Ever get slapped in the face with a metaphorical glove by a librarian?

This may not be a typically nerdy post. I’m way out of my comfort zone here. But I’ve been issued a challenge from which I am loathe to back away, hands up in surrender.

Lemme ‘splain.

I have this friend who, for the sake of anonymity we’ll call…what? Something totally wacky…”Matthew”. So, Matthew and I have a particularly snarky friendship, built mostly on a mutual love of books, music, and sarcasm. He’s both nerdier and cooler than me at the same time. It’s really weird. Dude wears a tweed librarian jacket with the leather patches on the elbows with no irony whatsoever (although to be fair, he is in fact a librarian).

Anyway, what’s the point? A couple of years ago he gave me a CD. Many, actually, and most of them I love. I’ve found a lot of great music through old Matthew (Of Montreal, The Roots, The Decemberists, TV on the Radio, Pavement, Godspeed You! Black Emperor). But this particular CD was meant to be a part of my musical education in hip-hop.

And I never listened to it.

Oh! Fail! Slacker friend!

I know, I know. I’m horrible. So then I see that this artist (GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan) is working on an album with Neil deGrasse Tyson, my very favorite astrophysicist (check out his podcast, StarTalk Radio, for sciency goodness). A Wu-Tang/astrophysics mashup! How cool is that? I, of course, immediately posted a link about it on Matthew’s Facebook page. To which he said, and I quote:

Him – I’d be more excited if I thought for an instant that you ever listened to that copy of Liquid Swords.
Me – Alright, fine. I’ll go listen to it.
Him – I’m not so much angry as I am disappointed. Also, I expect a full report. ON YOUR BLOG.
Me – Deal.

So I did. I’ve listened to it all the way through about four times. And I’ve got to say, honestly and truly, at this point I have nothing interesting to say about it. I really tried. There were great beats. And I love that they used the dialogue from Shogun Assassin. I’m still trying to figure out the last song (the angle on it: pro-church? Or not?). I’ll definitely listen to it again. You’ve got to chew on hip hop for a while, until you can really get into all the words. I do, anyway. But I wasn’t as captivated by it as I’d hoped to be. This puts me in a somewhat awkward position. I’m very rarely at such a loss for words. I can’t seem to even bullshit my way through this one. Fail again. I made myself sad.

Because I’m more interested in why I didn’t find it interesting. I do like hip hop. I don’t have a lot of it in my collection, sure, but what I like I really like. I think hip hop is really fascinating. It’s pure wordplay, extremely clever and difficult poetry (of course I find the dorkiest way possible to talk about this, looking at it like a fucking Lit major – it’s all I’ve got, guys, take it or leave it). But hip hop is a kind of liminal language, isn’t it? Like any other subculture, the language and its use define the boundaries of the group. One doesn’t have to be indoctrinated into the culture to enjoy it, but I always feel like I’m missing some basic understanding of what’s going on. Not the music, but of the culture, which are probably more inextricably bound than any other kind of music. But that’s a completely neophyte opinion. See? This is pointless. I can barely talk in a straight line about hip hop. I even called in backup. I tried to have this conversation with my personal Tyler Durden. Her insight was that a big part of the enjoyment of hip hop and hip hop culture (for lack of a better term) is the participation of the audience in the outrageous bluster of the artist, which I find both preposterous and accurate. This could quickly turn into a dangerous slippery slope into anthropology, though, and frankly I’m ill-equipped. But someone should do it. Get on that, internet, I’d love to read it.

So, what have we learned? I really like my comfort bubble. It’s warm and soft and they play heavy metal. And I should think more carefully before guaranteeing that I’ll put my intellectual experimental failures in print. Thanks for that, Matthew. Achievement unlocked.

Meanwhile, if you’re a hip hop fan you should listen to this: Saul Williams – Telegram

7 thoughts on “Ever get slapped in the face with a metaphorical glove by a librarian?

  1. Interesting because my bubble is similar, only with lots more hip hop and not very much metal at all. I mean.. I like.. Tool? And does Faith No More count? Because Angel Dust is awesome. You can see my limitations here.

    But hip hop formed along with my musical tastes. I grew up with Beastie Boys and Tribe. De La Soul and Wu-Tang. Public Enemy. OutKast. So much OutKast. Later things like Aesop Rock. But I would not say that the big part of my enjoyment about hip hop is the audience participation. To be honest, 99% of the time, hip hop really blows in person. And I’ve seen a ton of it live. Public Enemy, OutKast, Beastie Boys, Tribe, Aesop, and I could go on. It’s all just much better after hours of shiny production. And see, I don’t feel that way about rock music, which I will go see live and completely get lost in the music. Then again, I toured with Phish. SO much better live. I would never have toured with OutKast, even though my love for them perhaps goes deeper.

    Metal I find completely impossible to connect with in any way. It doesn’t move me emotionally. It’s like watching a really fast game of hockey. I have no idea what’s going on, it’s too violent, and pretty much I feel like I’m wasting my time. I think I would probably hide in a bathroom at a metal concert.

    Do I want to change that? Nope. And I think that’s fine. What we listen to is a natural thing – part of our background, our lifestyle, and just plain old what moves us emotionally. That can’t be learned or taught, but is an inherent developmental issue.

    1. I agree, Jess. You can’t help what you like. And I think that if I’d listened to more hip hop when I was younger my appreciation for it wouldn’t be so vague and half-assed now. It’s just one of those things that’s hard to talk about without bringing in bigger questions that have little to do with the music itself. And that would be a long, looooooong blog. But I’ll work on it.

  2. I distinctly remember telling you *how* best to go about listening to the record as well, but I won’t repeat the advice in so public a space.

    The last cut doesn’t feature GZA, rather Killah Priest, and its presence has always been sort of a mystery (at least to me).

    The first verse of “Gold” (listen to it again. Now again. You should probably listen to it once more) moves like the credit sequence to a street crime drama with the smoothest of transitions (not that GZA’s the first (or last) person to compare the drug game to the stock market, or the gang war to a chess game but he does them better than anyone I can think of).

    You also gotta look at Liquid Swords as one part of a barrage of Wu records that came out in the wake of Enter the Wu-Tang (I’m not going to recap it, but Wikipedia has a pretty good overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu-Tang_Clan#1992-96:_Enter_the_Wu-Tang_.2836_Chambers.29_and_solo_albums ). Then zoom out a bit and compare what Wu-Tang was doing compared everyone else in hip-hop at the time (fun fact: A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders was released the same say as Enter the Wu-Tang).

    But, um, thanks for finally listening to Liquid Swords. Your next assignment is Madvillainy, the 2004 collaboration between MF DOOM and Madlib.

    1. Madlib! I knew there was one more on that list of stuff you gave me that I liked. I will chew on this album for a little longer and get back to you before I start on any new assignments. Did you listen to that Saul Williams song that I linked to?

      1. I will whenever I get to a computer that doesn’t wig out at Youtube like this library terminal does.

        1. I’m a friend of Nessa’s. If you need a nice laptop for a cheap price, just let her know and I can send her some specs on two I have rebuilt and have for sale right now. They are priced very well for the beef they have.

  3. Good job as usual Ness! Even if you didn’t elobarate into some amazing snarklie snark adventure, as you often do, you threw yourself out there with an honest post – good job. I love music in general and have personally found ways and reasons to relate to all types of music, even if I don’t really like it. I like most of the old school rap, hip hop and about any other type of music. I mean come on, I got a certain Megan we know a copy of Florence and The Machine albums I was listening to, so I obviously have a broad spectrum. 🙂 You know I am a Pink Floyd freak at heart but I find it all so interesting and appealing. I guess Country is about the only thing I usually find myself cringing at while hearing it. Even some of the old school country I really like though. I love me some CASH and Stanley Brothers. It is alawys so intriguing hearing how the old stuff changed, formed and moulded over time like a beautiful piece of clay art.

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