If a rap album is good enough, could it be considered indie-rock? Or does it depend on who’s doing the rappin’? The reason I bring this up is because this weekend I went on a road trip and I brought along a copy of Elliott “Pravda” Wilson’s favorite magazine, Blender. And it got me to thinking.
As I mentioned on my own site the other day, this month’s issue has a list of the 100 greatest indie-rock albums of all time. It’s a pretty bullshit list overall, but I suppose it does have some of my favorite albums evar right in the upper reaches of the top 100. Elsewhere on the list, there’s some real garbage, like Rilo Kiley, and the first Franz Ferdinand album; and I guess they were trying to prove some sort of a point by not including the best albums by some of the real titans of ’90s-era alternative rock.
Of course list-obsessed music magazines such as Blender have been known to throw a few bullshit items on a list, or fuck around with the order, just to get people pissed off and hence talking about the list, like I’m doing here. One thing I found especially interesting about this list is that there was a rap album on it, but only one: De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising. And it was way up there on the list, at number 14. Clearly this was Blender’s attempt to make some sort of statement about hip-hop and its relationship to indie-rock, no?
There were hardly any other black artists on the list, except for the Bad Brains and I guess the drummer for the Dead Kennedys, but I’m not even sure if they count as black music per se. (Afro Punk types, feel free to let me have it. Nullus.) If you’re one of these people who can refer to an Asian as a “person of color” without throwing up a little bit in your mouth, I suppose you could pick out a few others. But then you already would have, wouldn’t you?
Which begs the question: What is it about De La Soul that makes them indie-rock, more so – apparently – than anyone else in the history of hip-hop? Is it because Three Feet High and Rising has more of a rock-ish feel than any other (really good) rap album? After all, it does feature samples by the likes of Hall and Oates and Steely Dan. The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, which was released around the same time, has a similar cut and paste aesthetic and an overall rock-ish feel, but I guess it doesn’t count because it was released by a major label.
Quite a few of my own recent favorites, like the Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday and Cat Power’s The Greatest (don’t front), made the list, which makes me wonder whether or not El-P’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead was considered. It’s a legit independent release, it’s got a rock-ish feel to it (it’s even got Cat Power on it!), and it’s arguably the best album of the year, regardless of genre. (In case you’re wondering whether or not the album may have been too new to be considered, that bullshit-ass Feist album The Reminder, which was also released this year, is at number 80.)
Beyond the actual music on the album though, I wonder if Blender isn’t making some sort of grand statement about hip-hop as a whole. Maybe it isn’t so much that Three Feet High and Rising is the only great rap album that could be considered an indie-rock album on account of its music, but that Blender meant to suggest that hip-hop hit a certain peak with Three Feet High and Rising, and that it hasn’t been nearly as worth a shit since. That would be an argument that isn’t altogether different from the argument being waged by many of us haters here on the Internets, and of course it would raise any number of issues.
To understand where Blender is coming from in this argument that I’m constructing for them (they can thank me later), it’s instructive to consider the history of De La Soul, particularly with regard to race relations. Put simply, for the sake of attention deficit (and the BGM), De La Soul used to be mad white. But then they felt the wrath of the hip-hop community and blackened up with the quickness. I’m not sure if even they’d cop to this, but that’s definitely what happened. By their second album, 1991′s inferior De La Soul is Dead, they were declaring themselves dead, and talking about how they beat people up. The very definition of blackness.
So maybe by selecting an album with such a unique, racially-charged history, Blender was suggesting that hip-hop, back when it was good, was actually indie-rock, worthy of being listened to by white people; and that hip-hop before then (relative no-talents chanting over disco records replayed by hack studio musicians) and after then (relative no-talents chanting over the audio equivalent of a broccoli fart played by southerners on synthesizers) is the “other” hip-hop, primarily suited for black people, and white kids who are looking to appear ironic.
Oddly enough, you saw this reflected in the crowds at some of the hip-hop-related music festivals that took place last summer. None other than De La Soul headlined this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, which was attended by hardly any black people other than myself. Check out this video I took of the GZA doing “4th Chamber” at Pitchfork and try to spot any black kids in the audience. You can’t do it! And it was the same story at the “real hip-hop”-oriented Rock the Bells festival this summer, as was noted by myself (as James Murphy would say, I was there) and any number of people.
What do you ladies think? If no one other than white people listens to a genre of music, could it then be considered white music, even if it was (once) made by black people? Is that what’s happening to hip-hop? Should we give a shit? Or am I reading too much into this?