In eighth grade my English teacher assigned the class a research paper on a modern artist. He suggested subjects for us, and said I might like to write about German painter Max Ernst. His reasoning was that Ernst did a lot of drugs and made trippy art and that seemed like my thing. As a completely clean middle schooler, I took some general offense to this, but I understood his point: I like weirdo shit. I came to have an appreciation for Ernst and the Dada movement of which he was a part.Dadaism’s principal tenet was an embrace of nonsense, spurred by a disregard for prude formalism and the regimented terror of WWI. This was the 1920s European corollary for much of the American hardcore music I was becoming interested in. It was also the beginning of my interest in artists who were once detested and have since been canonized for trying to obliterate structure.
Since then I’ve often used Dada as a catchall term for music that does not embrace common forms. This is my favorite kind of music. If it sounds new, I’m curious. The internet age has had a huge effect on rap, with production progressing at a bewildering rate. Recording rap music at home is not much more difficult than using Skype, an ease of use that—along with ample digital distribution and a progressive attitude towards giving away music—has exploded the genre. Though it now sounds charmingly outdated, one of the first reasons Lil B bugged everyone out was his ADD-style 100 Myspace pages. He had no interest in or need for a singular touchpad when he could always make a new one. At first he seemed to be inverting the idea of quality over quantity, but then it became clear he was making it a level playing field: quantity as quality. What could be better than a joyous man’s succession of songs exclaiming all the celebrities he was: I’m Bill Clinton! I’m Paris Hilton! I’m Miley Cyrus! He declared all of his mixtapes—infinitely reproducible on the internet—as “rare,” and dedicated countless hours to the cooking dance, in which he literally mimicked preparing and eating food. The dance became so popular that eventually professional football players performed it in the end zone.
There’s an ongoing, friendly debate in our office (and a less friendly one on the internet) about talent, specifically in rap. I tend to either disregard the need for talent, or at least think that its definition is ever evolving. Though Lil B has moments of great lucidity, verbosity is not his principal attraction. The same could be said of Chief Keef, who, as Felipe Delerme makes quite clear in his cover story, does not like to speak in complete sentences. He sort of raps in them, though mostly he uses words as conduits for sound. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his breakthrough single is called “Bang.” There is something electric about Keef’s lack of traditional skill alongside his loudness. Are you still being heard if you aren’t saying anything? Or is that nothingness what you were saying all along?