Internet Hangover: This Dude’s Book is Hip-Hop Album of the Year

February 22, 2010

Every Monday, FADER editorial director Peter Macia will ease in to the work week by writing semi-extensively and somewhat incoherently about something that is making his head hurt. This week, he calls for the dissolution of the hip-hop nation in favor of a loose coalition of independent parties, including one that includes David Shield's Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.

Someone somewhere on the internet recently said that FADER should have put Mos Def or Fashawn on the cover of our new issue instead of Nicki Minaj. Someone else wondered, after seeing Drake and Minaj on the cover of two of the last three issues, why we were paying so much attention to Young Money. We get these kinds of criticism pretty regularly, no matter who's on the cover, but rather than try to appease the protestors, or even answer their complaints, our move has always been to ignore them and do whatever we want.

In this spirit, I would like to propose that we officially separate hip-hop, rap, Auto-Tune, whatever Waka Flocka's doing and anything else remotely related to Kool Herc and create some new genre so everyone can lead separate, happy lives under the same roof, much like Woody Allen and Mia Farrow did for many years. I'm not the first to suggest this, but I'm happy to be the latest. We the people who listen to music descended from original hip-hop have reached an impasse not dissimilar to the current one being experienced by the conservative movement between moderates, right wingers and the lunatic fringes who think we should go back to the way things were under the founding fathers. The golden age! But where the latter deadlock can only lead to a sad reflection of our political landscape, hip-hop might actually benefit from some splintering. For too long, we've all tried to hold rappers and producers to subjective criteria that have very little, if anything, to do with the genre's modus operandi—experimentation, appropriation and innovation—and it's made the whole thing less fun. No one should ever be called a faggot for listening to Gucci Mane rather than Young Jeezy, that doesn't even make sense. In fact, let's just stop calling people faggot in general. Herb is funnier anyway, and I say that having several members of my family named Herbert, none of whom are herbs.

I'm old enough to have owned a brand new copy of Raising Hell on cassette, and I remember when DJs on the radio would actually argue over whether Kool Moe Dee or LL Cool J won a battle. Fuck that makes me sound old as fuck, but it was fun. Having some anonymous person on the internet refuse to acknowledge that Lil Wayne can rap is not fun. It is, in fact, not even worth responding to, so why even put us in the same imaginary website room? Isn't this what niches are all about? Dividing us into our happy little places where we only have to care about what's in front of us, the same way babies or puppies do? Let's take it back to the essence, y'all. I want to be a baby hip-hop puppy. Put me in my pen and let me listen to Juelz and Juiceman back to back to back to back to back to back. A! AYE! A! AYE! A! AYE! A! AYE! A! AYE! A! AYE! And everyone else can sit in theirs and do what they like to do, and then every once in awhile we'll wander out into the yard and chase beach balls around (pause... no NO PAUSE FUCK THAT).

I really do believe that this is the answer. We all must become our own verticals. Only god can aggregate us. To that end, here's what I would like in my pen: everything. Alley Boy to the Wildcats end credits song, it's all the same to me. T-pain: hip-hop. Big Daddy Kane, the current version: hip-hop. Paul Barman: hip-hop. The 40-something dude on the A train with the dirty purple faux mink bomber: hip-hop. Every time a little kid accidentally rhymes the last words of two consecutive sentences: hip-hop. And not in, like, it's all part of the same culture and we should appreciate it: what I mean is that I actually really like all of this and don't really care what anyone else thinks. And I'm pretty sure everyone else at FADER thinks the same way. There are people here who spend weekends downloading the entire Jacka catalog, who know can rap along to Project Pat songs that most people never wanted to hear in the first place, who think it is proof of divine intervention when an actor from Gossip Girl raps an entire Nicki Minaj verse for James Vanderbeek's cell phone camera. Clearly, there is room in this world for many definitions of what does and what does not constitute hip-hop, or, per my proposal, whatever the new umbrella genre is.

I'd like to add the category of printed manifesto to this new genre, with the first entry being David Shields' new book Reality Hunger. The first sentence: "Every artistic movement from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art." And then, for 224 pages, he collages personal anecdotes, unattributed quotes from other books and magazines, rap lyrics, critical reviews, answers from interviews, blog posts and many other things and isn't afraid to manipulate any of it to fit his point, which is, this is how we think and consume art and culture now and our art and culture should reflect it. Everything used is credited in the back of the book, and like the liner notes of a sample-heavy album, you can flip back and check for every sample or you can just read through it and enjoy not knowing if it came from his brain or someone else's because even it if it is sourced, Shields' brain still sourced it. One of the longest entries in the book is a dissection of reality through Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones Pt II." At the end of it, Shields writes, "Realness is not reality, something that can be defined or identified. Reality is what is imposed on you; realness is what you impose back. Reality is something you could question; realness is beyond all doubt." The entry before this is about Proust.

Reality Hunger is not a hip-hop book, though, not at all. It's 617 entries of varying length, from single short sentences to page-long meanderings. It touches on everything from Survivor to Shakespeare to Shield's own childhood. It's all over the place, but its point and purpose is clear. The third-to-last entry pretty well sums it up:

Once upon a time there will be readers who won't care what imaginative writing is called and will read it for its passion, its force of intellect, and for its formal originality.

Thank you! This is basically what I feel like typing in the comments section of every Lil Wayne song posted on When did rap fans become such formalist assholes? No offense. Just saying, it used to be a lot more fun to argue with you guys about whether 50 Cent was a bad rapper or truly great performance artist. Whatever happened to Gabe Said "We're Into Movements" or, more generally, the days when the only people who actually expected what rappers rapped to be 100% true were parents and old people? Shields' manifesto is a call to arms not just to the artists to be more creative, more innovative and more daring, but to art fans, as well, to be more daring consumers.

This doesn't mean everyone has to like the way Nicki Minaj or Mos Def raps, it just means you have to do better than calling someone else an idiot and then saying what you like is better to prove that one is better than the other. You have to actually make an intelligent, or at least intelligible, argument. It can't be, "Pizza is better than hamburgers." No it's not! You have to say, "I like pizza better than hamburgers because my grandmother is Italian and when I was five she made a Napoletana in the brick oven that my grandfather built for her by hand. Ronald McDonald makes hamburgers." And then someone can come back and say something about hamburgers. Pizza and hamburgers both hold a very generic image in every human's brain: in a flash, if someone says the words, you see "a hamburger" or "a pizza." But almost every human, if given a moment to reflect, has a distinct memory of a very specific pizza or hamburger that informs his/her opinion of pizza and hamburgers, in general, and that specific pizza or hamburger is what they are referring to when they say "I love pizza" or "I love hamburgers." So imagine for a second, that you're sitting around with a bunch of people, some you know some you don't, and some nice old lady brings out a platter of hamburgers and a pizza pie. You take a slice of pizza and out of nowhere some random dude yells super loud, "OH DUDE YOU ARE SUCH A FAGGOT." That would, without a doubt, be frowned upon, and it would not only ruin the pizza/hamburger party, but IT WOULD RUIN YOUR SPECIFIC MEMORY OF PIZZA FOREVER.

So you see how being the dude who yells at people for no reason not only doesn't prove why your something is better than something else, it actually makes everything worse. Except for books, because nobody reads them.

Posted: February 22, 2010
Internet Hangover: This Dude’s Book is Hip-Hop Album of the Year