The very first is from John Bradford, the 16th-century English reformer. And for the 3rd, I go to Ice Cube, the chief lyricist of N.W.A., who provided this manifesto in “Gangsta Gangsta” back in 1988: “Life ain’t absolutely nothing but bitches and cash.”
Those 3 concepts may seem far-off from one another, but if you set them up and draw lines between them, that’s triangulation. Bradford’s concept, of course, is about providence, about luck and appreciation: You only have your life because you don’t have someone else’s. (By the by, Bradford’s quote has actually come to be used to celebrate great fortune– when individuals say it, they’re comforting themselves with the reality that things might be worse– but in fact, his own excellent fortune lasted only a couple of years prior to he was burned at the stake.).
Einstein was talking about physics, of course, but to me, he’s talking about something more detailed to house– the method that other individuals affect you, the way that your life is knotted in theirs whether or not there’s a clear line of connection. Human civilization is founded on a social agreement, but all too frequently that gets reduced to a kind of charity: Assist those who are less fortunate, think of those who are various.
Then there’s Ice Cube, who seems to be speaking about life’s fundamental cravings– exactly what’s under the lid of the id– however is in fact proposing a world where that social contract is destroyed, where everyone desires improve themselves and just themselves, thoughts of others be damned. What kind of world does that create?
Those 3 concepts, Bradford’s and Einstein’s and Cube’s, define the three sides of a triangle, and I’m standing in it with pieces of each guy: Bradford’s rueful contemplation, Einstein’s hair, Ice’s desires. Can the three roadways satisfy without being trivial? This essay, and the ones that follow it, will attempt to learn. I’m going to do things a little differently, with some madness in my method. I may not refer back to these three thinkers and these 3 ideas, however they’re always there, hovering, as I analyze what a generation of music has actually wrought. And I’m not going to manage the argument in a straight line. Don’t question too much when it roams. I’ll return on track.
I want to begin with a declaration: the music has taken control of black music. At some level, this is a complex argument, with lots of outer rings, however it has a basic, indisputable core. Take a look at the music charts, or consider many pop artists as you can, and see the number of the black ones aren’t part of it. There aren’t many music performers at the top of the charts recently: You have seasonal winners like Jay Z, Kanye West, and Drake, together with beginners like Kendrick Lamar, which has to do with it. Among women, it’s a bit more complex, but only a bit. The two biggest stars, Beyoncé and Rihanna, are thought about pop (or is that pop-soul), however exactly what does that mean any longer? In their case, it indicates that they’re offering a variation on music that’s enhanced by their associations with the genre’s biggest stars: Beyoncé with Jay Z, obviously, and Rihanna with everyone from Drake to A$ AP Rocky to Eminem.
It wasn’t constantly that way. Back in the late ’80s, when I finished high school, you might count the variety of black musical artists that weren’t in the music on 2 hands– possibly. You had folksingers like Tracy Chapman, rock bands like Living Colour, pop imitates Lionel Richie, numerous sort of soul vocalists– and that doesn’t even contend with megastars like Michael Jackson and Prince, who thwarted any easy categorization. music was plenty present– in 1989 alone, you had De La Soul and the Geto Boys and EPMD and Boogie Down Productions and Ice-T and Queen Latifah– however it was just a piece of the pie. In the time since, music has made like the Exxon Valdez (another 1989 release): It spread out and spilled.
What if music, which was once a form of upstart black-folk music, came to control the contemporary world? It seems weird for an artist working in the category to be grumbling, and maybe I’m not precisely complaining. Or perhaps it’s a little bit more complex than that.
Twenty years earlier, when my father first heard about my profession, he was doubtful. If I’m going to marvel at the way that it overcame his hesitation and ended up being associated with our more comprehensive black American culture, I’m going to have to be clear with myself that marvel is most likely the wrong word. Young America now accepts it as the signal pop-music genre of its time.