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.
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