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The New Yorker on Shot 97

By now, most of the Internet nerds in the yard have already read the cringe-worthy New Yorker piece on Hot 97. Since Joey has a monster post up at Oh Word that does a great job of analysing the article, I’m going to keep this post brief. Obviously—despite making a couple interesting points—Ben McGrath steps on pretty much every landmine imaginable for a layman writing on hip-hop. So I thought I would point out some of those bad boys, for future reference and all.

Without further ado, here’s the top mistakes commonly made by mainstream press folks that try to cover hip-hop:

1. A tendency to over-explain. I am fully aware that the New Yorker’s readership is probably not familiar with the nuances of hip-hop culture, but they’re not freakin’ idiots. They don’t need every minute connection spelled out for them. Case in point: “’Then, after I got a sandwich and came out of the store—da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da!’ Gravy told me later, mimicking the sound of gunfire.” Oh, really? Is that what he was doing? Who knew?

2. Condescending use of quotation marks. No need to play the role of smug cultural translator.

Gravy’s own words—his rhymes—are less jarring, by comparison, tending to fall safely within the established motifs of gangsta rap: boasting of sexual prowess (one’s “bitches”), complaining about “dick-riders” (i.e., copycats), declaring war on the police, and laying claim to neighborhood terrain… He drew a distinction between “the hood” (where “not a lot of dudes got computers in they cribs”) and “the streets,” a larger, amorphous space where public opinion crystallizes.

3. Jumping all over the sensational elements of the story. Thus, you don’t have a relatively unknown mix tape rapper named Gravy. You have:

…a former drug dealer named Jamal Woolard, from the Lafayette Garden housing projects, in Bedford-Stuyvesant… whose songs include “Drugs, Drugs, Drugs,” “Get Wet, Get Wet,” “I Know, I Know,” and “Murder, Murder”

4. Mixing rap names and government names in a way that implies criminality. Jayceon (The Game) Taylor? Nobody cares what his Mom calls him. To the world he is The Game. Stating his name like that is reminiscent of police reports and America’s Most Wanted.

5. Referencing, at least once in the article, the Chuck D comment about hip-hop being CNN for black people. Seriously. Chuck has said other things since then. Lots of people in hip-hop have. Time to retire that one and go for something fresh. I beg you.

One pitfall McGrath managed to avoid? Outdated slang-jacking.


Since it’s Ether Week ‘round here, I’m going to have to lob a few shots at the anonymous jerk-offs in the comment section. Last time I checked, pointing out that I am white, Canadian and female doesn’t constitute a convincing counter-argument to anything I’ve written. Your hater game is très weak. Man up and hit me with decent debate, or else take your ball and go on home. You can keep your lurid little fantasies, too. I could not be less interested.

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