Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Oracle

Rap music. Making room for junior high poets who can't sing but would like to be famous anyway. It must be so hard to think of a tune. But easily enough to" smack mo crack hoes into next June."


Lincoln Davis said...

Oh come now! Your analysis implies that melody is superior to rhythm, which I don't think you can substantiate. And if you object to the ease of producing the music, I agree, but the same is true of Rock and Roll. Similarly, there are truly accomplished, clever rappers who treat their work with craft just as a great rock band does.

This is exactly the criticism you should make if you wish to identify yourself with the parental-advisory tirades of evangelical pastors in the 1980's. An informed critique of rap would be much better than an attack on its negative cliches. It sounds curmudgeonly, as surely your parents' generation did when they said Rock just sounds like noise.

Waiting for what will undoubtedly be your clever response,

Your Son

The Oracle said...

As you well know, I have always been willing and ready to accept the musical inferiority of rock and roll. To the degree that senses are addressed in a broadening range and in an increasing yet successfully pleasing complexity, to that degree you encounter a higher and higher art.
Conversely, the more range complexity you subtract (even if you do so successfully)the lower your art. The culture of Rap is low, the poetry is low, the music is low. It is as if you wish to defend Boones Farm or Ripple or MD20/20 against those that suggest that these are wines for the lazy. I am sure the workers at the Ripple factory employ their "craft" as sincerely as a PBS special would suggest. Acting serious, being clever doesn't count if your wine has the nuance of lemonade but the attention getting social contribution of raw sewage.

Co-belligerence is different than alliance. That I object to the art of Rap (as I do to the sport of Soccer) puts me in company that you say I ought to be judged by. Answer me this, your defense of Rap, whose company does that put you in? If you find that you are made to answer for people and minds you know you don't share, you might wish to rethink your "tirades of evangelical pastors" argument. Simple connections, easily made, are tempting to enjoy. Much like Rap.

Lincoln Davis said...

It is not the company that you keep but rather the argument form you share with Falwell et al; the blatantly obscene culture of much rap is easy enough to criticize, and there is no shortage of examples of talentless filth in the genre. Poking fun at the low points (and there are many) of the genre is like shooting fish in a barrel - or, preaching to the choir.

But to think discretely, separating the musical structure from the social ills, and being able to parse questions of degree, is another matter. Knowing something about the music before making a criticism lends creedence to the argument. A dismissive brushoff shows the failure to actually consider whether the music has merit. Your criticism of rock and roll is more believable than the criticism of a thin-tied fundamentalist, because you've spent time listening to the music. A critique of rap (which I believe is in order) has more value in discussion when the argument has weight of evidence and logic.

MrsCranial said...

Davis, (sorry I haven't forgotten how to use html tags) your reply sounds very much like the sort of thing I would hear from a Mormon missionary...how can I even think of criticizing the Book of Mormon when I've never read the thing in it's entirety? Or, consider another idea...how can someone counsel a divorced person if he has never suffered in a divorce? This is the same sort of thinking that has been shot at my husband who has never thoroughly studied Calvinism and to this day cannot name 2 points let alone 5, yet my husband has thoroughly rejected reformed theology. Why? Reformed theology is so convoluted that it cannot be correct. If it takes a PhD in seminary speak to understand the scriptures as the reformed do, then God's statements about reasoning together and seeking and finding make absolutely no sense to the common man. Likewise, if one must become thoroughly indoctrinated in RAP to make a credible argument against it, we will all need to go back to college for music degrees. Such thinking is, on its face, nonsense.

Lincoln Davis said...

Think of it this way, Becky:

If you reject Mormonism without considering its merits, your message will appeal to those who already agree with you, say, for instance, fellow Christians. They will reject it along with you because on its face it is plainly contrary to Christ's teaching. No further inquiry is necessary to show Christians that Mormonism is false.

Suppose, however, that you want to convince a Mormon that Mormonism is false. He will not be won by your appeal that it is inconsistent with Christianity and therefore false - if he is to be won, he must realize that the religion fails on its own merits. You need to know something about the religion in order to convert those who already believe in it - my father puts this into practice in that he can point to inconsistencies in the Mormon historical record when missionaries stop by our house.

Moral questions, such as your divorce hypothetical, are analogous. The Christian has on the authority of the Bible several teachings about divorce, and may submit to them. The secular person, who does not take the Bible as an authority, must be convinced of the Biblical teaching on other grounds (which certainly exist), or must be persuaded to the authority of the Bible.

My father's tirade against rap, however, is an artistic question. He has no Biblical authority declaring his musical preferences to be the highest power. His criticism, a couple sentences of ad hominem, is only of value to those who already agree with him, who have compared the sound of rap with the sound of the music they like, and decided, by comparison, that rap must not be good music. He will not convince anyone who enjoys rap naturally, or believes (and on good grounds) that on its face it has some merit.

The Anti-Darwin said...

Likes and dislikes are often acquired. I once consumed cheap wine and inexpensive beer in prodigious amounts. Having narrowly escaped alcoholism, I can now drink a beer or take a sip of wine without drinking too much, but take a stab at guessing what I prefer. That's right. Let me drink inexpensive beer and cheap wine, and I am happy and content not to mention thankful. I don't care if the snooty are offended by inexpensive beer drinking Neanderthals. Nay. It is very difficult to please the Uppity, so why not amuse yourself by provoking them to snobbery?

The Oracle said...

Error is this. I did not use the moral argument against Rap, (unless talentless but expectant musical laziness is a sin).
"Smack mo crack hoes into next June"
was exemplary of the poetry. (You know, "spoon, June, moon" and before you can stop yourself you have a love poem.)
The only person I might be found sharing space with (if I can project from The Painted Word, etc. ) is Tom Wolfe.
You on the other hand, in order to not say anything bad about this touchstone of pop culture have got to find "true accomplishment" and cleverness.
Don't misunderstand, some limericks are quite clever.

MrsCranial said...


Thanks for the reply. I understand better what you mean. My comments regarded an audience of both those prone to agreement as well as those prone to disagreement. I tend to think that both types exist within the categories of those who never listen to rap and those who frequently listen.

Some rap listeners may be more easily persuaded by your father's remarks than others. These easily persuaded types may not be very much like those who "naturally enjoy rap or believe it has real merit." But there is the possibility they really do enjoy rap or truly believe in its merit but upon meeting the right sort of charismatic and rhetorically artful speaker, they could be persuaded despite their beliefs. Such a critic would not even have to be very knowledgeable. He just has to be a very good saleman.

Therefore,I still wonder what you mean when you say "an informed critique of rap would be much better." Define informed, please.
Your father is knowledgeable of history such that he can point out inconsistencies in the Book of Mormon to Mormon missionaries. I know far less history and just enough about the Book of Mormon to have successfully done the same thing (a long time ago.) Obviously, my level of information is far less than your father's. I wonder to what level of knowledge would one have to attain to successfully critique rap music? I suppose it would depend in large part what sort of listeners I had around me. Thoughts from the Oracle?


John Barry said...

"Rap music. Making room for junior high poets who can't sing but would like to be famous anyway."

This is the sort of comment someone would make who thought the Eagles more talented than Daniel Amos.

The Oracle said...

Get busy for a weekend and the minds wander over the countryside. Let us do a round up.
The march of the Kingdom of God's Wishful Thinking Corps has seized new ground. We file this under the same silliness that always sez, "Did you know that Jimi Hendricks thought that Phil Keaggy was the best guitarist ever?"
It is only my natural gravitas that keeps me from belly laughter.
As to Becky's query:
I have held in all of my many musical arguments with my son and others that it is less valuable to study the "craft" put into a song or genre than it is to have a defensible definition of art or one art's particular form. It gives one a place to stand in forming a judgment. The judgment may be wrong but the guiding principle is stated in order to be falsifiable. My statement to those that oppose me is "Show your cards" "Give your definition". They merely lay out a contradictory claim that finds its only support in the subjective hubris of the claimant and the level of credulity of the audience.
They need to give us a definition of art or music which they believe holds in all cases to which we can compare Rap. The definition cannot hold the phrase "I know music. You're old and like rock and roll. Other stupid people hold the very same opinion as you".

John Barry said...

Sir, Your judgment respecting the Eagles is most grievous clouded by the emotional associations which bond you to the aforementioned band of dandified vultures. Too much time in the Southern California desert.... My therapist explained it all to me in a recent session.

I'll put up Side Two of Daniel Amos's "Shotgun Angel" as a display of musical talent against anything the Eagles ever produced for the popular market.