white folk bling

i wanna get this outta the way right up front:  i live in a deep, dark hole w/r/t pop culture.  and also, yes, i’m maybe a bit racist (especially w/r/t hip hop).  i just wanted to remind you.  in case there was any confusion as to why this whole macklemore/grammys backlash has me perplexed.  i totally get the whole “recording academy is out of touch” argument.  but, fuck, what awards association isn’t?  bitching about macklemore winning grammys is like bitching about a biopic winning too many damn oscars.  pissing & moaning about why *your* guy didn’t win (whoever *your* guy is) only serves to legitimize the whole absurd enterprise.  if you’re gonna attack the grammys at all, why not make it about the ludicrous prospect of giving awards for art?

but maybe you wanna make this about race.  and, to be fair, because we’re talking about america, you can pretty much bet race is a factor.  but is it the factor?  have we already forgotten that kanye west swept the 4 rap categories of 2011, and 4 of 5 in 2007?  or that lil wayne won 4 of 5 in 2008?  in fact, other than a handful of awards given to eminem, and a single award to the beasties in ’98, the grammy’s rap category has been completely dominated by black artists since the recording academy began awarding them in 1988.  so someone whingeing about a white artist in 2014 strikes me as someone actually having an issue with their own long/short-term memory.  if you’re gonna get on the grammys about diversity, why not make it about the GLARING omission of female hip hop artists (and not just in 2014, but for 25 years now)?

so, like they’re prone to do, the interwebs have whipped up a tempest in a teakettle because macklemore & ryan lewis won some shit they thought kendrick lamar should’ve.  i mean, sure: did macklemore deserve to win 3 of 4 rap awards?  i dunno… i really liked the heist alot, but it wasn’t exactly raising hell, ya’ know?  and though i don’t really know kendrick lamar’s music, after seeing him perform at the grammys, it sure seems like he shoulda won SOMETHING.  still, what did you expect from an academy that gave it’s first rap awards to the fresh prince & young mc instead of public enemy & de la soul?  if you’re gonna get up in the grammys’ business here, why not make it about the grammys being too prone to heaping awards on one artist in a given year instead of recognizing the incredible breadth of the genre?

but no, instead we’ve got this disproportionate vitriol:  the viciousness being directed at macklemore now, and the “objective” claims over what’s obviously a very subjective matter (of “who’s best”).  i’d much rather be talking about the fact that jay-z was nominated for an album that pretty much everyone agreed wasn’t very good.  and how that simple act of nominating jay-z is taking limelight away from some other really exciting artists.  that’s why my favorite part of the grammys every year happens well before the ceremony.  it’s when greg kot checks off all the artists (like chance the rapper) who “got shafted” by not even getting a nod.  but i guess the internet isn’t real good at reasoned discourse, is it?

but, hey, at least we can all agree on this, right?  robots have no race.  and maybe we can even agree that robots can make some pretty excellent tunes to dance to, too.  so let’s just let go of all this macklemore nonsense & focus on the clear and irrefutable fact that daft punk is the best thing that ever happened to the grammys.  i’m so glad we had this talk.  now let’s boogie.



  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    Didn’t Macklemore himself stoke this whole fire? According to an article by Jon Caramanica in Monday’s NYT:

    “A couple of hours after the Grammys on Sunday night, Macklemore sent a text to Kendrick Lamar, whom he had just beaten for best rap album.

    ‘You got robbed,’ the text read. ‘I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird.’ He added, ‘I robbed you.’

    As a private act, this was a love letter, a way for an artist to honor a peer. As a public act — Macklemore posted an image of the text on his Instagram account, although it’s unclear whether it was with Mr. Lamar’s knowledge — it was a cleansing and an admission of guilt. Not only did Macklemore want to show respect to his fellow rapper, but he also wanted the world to know that he understands his place in the hip-hop ecosystem and that he is still careful where he steps.”

    The whole article is worth reading. It ends with this:

    “[I]ncidents like the text to Mr. Lamar reinforce the narrative of Macklemore as tortured intruder, keen to relish his success but stressed about all the shoulders he’s had to step on along the way. It’s a transparent ploy for absolution, and a warning of robberies to come.”

    • Jason Sommer jason says:

      that was a good article. not sure i concur with the bit about “same love” being messianic and/or self-serving, though. i thought it was just a guy speaking out about inequality from his perspective – he was telling a personal story & trying to take part in a national dialogue. but publicly sharing an image of that text message is a bit more problematic. i think it would’ve seemed more sincere if he delivered that message right from the grammy podium after being handed the award.

      • Melissa says:

        I know what you’re saying, J, but I think it always feels icky/disingenuous when people do that as they accept an award. It’s almost impossible to pull it off gracefully, and I’d bet we’d be having the same conversation if he’d attempted to do so in the moment.

        To Sam’s question, and to your overall point: I initially would’ve said that this wasn’t mostly about race, that it was more about people disliking Macklemore for any host of reasons or disliking that album or being mad that a pop/rap record won a rap category. But this discussion would not have the same longevity and vitriol if this were about Jennifer Lawrence beating Meryl Streep for an award & then later saying on social media that Streep should’ve won. Personally, I’m exhausted by all of the Super Serious Think Pieces about this and I’d rather boil my eyes than read another one- because when have the Grammys ever been fair? Never. Never, ever, ever. But there are a lot of valid arguments to be made that consciously or subconsciously, hackles are up about this mostly because of race. Eminem didn’t have to apologize to anyone, because he was ushered in by Dre– he just had to display the appropriate amount of respect & deference to his rap predecessors. I think there’s an argument to be made that Mack tried to do the same thing–and maybe he bungled it– but I don’t think we’d be having this discussion if JayZ had mentored them in the business, or even if Ryan Lewis wasn’t also white.

        • Katrina says:

          Good call on Dr. Dre, Melissa.

          I only have a difficult time with the whole thing because I’ve been listening to Kendrick Lamar pretty much non stop since the Grammys. He’s really, really good. I mean really good. He did get robbed. Purely on musical level Macklemore could have been genuine in his text. I don’t think it’s a premonition of more “robbing” to come. The media preys on this stuff. It’s click bait. We all love a scandal.

          Award shows are wrong a lot. The Oscars, for example. I think we give the much more credit than they deserve when all they do is fuel for the media machine when what they should be doing is honoring artists who are at the top of their game and taking risks. I don’t know why we expect them to nominate or award female directors or directors of color when they’ve always had a reputation for catering to white males. After all, who is the Academy? Old rich white dudes. One demographic’s opinion.

        • Jason Sommer jason says:

          if we were going to talk about this through a “race” lens, then i just think we should talk about more than one aspect of it. yes, macklemore being white was probably a factor in recording academy members voting for him – and that’s really messed up. but i think the idea of mack being able to avoid this controversy if he’d had his hand held by dr. dre (or another black artist) is also kinda messed up. because that suggests he needs someone else’s permission to express himself through a particular art form & be considered “good” at it.

  • Love the shape of this piece and how you end each paragraph on a question. And yes, please let’s make it about “the GLARING omission of female hip hop artists (and not just in 2014, but for 25 years now)” instead.

    I think awards shows is not a sign of whether or not you’ve arrived as an artist, it’s about whether or not the entity behind the award consider your art a representation of what they think their industry should be.

    • Jason Sommer jason says:

      that seems absolutely right to me. i mean, it’s good for the recording academy to feel some pressure to keep up with the times – but people should also realize they’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole when they advocate for artists like kendrick lamar to win a grammy.

      rather than complain about the grammys, people should be urging other music industry associations to fill in the gaping hole of a space that the grammys aren’t occupying. build public support for an alternative awards system if it means that much to you. but that’s alot of work. it’s probably just easier to whine about the grammys.

  • Monet says:

    Was I surprised that M & RL swept through the Grammys like a northeaster is like asking if I was surprised by the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial, doesn’t mean I can be upset and disappointed. And while that comparison might seem extreme, to me it is just my reality. If we talk about rap, we talk about flow, beats, hooks,and being real, whatever being real means to the rapper in question. Where M struggles in the most elemental way – flow, he has none. Listen to any Eminem song (the white rapper who always gets trotted out in this argument), even in the songs from Relapse, his least popular album, his flow is undeniable.

    • Monet says:

      Also, side comment that has really been on my mind is the title of this post, which I thought just irritated me, but really bothers me, because “bling”, a word added to the dictionary in 2002 is a word that had been used in hip hop culture for years before it ever became popular or mainstream. And now the only time I ever hear anyone use the word is from a non-black person or related to hip hop, which to me is a reflection of this post.

      Twitter has been the best place for me to see how black vernacular germinates and then blossoms, how things like twerking are not fully accepted until appropriated.

      • Jason Sommer jason says:

        appropriating language is probably something i should give more thought to – especially as a writer. because, to be honest, i didn’t even think twice when i titled this post. i just thought it was appropriate, given the topic of hip hop & my personal feelings about grammy awards (i.e., they’re just like shiny, expensive jewelry – physical objects that are imbued with precisely as much meaning as you put into them, which can be alot or as little as nothing at all).

        on the flipside, though, i’m wondering if you would prefer that hip hop language never be appropriated? or just differently, with more deference? i’ll be the first to admit that appropriating a culture not your own is a thorny matter at best. but doesn’t intentionally keeping language separate also keep people separate? i think there’s an inherent downside to that (says the naive white guy.)

        • Monet Thomas says:

          I realize reading my comments again that I may have gone slightly apeshit. But, what I meant to say, more eloquently about this point, is that lots of words are appropriated from sub-American cultures, without understanding, sometimes even without proper context. I’ve heard white students use the word “Ratchet” and only once was it NOT in reference to a black person. I would argue that the word, like “ghetto” can refer to many different things not related to black culture. It’s about knowing where it came from, and sometimes, that’s hard to communicate to someone outside of the sub-culture. I’d only ask that people think more carefully about the slang/vernacular they use.

    • Jason Sommer jason says:

      i’m really interested in your reaction to this, monet. because it never would’ve even occurred to me to equate this to something like the zimmerman trial. i think of awards shows not unlike athletic contests. i tune in, and i’m sorta invested in the outcome, but not really. certainly not like i’m invested in young black men getting shot for wearing a hoodie. but i think you might be onto something here. pop culture events like the grammys *can* be the occasion for us to talk about race without the high tension of a murder trial – and that’s a good thing. so i probably should consider this just as serious a dialogue.

      i’ll push back on the “what we talk about when we talk about rap” bit, though. just because flow is the defining characteristic of rap for you, doesn’t mean it has to be for me (or grammy voters, for that matter). that’d be like saying line breaks are what really makes a good poet. it’s an element of the art, but whether or not it defines the art is a totally subjective opinion.

  • Laura Citino Laura C. says:

    This is a good conversation taking place.

    I want to echo Melissa and say that I am also getting exhausted by the nonstop stream of Very Serious Think Pieces about pop culture. I’ll throw out there that I have seen a lot of really bad writing, and even worse rhetoric, on the Internet RE: pop culture stuff and it’s starting to give me hives. I honestly don’t think there are that many talented cultural critics out there these days, but we’re in a moment where people toss around concepts of race and gender and class without clearly understanding the weight of those things. I see this a lot in the feminist blog world – a saturation of under-developed ideas instead of a few pointed, well-thought out critiques.

    Second, and I’ll be the eighteenth thousandth person to bring up Eminem, but we shouldn’t forget that Eminem was not exactly beloved in the mainstream media across the board — he was controversial in the old definition of the term — he said ACTIVELY OFFENSIVE things ALL THE TIME. Even as he did seemingly represent the cultural moment, we have to remember the ugly side of what it was exactly he was representing, right?

    Though I did just watch 8 Mile again over Christmas and we kind of had a family moment about it, so.

    • Melissa says:

      Totally agree about Eminem– he’s said (and rapped) tons of totally fucked up things. But at the same time, he was still being played on TRL, the darling of MTV, when he was rapping about murdering his ex-wife & shoving her body in the trunk of a car! Right alongside all the teeny bopper boy bands on MTV, haha. Isn’t that even more insane in retrospect than it was at the time?

      Also, I don’t think there’s a problem with using Eminem as an example- he’s the most popular, most visible white rapper of the last 20 years. Just because he’s the most obvious example doesn’t make it a flawed example- particularly in the context of the discussion of whether being ushered in by a rap legend makes a difference in how seriously you’re taken, like the Seattle Times piece on this was addressing: http://seattletimes.com/html/musicnightlife/2022777965_macklemoreapology1xml.html

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