In Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, arguably the finest play in the 20th century (or any century), teenaged Thomasina weeps because ancient Alexandria’s library was destroyed — and with it the many lost plays of the Athenians — her tutor Septimus gives her a different perspective:
“You should no more grieve for [them] than for a buckle from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which shall be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in our arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost.”
None of us really creates anything. We may discover, we may uncover, we may stumble upon, but none of us is the originator. So when some black rappers cry “cultural appropriation,” attacking white rappers for stealing their beats and rhymes, stealing hip-hop, really, it’s meaningless, pointless and hypocritical.
An example. During this year’s Grammy Awards show, Kanye West interrupted Beck, at the microphone when he accepted the award for best album. West thought Beyonce had a lock on the award. After the show, West said, “Beck needs to respect artistry. He should have given his award to Beyoncé. At this point, we tired of it.”
Oh, so only blacks can compose and produce hip hop? Is West saying “we the only race got rhythm?” Sounds like reverse, reverse racism to me.
And I got news for Kanye and anyone else out there who thinks rap and hip hop are the province of African American artists: Today I polled three girls who are best friends and huge hip hop fans: an 11 year old Ethiopian adopted by Jewish parents, an African-American 12 year old, and a white 13 year old. They told me they don’t give a shit (actually they’re too nice to say “shit”) who makes the music, white, black or polka-dot. Their favorites: Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Macklemore, Iggy Azalea. These girls (and every other consumer of hip hop) are color blind. They’re all about the rap, not the rep.
Kanye, if white rappers are winning the awards and the dollahs and the hearts and hips of young Americans, it’s not because they stole anything from you or your race. No one originates anything, dig? You got your beats and rhymes from someone who stole someone else’s beats and rhymes from someone who borrowed someone else’s beats and rhymes all the way back to the guy who beat a brontosaurus bone on a yak skin and called it music.
We’re all in that caravan Stoppard speaks of. Or if you want to look at it vertically instead of horizontally, we’re all standing on the shoulders of those that came before us. So if you’re losing your audience, step up your game and make better music. Hip hop fans all over the world are voting with their feet, and if they’d rather dance to someone else’s beats, take that as a message. You old, you slow and you fadin’ fast.
Kanye’s not alone in his self-defeating anger and paranoia. J. Cole seems terrified. “I fast-forward 20, 30 years from now, and I see hip-hop being completely white.” How ‘bout 20, 30 years from now you see hip-hop being completely amazingly better? You got soft and comfortable, J. Drop yo blunt and your girlfriend’s (ooh I was about to sound misogynistic) and focus on making better music. For tis better to light one candle than curse the darkness, or — in your case — the whiteness.
Beck was not an anomaly at the Grammy’s. Last year Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won the three biggest rap awards. This year, for the first time in over two decades, the best rap album went to Eminem. The biggest winner was white British singer Sam Smith. Aussie rapper Iggy Azalea was nominated for best album.
But Kanye, be of good cheer and remember your music history. Every time whitey has co-opted black music, blacks have taken the lead in creating the next big thing. Fats Waller was copied by George Gershwin. Duke Ellington by Benny Goodman. Chuck Berry and Little Richard by Elvis Presley and the Stones. So what did the brothas do? They started something new that whitey didn’t have yet. They started rapping. And you’re upset that whitey has copied your beats?
So what if Azalea isn’t “authentic”? If a rapper is good and relates to people with heart and not ego, people will buy her albums. In Azalea’s case, her fans are starting to realize that she doesn’t seem to care, and in spite of her “blaccent” and obvious talent, she’s fading fast. That fade had nothing to do with Azealia Banks accusing her of “cultural smudging“. And when Q-Tip’s got all didactic up in the bitch, pontificating to the Aussie on the history of hip-hop, nobody gave a shit. Ultimately the market will decide who owns hip hop.