Saturday, July 26, 2014

Make your own kind of music, rap your own kind of rap

In the wake of the recent Forbes article on Iggy Azalea, there's been a lot of discussion about Iggy Azalea's "right" to be a rapper and the (to some people disproportionate) amount of attention she's been given by the media.  A lot of discussion.  (I'm not even going to try to sum it up for you - it's huge.)  But the point that kept popping up in my mind is that despite the fact that I have major philosophical issues with Iggy's appropriation of African-American culture, I keep going back and relistening to "Fancy."  The song is catchy.  But my mind keeps being tripped up by the fact that I know Iggy doesn't really talk that way.  But even more troubling is the fact that the experiences she's rapping about don't seem to be hers either.  Why would I want to hear Iggy rap about faux urban American experiences when I can hear so many other equally talented rappers rap about their genuine urban American experiences?  (AKA the Vanilla Ice problem.)

I think this is one of the factors behind the success of Lorde's "Royals" - the experiences related are genuinely hers, but presented in a way that's universal enough that almost anyone can relate.  And even though Lorde has an accent when she speaks that's not present when she sings, it's not really noticeable (and certainly not objectionable) because (A) she's singing in a neutral accent rather than trying to adopt a particular accent and (B) the experiences she's relating are still hers - she's not putting on a persona.

This was all thrown into sharp relief for me yesterday when I head "Fighting Fish," a new (to me) song by Dessa, one of my favorite rappers.  Listen to the song, and watch the video, and you'll see that Dessa presents a totally different way of being a white* female rapper.  She raps in her own voice, not only in the sense of her own accent, but also in the sense of speaking from her own experiences.  She has a degree in philosophy, and rather than hide that fact, she goes out and writes a rap where the chorus is centered around Zeno's Paradox of the Arrow.  But not, as my daughter expected when I first told her about it, in a geeky, Weird Al kind of way, but in a deliberate, conscious way, that recognizes this as part of her experience and then goes from there.

And I wonder what kind of music Iggy Azalea would produce if she adopted this sort of honest musical philosophy, where the performer is the person.  I'd certainly like to hear it.

*  Dessa is actually half Puerto Rican, but she recognizes that she's fair-skinned and appears white and has privilege because of that.

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