Friday, July 02, 2004

Here then, in the red corner, are Tamas' thoughts on Oliver and Jay's thoughts on my thoughts (see below for context).

It's great that we get to ramble-on with other people who live on the other side of the world and who also like to ramble-on. Tim, Jay, and Oliver - hats-off to you all for loving music. The writing thusfar has made me think a bit about hip-hop in the context of a few of my pet interests so I'd like to put some of these thoughts out there as a further provocation.

When Tim referred to 'the nerdy, beat-digging, wax poetics-theorising culture, thanks; no guns, misogyny, bling or hand-jive posturing for me, no sir,' he was, if the comment is taken in a literal sense, presenting what Jay in his response views as a 'false dichotomy,' but Jay's impassioned response got me thinking; firstly because it was obviously an informed view but secondly because it seemed to signify something aparent and yet actually downright cool; some implications of the cultural distance between Tim/Me and Jay/Oliver.

I get to hang out with Tim a bit so I know that he was not speaking literally but more generally about a gap in the culture of hip-hop, which I think is inevitable as a result of talking about it from an Australian perspective. The way in which an Australian receives / processes / understands and then appreciates the culture and the sound of hip-hop is inevitably and fundamentally different to an American. Jay and Oliver I'm sure are aware of this but choose to overlook it in their response. I've spent no more than a year or so in the US and have always found hip-hop to be immensely political and racial in the context of that country - even when it's just 'wave your hands in the air etc.' type stuff - because that racialness and politicalness is so ingrained in the physical substance of the music... and yet I also notice that the reception of that whole side of the music is altered if you're an Australian Kid who hasn't and potentially might never, meet, a Black American or indeed any American (a generalisation that, it may as well be added, does not include either Tim or I). Yet I would argue that this makes AK's appreciation of it in no way invalid or naive because AK could have the internet and (on this point we all agree) the shit-hot Wax Poetics magazine etc., and as a result might a) actually know a truckload about the culture factually, technologically and historically and, b) might have an acute appreciation of it from a rhythmic perspective which (we probably all agree on this point seeing as we all love hip-hop beats worth dancing to) is an essential and good manner in which this, and indeed all dance music is understood and it is mostly intuitive so it is not much of a geographically or culturally sensitive trait, especially now that hip-hop is one of the dominant contemporary music forms.

Now Tim's no AK but I think I'm mounting a decent arguement why his separation of hip-hop's hard posturing and/or gangsta culture from what he perceives (from afar) as a more general, intellectual interest in the music viz. Wax Poetics, might be a 'false dichotomy,' for those at WP, but that this doesn't hold when you find yourself on the other side of the globe. Further this is only one of many ways in which Australia, or any other country other than America is opening-up hip-hop culture. But unfortunately you're going to see a lot of AKs pretending to be American and rhyming in a false US accent before there's a greater acceptance of this fact. So I'm thinking it's precisely his geographic location that enables Tim to ask the sort of questions about hip-hop that American blokes like Jay and Oliver are likely to have some problems with.

At this point a quick aside; does anyone else except me think that it's incredibly cool that a song titled, of all things, Synthetic Substitution, would come to be so heavily sampled?

When Oliver writes of Tim's blog-blurt that 'Ideologically, I find that opinion to be problematic, especially b/c your explanation of how you arrived at said conclusion is quantitative rather than qualitative,' I felt that something was being side-stepped. Yes, it is problematic, but in the best way possible. The interesting thing about what Tim raises is precisely the 'quantitative,' and not 'qualitative.' To bring it back to a discussion of the qualitative I think overlooks that Tim was clearly not taking aim at cutting-edge producers when he wrote this (even a cursory scan of his blog shows he has a keen, thoughtful, broad interest in dance music) but about mass recycling of obvious source material, and Oliver and Jay appear reluctant to concede there's anything much wrong with this for reasons I don't yet understand. One responds with yet another comparison between hip-hop and jazz as if hip-hop needs the legitimisation (they're more different than alike but more about that later), while the other treads the path of qualitative vs. quantitative. It almost appears as if Oliver and Jay are apologising for the standards that Tim justly critiques, if a little haphazardly. Tim's question 'What does this say about hip-hop and what they're trying to sell us?' is a worthy one. Granted, on a fundamental level hip-hop is precisely the same as rock'n'roll when it comes to nostalgia for the "classics," but this music is for sale to a public and as Oliver points out, most of us don't notice when someone 'flips the same break twice.' This proves to be the Achilles's heel of hip-hop (and in another way a strength, but I only have so much time and space) because producers are excused of their laziness. And record companies realise this. Compared with the jazz days where they always had to pay a full band of trained musicians interacting with one another spontaneously to create music (afterall at base level this kind of communicative improvisation amongst fellow musicians within structure IS what I believe jazz is about and no, one person or even three in a studio cutting up samples is not the same as that. Jazz standards or not, the dynamic of its making has to be different, and any person with some sense of intuition and/or experience playing a musical instrument in an ensemble knows this), it might prove to be a comparatively efficient economy and, more relevantly, expedient to pay a lone producer with kick-ass modern equipment in a studio, to flip the same break twice.

In the early twentieth century Marcel Duchamp, the granddaddy of sampling, put a urinal in an art gallery and blew open modern art. This work was of immense rhetorical power and resonates still precisely because it tackled what Oliver succinctly summarises as a 'high culture/low culture binary about how "art," should be properly produced.' If an artist in the 21st century did the same thing the rhetoric would be limp; at best naïve and at worst stupid or lazy. That does not mean that the binary is tired, quite the opposite; it proves to be a source of inspiration for artists in media as diverse as architecture, film and music and seems especially relevant now that we're aided by computer software that dramatically levels the playing field. It also proves to be a good source of discussion I'm told.

If you'd like to weigh in - by all means.

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