Is hip-hop white music?

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?

  • N.O. 4 life

    your reading into this too much…some of the best hip hop albums would never be put on a list like that

    • http://xxlmag.com Bol

      Thanks for clearing that up.

    • H-LO

      lol

  • Lupe Fiasco

    who cares? stop being a racist, negro

  • b-ease

    Hip Hop in ten years (maybe less)= Jazz/rock and roll

    White rappers are going to be the only rappers within the next decade, just you watch…

  • ABE B SURE

    What about B.O.B, THe Clipse, Lil Wayne, and Camron cracka ass crackas love them.

  • Doobie

    “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”

    LOL! That is some funny shit especially that part about hip-hop “after” it was good. I think the only issue here is aesthetics: they’re just saying that De La Soul’s debut (which is cool but I still don’t understand all the exaggerated hype about it) has more of an indie rock-ish aesthetic than any other Rap album. Aesthetics in this sense are largely bullshit anyway, it’s essentially “music as fashion”. What the hell is indie rock anyway? The term on its face would seem to mean that a band plays rock music and isn’t signed to a major label, but from my experience, the term “indie rock” has more to do with a certain sound and a certain style. Blender seems to be trying to ride the fence “by not including the best albums by some of the real titans of ’90s-era alternative rock.” (I won’t even go into the “what the hell is alternative rock” discussion). Perhaps Blender is trying to show that they are extra cool and extra hip, or that they have a “big tent” perspective on indie rock, but I don’t think your theory, humorous as it may be, really holds up overall.

  • http://hiphoponmymind.blogspot.com DJ Daddy Mack

    “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?”

    I believe so. This same shit happened to Jazz and Rock. The white people had been stealing Black people’s music of years. I mean look at Rock now. Where are the Black people? The white people came in and was like “yo this our shit now.”

    “Is that what’s happening to hip-hop?”

    No. But considering that has happened to past shit like Rock and Jazz, I fear for the same shit for Hip Hop.

    “Should we give a shit?”

    HELL YEA. We cannot let the white people take away another form of music created by us.

    “Or am I reading too much into this?”

    Not really. You might be saying signs of what is to happen in the future.

  • Doobie

    Also, white people didn’t take shit (not that their listening to it and creating it means that they are necessarily “taking” it) black people gave Rock and Jazz away. Most blacks think that it’s weird that I listen to both Jazz and Rock (well, the ones under 40 think it’s weird that I listen to Jazz). Most whites that I know? Not so much. You can’t blame that on white people.

  • lukee lefty

    it would be foolish to assume that hiphop is gonna be completely white within the next decade or ever for that matter, there are too many negroations makin dollars off of it independtly without the white man (although they arent makin as much as the white man)

  • barbarian at the gate

    Such are the perils of a free & open society, Bol.

    Racially-dominated or ethnocentric music is simply vanishing with the wind.

    Casualty of Globalism?

  • og bobby j

    this whole concept is bullshit. In my opinion, Indie rock is shit to begin with. I dont know if the future of “hip hop” will be another thing to blame white people for..but why not. Fuck those honkeys…they are gonna steal rap just like rock and jazz. Thats right, steal the noise right from the air…..

  • http://n/a colin

    it sounds to me like you’re saying that black people dont like real hip-hop

  • The Nicker

    As much as you have a point that hip hop is becoming more and more a mainstream white genre, especially among the youth, you didn’t really focus on that here. I was at a NaS show in Detroit last spring, and I’d say the audience was 70/30 black. The breakdown was more like 95/5 black for those over 30, and like 70/30 white for those under.

    To get to the Blender thing, you should know first of all that indie rock fans are fucking frustrating people to deal with taste-wise, as a group. The Blender list itself showcases this, in that god forbid anything become too popular, because it will then immediately suck. Case in point Flaming Lips, Broken Social Scene, etc being omitted from the list. Basically, the genre of hip hop, particularly in “The Golden Era,” of hip hop when even underground records sold, just became way too popular to ever be indie again.

  • Tray

    Bol, El-P’s album sucked, just a crazy white guy blathering on about aliens and the kennedy assassination (or whatever he talks about), and De La Soul Is Dead is a classic. Even though it’s not as fun as their first album, but come on, Ring Ring Ring, Roller Skating, Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa, My Brother’s A Basehead, Keeping The Faith… shit, if that came out post-1999, it’d be the best rap album of the decade.

    • http://www.myspace.com/sogentllc LowEndOfDaChi

      Saying I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead sucked is a pretty bold statement. Granted, its not as good as EL Producto’s first solo effort, Fantastic Damage, but it still holds its own as a good follow up.

  • Liam

    Cosign on indie rock fans being frustrating (and also a bit elitist).

    I don’t think you are reading too much into this list, as including just one hip-hop album is clearly making a point of some sort, intentionally or not. Maybe they are appropriating what they see as the only good rap album, or maybe it’s a token inlcusion along the lines of Rolling Stone always including a few PE albums on their best of lists (or upgrading their original reviews of classic hip hop albums), just to show they aren’t too close-minded and white. Who knows?

    To be honest, i don’t think i’ve ever taken Blender’s opinion on anything (but especially hip hop) too seriously.

    And yeh ISWYD and maybe Popular Demand is definitely the years best (nullus on sounding like a Bol fanboy)

  • http://www.incilin.blogspot.com Incilin

    “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?”

    ^^^ Your definitely not reading too much into this idea. The part about De La Soul’s racial history, and why Blender put them in there, yes your reading too much into that. But that seems sorta like a legitimate question. But I ask in response; What are black kids listening to? Certainly not indie rock. Their prolly listening to hip hop.

  • Drydock

    Is hip hop white Music? I’d say no. However, I wonder about “conscious” rap where the audience is 90% white, kinda like the Cotton Club. I’m thinking Dead Prez, The Coup, perhaps Common.

    So I’d ask— Is “conscious” rap white?

    • http://n/a colin

      so he’s saying black people dont like ‘conscious rap’ ? and if conscious rap is good hip-hop, then he’s saying that black people dont like good hip-hop..

  • Liam

    I think Blender is definitely making a statement (intentionally or not) about hip hop music. Maybe they are just appropriating what they see as they only good rap album, or maybe they are doing some tokenism along the lines of Rolling Stone including a few PE albums on best of lists, or upgrading their original reviews of classic hip hop albums (in an effort not to be seen as too closed minded and white).

    All I know is that I wouldn’t take anything Blender says too seriously, especially with regards to hip hop.

    And ISWYD is an awesome album, it and Popular Demand are definitely the years best (nullus on sounding like a Bol fanboy)

    • H-LO

      I’ve read that list by Rolling Stone, and there are about two dozen real rap albums included. Interestingly the first three Eminem albums are in it and ranked unproportionally high. Hmmmm?

  • moresickaMC

    Bol…you still haven’t given your opinion on Blu & Exile’s- Below the Heavens…an underground classic already. I admit I am yet to hear El-P’s album.

    About the topic…white people are secretly infatuated with black culture, thats why they hate on it at first, then (later) just give in and take over our art form. It WILL happen to hip-hop.

    • H-LO

      The EL-P album is really as good as Bol praises it. But forget about him saying something similar about the Blu & Exile album hence it has a blue album cover and he rated albums like Blueprint, Fear of Black Planet and Miss E as not worth a shit…

      But I recall that video blogger Jay Smooth calling it his favorite album in 2007 so far on 9/11 (-> after hearing Kanye/Fiddy).

  • dookie

    Hold we have to go back into the history of hip-hop for a minute. When I make this argument, I’m assuming that people think hip-hop is black music. When Hip-hop started many people will acknowledge that it started in the bronx with black and latino people. However,most people saw it simply as a fad and thought it wouldn’t last long. So first being hip-hop can’t be black music because latinos were involved in its origins as well. Furthermore, these people also saw it as a passing fad and would fade soon. White A&Rs helped cultivate it into the major cultural thing it is today by taking a risk with the music. Sadly, they also cultivated it into a lot of the pop garbage that it is today. BUt they aren’t the only ones to blame for this. Rappers are also to blame because they to were driven by the hunger for money. Rap can still remain as pure as it is and still be released, examples of this are: Lupe Fiasco, Common, Kanye West, and Wyclef Jean.

  • http://www.yorapper.com YoRapper

    Depends where you live. On the East coast, White guys are true “hip hop heads”. There the one’s packing the Wu-Tang shows. Where majority of Black guys on East Coast are into whatever is hot at the moment. Down South everyone is pretty much doing the Laffy Taffy irrespective of skin color. Though, it’s difficult to generalize music preferences based on skin color in the year 2007.

  • BOL you lost

    The only way white people will completly take over rap music would be if all the financial statuses change and Black people like in the gated neighborhoods and white folks take the projects.

  • concerned hater

    I like baby girl’s reaction to the words ragged pussy lips, she turns to dirt hair and is like “he didnt just say that did he?” and jesus nephew is like “haha baby, you dont even know” (in his mind)

    meanwhile why wasn’t local favorite on the list?

  • spotrusherz

    indie rock = middle class = better education = the need for more articulate, thoughtful entertainment = the reason why whitey loves native tongues, talib, common etc.
    race plays only a minor role in this equation IMO.
    the whole real vs. gangsta or club hip-hop discussion seems pretty snobbish to me though. there’s a time and place for everything.

  • Izza

    whats with all this emfacis(sp) on color?
    bro yous got a live ya life not spend hours
    wondering if in ten years rap will be considered white music.

    who gives a fuck?

    go get some pussy, damn

  • BORN IN THE NORTH, RAISED IN THE SOUTH

    Hip-Hop is Hip-Hop. Indie-Rock is Indie-Rock. Next thing you know, Blender will put out a list of the greatest Hip-Hop lyricists of all-time, and Soulja Boy will be #1. (Not to say that Blender isn’t a credible music mag, but they don’t take themselves very seriously like a Rolling Stone would.) If Three Feet High & Rising is indie-rock, then so is Straight Outta Compton, or It Takes A Nation Of Millions, feel me? They put a rap album on the list just to make themselves look hip. Rap/ Hip-Hop is Black music, but it’s also the most universal form of music ever, which is why all races embrace it. I could never see it being completely taken over by Whitey like rock, and the last time I checked, most jazz artists are Black.

    Oh yeah: go get some pussy.

  • tyrell

    U really are reading into this 2 much! wat u are doing is catorgising people’s race with music, anybody can listen to any type of music without being told that they cant enjoy it cuz of their race. Where did rap originally come from? I done a lot of research on this and u might be surprised to hear that the Irish had a big hand in rap, for hundreds of years they’d tell storie’s in ryhme to the sound of a drum like instrument called a bodrain, over the years irish and Blacks mixed together as they were both treated the same, u might not know this but the Irish were known as the blacks of europe cuz they were slaves to the english, so now Byron Crawford there is an interesting history lesson for u to look up

  • Hannah Smith

    “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. ”

    Um… I know you’re only writing for the clowns who read XXL, but that’s so far wrong it’s sad.

  • http://www.xxlmag.com EReal

    (relative no-talents chanting over the audio equivalent of a broccoli fart played by southerners on synthesizers)
    ^^^^
    I know the EXACT sound you’re talkin about, and its on that Lil John song “Head Bustas”.

    L M M F A O!

    But for the most part I agree. There are some crackity cracks that wanna look ironic (aka Black aka Wiggers / Hipsters) that just follow whatever trend is hot and then switch to the next (aka G-Unit Haters) But when I goto a Souls of Mischeif show, or Swollen Members, or Del or Devin the Dude, its mostly White Kids. You have people sayin Strong Arm Steady sucks, people who dont even know of Immortal, Sean P, Joell, or they claim to know but never listen to them. Cats co-signin Game’s unlyrical ass and talkin shit about Rass Kass and Bishop Lamont(the future of the west) Shit is ass backwards in rap. Most Everything thats worth a shit is “backpacker hipster bullshit” and then when everyone is supermanin hoes sayin ay bay bay doin tha hand clap and doin the patented T.I. seabiscuit nostral flare they say “WHITE PEOPLE KILLED HIPHOP”, bitch White People ARE HIPHOP right now. Goto a fuckin show, in fact just goto youtube and look up the internets celebrities goto the brooklyn hiphop festival, Dallas Penn is like the only black dude there, the white people even smoked him out, lol. People sayin, aww fuck Wu Tang, Redman gets no shine, I mean WTF, everyone’s just hangin onto Jay-Zs nuttsachs while he puts out trash. But do you, I mean I like all kinds of music, Im a music lover, so whatev, just in general thats how I SEE it. I guess all the rap fans are posted up in parking lots with they drank and they two step walkin it out to the coffee shop while they feel like dying.

    1 hunned.

  • Ryan

    I’m glad I don’t fuck with most “indie rock” other than stuff from the 90′s, there’s only so much pretentious bullshit I can take. I’m not a big fan of hippie rap but De La Soul is one of the few that I actually do enjoy, but it’s inclusion on an indie rock list is questionable. I like hip hop for what it is, not for what some hipster jackasses decide it should be classified as. It doesn’t look as hip for a fruit with mop top hair and a lesiure suit jacket to be listening to a hip hop album on his verizon v cast chocolate phone, they would never do that on a tv commercial, but some Mars Volta lookin ass motherfucker would definitley be fine with listening to something classified as “indie rock”, just like they make up genres like “northern soul”. Totally off topic, I want to hear Scarface’s band that sounds like “a mix between the Smashing Pumpkins and Manowar”………

  • Gok

    Dam you really are a wannabe cracka…

  • http://www.xxlmag.com/?p=16888 WritersBlock

    “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?”

    I believe so. This same shit happened to Jazz and Rock. The white people had been stealing Black people’s music of years. I mean look at Rock now. Where are the Black people? The white people came in and was like “yo this our shit now.”

    “Is that what’s happening to hip-hop?”

    No. But considering that has happened to past shit like Rock and Jazz, I fear for the same shit for Hip Hop.

    “Should we give a shit?”

    HELL YEA. We cannot let the white people take away another form of music created by us.

    “Or am I reading too much into this?”

    Not really. You might be saying signs of what is to happen in the future.
    ———————————————-
    ^^^^
    plays a heavy rotation of soldier boy and shop boys in his car…and loves that “low” song with t-pain in it

    thats the vibe im getting

  • http://www.xxlmag.com EReal

    “Sposed to lie to the cops and tell the truth in booth, instead you tell the truth to the cops and lie in booth”-”Used to be a DJ would check for a record-now a dj want a check for a record- this rap shit is ass backwards, smack every fuckin one of you ass rap cats backwards” – Sean Price

  • jay

    i am curious as to why you secured a job writing for this site as opposed to an indie rock site. you have shown time and time again that you aren’t really a hip hop fan anymore.

    ps i love rilo kiley’s new shit
    pps cat power is a babe.

  • Doobie

    “i am curious as to why you secured a job writing for this site as opposed to an indie rock site.”

    Probably because Rap now is much more of a spectacle than Indie Rock is, so throwing indiscriminate ad hominem attacks at rappers (most of whom have oversized egos anyway) is a much more fun way to take up all the time that he’s spending by himself in his momma’s basement.

  • Josh

    First of all, Music Festivals are white.

    This is why you only see white people during the Gza performance.

    Even if Hurricane Chris were at Pitchfork, I doubt many black people would go.

    But indie-hip-hop (true indie-hip-hop, not merely unsigned rappers) has been a white phenomenom for quite some time now.

    It always used to bug me out (back when I actually went to shows) how white the audience would be for Mos Def and Kweli, the Roots, Pharoah, etc.

    Not that the Roots were indie at the time, but whatever.

    And lets not forget the whole Def Jux and Eastern Conference movements and all those dudes like Sage Francis and Atmosphere.

    Those fans are almost all white (sans Bol).

    But on the flipside, the Ruff Ryders/Cash Money concert I went to back in 2000 was like 1/2 white too, and that was in NY.

    I think white people just enjoy going to shows more. They come from this long tradition of Phish and Woodstock.

    And shit, the Ray Charles movie taught me that even performers of his caliber back in the day often played for all white audiences.

    But that’s beside the point.

    I think Blender just threw 3 Feet High and Rising on there because they either

    a) felt obligated to put at least one rap record on there

    or

    b) cause some controversy.

    I’m sure Funcrusher Plus would have made it if Bol made the list (or Prolyfic for that matter), but personally, I woulda just put the Hell Rell album up there just to fuck with people.

    • http://www.myspace.com/sogentllc LowEndofDaChi

      Dude you hit the nail on the head.

      I’m going to go out on a limb and say that fans of indie rock may be so openminded, that they can be expected to embrace indie hip hop as well. I mean, the whole ideology of the 2 subgenres is pretty much identical. Hardcore supporters of both tend to show disdain for artists that celebrate materialism and are quick to accuse artists that become commercially successful of “selling out”.

      I’m going to go on another limb and say that blacks don’t even attend shows like that. The artist has to be really popular and well-liked by black chicks, or else no black dudes would show up. A show is a social event in which you usually have to pay for something, and if there’s no forseeable(sp) opportunity to mingle with hot chicks, black dudes really have no incentive to support.

      PS
      You’ll rarely see blacks at indie hip hop shows, shit, you might not even see any white chicks unless its a Slug/Atmosphere show.

  • JAY STONE

    @EReal
    you G-unit stan nevwe seems to amaze me.Twll me which member of G-unit is more talent than The Game.
    I bet you think Candy shop is the best thing to happen to hiphop.come on Amusement park is the shit.GTFH!!!
    You faggot are the reason why hiphop is dead.so bishop is more lyrical than The Game huh.I got that nigga mixtapes and to tell you the truth he sucks!