I quote my dear friend and Midwestern-cum-Swedish-transplant biochemist Evan: “Ladies and gentlemen, I present the shittiest article about music ever written.”
Sasha Frere-Jones – A Paler Shade of White: How Indie Rock Lost Its Soul, from this month’s New Yorker.
In this article, the New Yorker pop critic, former Ui frontman, and brother to type designer Tobias Frere-Jones (a.k.a. “the talented one”) gives his account of the death of African-American influence in rock music, citing thoroughly unfunky bands from Wilco and Pavement to Arcade Fire and Devendra Banhart. For the most part he’s right: indie rock has become increasingly inward, obtuse, artsy-fartsy, and LILY WHITE in the past 20 years, and as far as I’m concerned it’s really bad news, culturally speaking. But then he kind of veers off into the realm of absolute nonsense by blaming the internet for all of this (the basic argument: white people always existed as great popularizers of black music, and now that the internet allows us average white folk to find out about black music without Elvis singing it to us, there is no incentive for whitey to continue borrowing. Enter Arcade Fire).
Furthermore, he brings hip-hop into the whole mix, claiming that it too has become increasingly devoid of white influence (thanks to more restrictive sampling laws). Frere-Jones portrays the cultural shift from De La Soul’s Johnny Cash and Schoolhouse Rock samples to today’s much less sample-laden post-gangsta hip-hop as a purely economic calculusâ€””now that sampling is expensive, let’s quit sampling”â€”and cites this as the reason that hip hop (supposedly) has a lot less white influence in it these days. A few points:
1) Dear Sasha, there’s this guy called Kanye West. I know he’s pretty undergroundâ€”doesn’t make a lot of media appearancesâ€”but perhaps you’ll be able to find some info about him and his samples on the interweb (you knowâ€”the one that killed rock).
2) Frere-Jones talks about the dearth of white rappers, and has the following to say about Eminem in particular: “A protÃ©gÃ© of Dr. Dreâ€™s who spent part of his youth in Detroit, he had to be better than the local black competition simply in order to be acceptedâ€”a fascinating inversion of the racism that many blacks have encountered in the workplace.” OH EM GEE SASHA FRERE-JONES HAS SINGLEHANDEDLY DISCOVERED THE PHENOMENON OF REVERSE RACISM WHAT A MINDBLOWING REVELATION TO COME FROM A LOUSY POP CRITIC SOMEBODY PLZ AWARD HIM AN HONORARY Ph.D. STAT!
3) Is hip-hop really less white today than in 1990? Is it just me, or does all this new-fangled synth-driven hip-hop (Frere-Jones mentions Crunk & Hyphy, but I’m talking Swishahouse stuff too, anything by Timbaland, the Neptunes, basically anything you can hear on the radio EXCEPT Kanye) owe a lot more to, say, KRAFTWERK than it does James Brown, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, or even Dr. Dre? Like seriously, the instrumental of “The Whisper Song” might as well be “Home Computer”.
4) HELLO THERE SASHA! OVER HERE! IT’S ME! CHRISSY! You know, the girly/nerdy grad student from Kansas who once released a 12″ by a white Brooklynite-cum-Belgian featuring Jamaican dancehall superstars Ward 21 and sampling “No Diggity” by Blackstreet? Musical miscegenation is alive and well over here in ravesville, duderino. Just because Indie Rock is in a period of white influence doesn’t mean that’s the case for all music, or that it’s a trend that’s bound to continue indefinitely.
Ok, I’m done. Argue away, blog reading types.