Hip-hop is gradually, effortlessly maturing into an esteemed art form. More and more, traditionally high brow arts institutions are becoming keenly aware and progressively vocal about hip-hop’s impact on broader culture - right before our very eyes. In January 2014 acclaimed, international arts journal ART PAPERS takes up questions at the intersection of visual art and hip-hop (guest edited by yours truly). This is significant because its the first publication of its kind to engage this dialogue specifically.
Earlier this year I reported that Harvard’s Dubois Institute launched a research fellowship for hip-hop scholars and artists named after NAS. According to an article from Rollingstone.com “The Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship is the result of a major endowment from an anonymous donor who wanted Nas to be the face of the program… The fellowship is for visiting scholars and will help pay for their research and hip-hop related academic programs.”
But I was extremely excited to learn of the National Symphony Orchestra’s announcement of a concert/celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Illmatic featuring Nas along with the NSO at the Kennedy Center!!!! Tickets went on sale today and I don’t imagine they will last very long.
I’m somewhat speechless… but not ticket-less!!! See you in March D.C.!!!
Caged Bird…01 © 2013 Fahamu Pecou
Fahamu Pecou ©2013
“The irony of American history is the tendency of good white Americans to presume racial innocence. Ignorance of how we are shaped racially is the first sign of privilege. In other words, it is a privilege to ignore the consequences of race in America.” ― Tim Wise
Do you remember back in 2007 when then Senator Barack Obama took the world by storm as a forerunner for President of the United States? His particular brand of cool, relative youth, and handsome family were an instant media sensation. Mainstream media outlets (read: white journalists) caught wind and rushed in for the story but soon found themselves at a loss for words. They were astounded to find a black man that didn’t fit into any of their boxes. He seemed to defy all the stereotypes making it difficult to “label” him. So they did the next best thing, they compared him to the only good, productive black man in recent media history that they could recall, Cliff Huxtable. No, not Bill Cosby, the comedian, actor, and philanthropist who played the character Cliff Huxtable- but actually CLIFF HUXTABLE… the fictional patriarch, husband and father of 5 imparting comically timed nuggets of wisdom on an NBC sit-com. For some reason, the idea that many black Americans would find this somewhat offensive and shortsighted was lost on them.
It was pathetic and hilarious to say the least.
Earlier this week, I saw that Kendrick Lamar was named one of GQ Magazine’s Men of the Year for 2013. In fact, he made the cover! As a fan of Lamar, I was pleasantly surprised. How progressive of GQ I thought. For the young rapper out of Compton, it goes without saying the recognition was a huge honor. The social networks buzzed with the news as fans shared the photos, videos, and other links announcing the news. It was all fun until the ignorance of America’s challenges with successful black men once again reared its ugly head.
In his profile of Kendrick Lamar, GQ’s Steve Marsh comments on his “surprise” at how well organized and disciplined Lamar’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment’s business model and professional practices are. He even goes as far as to say that TDE is like the “baby Death Row Records”, and compares TDE’s founder and Lamar’s manager Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith to the nefarious Suge Knight. Any one familiar with Death Row’s infamous practices of harassment and shady business moves will understand how such a comparison is both lazy and offensive. In all fairness, I think Marsh may have been well intentioned in his piece, but his lack of sensitivity reflects ignorance about black people (especially black men) that remains prevalent in society. In the very least it’s irresponsible journalism.
Maybe it shouldn’t, but sadly it still surprises me that even now (in 2013) deviance is still implied in characterizations of black men and that somehow, black men who operate outside of these assumptions are considered to be anomalies. Furthermore, examples of less than favorable actions by some black men remain the default metrics by which all black men are measured.
There’s a saying, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Well, Top Dawg’s CEO did in fact take a stand and pulled KL from the Men of The Year Party where he was scheduled to perform. In a statement about his decision, Tiffith expressed both his and Lamar’s appreciation for the Man of the Year honor but felt the irresponsible journalism of the magazine could not go unaddressed.
“…the story, written by Steve Marsh, put myself and my company in a negative light. Marsh’s story was more focused on what most people would see as drama or B.S. To say he was “surprised at our discipline” is completely disrespectful… While we think it’s a tremendous honor to be named as one of the Men Of The Year, these lazy comparisons and offensive suggestions are something we won’t tolerate. Our reputation, work ethic, and product is something that we guard with our lives.”
In a response GQ’s editor-in-chief, Jim Nelson, expressed his shock and disappointment about the label’s action saying:
“…we chose to celebrate him, wrote an incredibly positive article declaring him the next King of Rap, and gave him our highest honor: putting him on the cover of our Men of the Year issue. I’m not sure how you can spin that into a bad thing…”
Sadly Nelson and GQ still apparently have no idea what they did wrong and that in and of itself is a problem. Are we to expect that somehow, Lamar and TDE should be grateful to GQ even if the reporting is less than thorough or accurate? Is it fair to assume that the lack of sensitivity, consideration, and professionalism reflected in the writing is THE most accurate account of Lamar’s success, talent, and acumen? Is the failure to read the racist implications in this text merely an oversight or is it something deeper?
Only a (white) privileged mind would fail to see the error in that type of thinking.
But until you walk a mile in my shoes… SMH
"Caged Bird…" 2013 © Fahamu Pecou
…But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing…
(excerpt from “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou)