lousy playbook ever since Marx. Plato was much more on track in explaining how a well-ordered soul would be a precondtion for a well-ordered polity. Leftists want more polity in our lives, to "improve the opportunities and conditions for people," as if that cart can pull a horse. The less leftists talk about soul-ordering and the more they talk about "social justice" - and Rawls helped condition them to this way of thinking as well - the less useful they are to a discussion about how to achieve societal progress.)

But we should not ignore contributions from true unjustices and marginalization. They're still there. It's just that Sowell has a lot more wisdom here than Coates. (Amy Wax of U Penn agrees with Sowell that it's more "bourgeois tradition" that we could use, since the solutions enacted by the left since the Great Society programs were put into place don't seem to have worked well at all. This observation makes Ivy League students and faculty go off the deep end, dialogue-wise.) Only when black leaders, including intellectual ones, incorporate and reference whiteys like Plato and Aristotle into their rhetoric, can we really begin to take them seriously as leaders or intellectuals. Then we'd have more constructive hip-hop like KRS-One and less of the decadent stuff that fuels vice and resentment. (Now, if some leftist moron wants to read racism into any of this, then bring it on I say; how much more credibility can these people possibly use up before they either get their acts together or are disregarded by the reasonable and constructive folks? Looks like U Penn students and faculty can be disregarded in these discussions as they have little if anything positive to contribute.)

It's also the case that someone like Sowell has more of a tough-love kind of approach: develop those habits that are more likely to make you less marginalized and treated unjustly. (To learn about these habits left-leaning educators could study just a little Aristotle now and then, instead of the zero amount they seem to be doing now.) It's like the thought I had when "progressive" Hollywood blacks and their enablers were complaining about the lack of Academy Award nominations for black talent. (This was only one or two years after the tremendous and deserving '12 Years a Slave' won Best Picture, mind you.) And that thought was: stop whining, go out and make better pictures and put in better performances, then, and erase any doubts about merit. The grievance industry seems to have a different and less constructive focus, though. They appear to be more reflexively inclined to regard such "tough love" advice as racist or racially insensitive. So "learn some Aristotle, get better habits, stop whining and blaming others, erase doubts as to your merits, and generally kick butt" is a racist sentiment? And leftist losers wonder how we end up with the decidedly anti-PC Trump as president?

(I would have preferred the philosophy-major Fiorina as president; I wonder how academic philosophers would have tried to contain *that* phenomenon, a right-wing president versed in philosophy including Hegelian dialectic, something the practice of which requires learning the views of the other side rather than a lazy caricature of them? But that would mean the left becoming something other than what it is, i.e., the left, and leftists are afraid of there not being a left anymore, so I guess we can't really expect that. Get Fiorina in there as president, and the left would melt down for good, guaranteed. The cultural preconditions for a Fiorina becoming president would have to be different than at present, though . . . but how much different? What happens if/when some other right-winger well-versed in philosophy and with more charisma than Fiorina comes along? The left isn't remotely prepared.)

Jan,

Thanks for reminding me of Martin Jay's The Dialectical Imagination which I read way back in the fall of '73, the year it first appeared. In those days in Boston I was reading a lot of Habermas, Horkheimer and Adorno (Negative Dialectics and Jargon of Authenticity mainly).

According to Jay, "jazz remained for Adorno a source of continued horror." (186) Jay goes on to say that Adorno rejected any sort of purely aesthetic analysis of jazz in favor of psychosocial critique. Jazz, Adorno opines, "does not transcend alienation, it strengthens it. Jazz is commodity in the strictest sense." There is nothing liberating about it. The febrile Adorno goes on like this.

By the way, he is not an Italian but a German Jew: His real name is Theodor Adorno Wiesengrund.

Jazz is pseudo-democratic and pseudo-individualistic since improvisation is just repetition of certain basic forms. 'Hot' jazz represents only an illusory sexual emancipation.

"If anything, the sexual message of jazz was castration [sic!], combining the promises of liberation with its ascetic denial." (Jay's words, 186, paraphrasing Adorno)

You can get a whiff from this of the Left's febrile tendency to eat its own: they fall all over themselves trying to outdo each other as to who can be the most 'critical.'

No wonder I soon abandoned the Frankfurt boys and plunged deep into Husserl and Heidegger.

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