Recently, Hip Hop artist/businessman/business, man/etc released the first video off of his new album Magna Carta/Holy Grail, titled "Picasso Baby". Directed by Mark Romanek, the video was pretty damn impressive, in my opinion, and it was a highly creative and original video as it relates to hip hop. The inspiration behind the video, Marina Abromavic's "The Artist Is Present", was definitely in evidence, and the video featured Abromavic herself in a fairly prominent fashion.
Now while I thought the video was brilliant, and it's gotten quite a lot of praise from various people who have seen it, it's also gotten some criticism. Now some of the criticism is valid and it's basically summed up by saying "ehh, don't like the song, visuals, etc", however a lot of the criticism I've seen falls into one of two categories. First category it's the people who just don't like Jay Z and won't like anything he puts out, or at least they refuse to acknowledge that they do. You can't really do anything with those people, so I'll just ignore them for the time being.
The second category of people who don't seem to like this is for a pretty stupid reason, in my opinion, and that is that Jay is "selling out" by surrounding himself with "White people and hipsters". Their argument appears to be that unless Jay is throwing up his middle finger to "The Man" and throwing verbal bombs against the White establishment, then he's "selling out". It's either "Pro Black" or somehow it's assimilation.
And while I completely and unequivocally dismiss those people and feel their opinions on the situation are inconsequential, I think it DOES illustrate the problem that Hot97 Hip Hop DJ Peter Rosenberg has with it. Not that I think Peter Rosenberg hates Jay affiliating with White people or anything like that, I think it's more of a narrow viewpoint and that Rosenberg has boxed himself into certain space creatively, and that unless a hip hop artist ALSO boxes themselves into a certain area creatively, then Rosenberg has no use for them.
That's the thought I had when I watched Rosenberg's "Realness" rant today in which he "Said Goodbye" to Jay Z because he couldn't relate to Jay's video. Which in and of itself isn't that problematic. No one says you have to accept everything someone does, but it was the manner in which he did it that kind of set off some alarm bells, and I think exposed his ignorance when it comes to thinking outside of the box.
First, take some time to watch Jay Z's performance art piece "Picasso Baby", and then below that is Rosenberg's take on it.
MORE AFTER THE BREAK
Now here is my problem with what Rosenberg said. He's got the right to his opinion, and I'm not saying he can't feel the way he does. And I'm not saying he's "wrong" perse, as it's his opinion. Opinions can't be wrong. They can be ill informed, but they are how you feel, so by definition, they are true, as it pertains to you.
Growing up I lived in a pretty White area. At that age I didn't really know whether or not it was by design or not, it was just where I lived. The school I graduated from had a small handful of Black people, and it wasn't until I moved away from home that I suddenly found myself in a more ethnically diverse situation, and ever since then I've always lived in diverse areas (although my current city is not exactly a Benetton ad come to life).
As a kid I listened to music my Dad had around. I'd listen to his albums by artists like John Mellencamp, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, etc. Then one day I found one of his albums by Paul Simon called Graceland. I knew the album only because the video for "You Can Call Me Al" which starred Chevy Chase was on MTV at the time, and I thought that was a funny video and nice song.
So I started listening to the album, and was blown away. This wasn't just a so called "White" album, despite coming from one of the Whitest looking cats I'd ever seen in Paul Simon. It had so many different types of music on there beyond simply pop, and it forever changed my views of music, as up to then I'd only listened to older rock music for the most part.
The album was quite controversial, although I didn't find that out til later, for bringing in a lot of South African artists such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This was due to the ban that was in place against South Africa due to Apartheid. And that album more than any other opened my eyes to other forms of music than what I had heard at that time, and what my friends listened to.
This led me to seeking out and listening to music from other genres, such as UB40's reggae cover album Labour of Love (to this day one of my all time favorite albums that I still listen to regularly) and Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's He's the DJ I'm the Rapper. This led me to more artists from hip hop whether it was the "pop/rap" type stuff like Kid & Play, JJ Fad or Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, or to the more street hip hop such as Nas', Foxy Brown, Lil Kim and yes, Jay Z.
Who would have imagined that listening to Paul Simon would eventually lead to me listening to Jay Z, Nas, Tupac and Biggie?
But that's the thing, I didn't limit myself to what I thought I should listen to, or what I had already listened to. I have always loved music from all over the spectrum whether it's rap, R&B, Jazz, Neo Soul, Blues, Funk, Classical, Rock, Opera, even some Country. Pretty much everything. And you know what, by keeping my mind open to different genres, I have discovered some fantastic music that normally I would have never even been aware of.
That's one of the things I liked about Sean "Diddy" Combs back in the day. There were lots to not like, but I definitely respected that he had no problem going way left of center to creatively sample and create really good music. That's one of the reasons I'm a fan of Rench who is a founder of the band "Gangstagrass" which was nominated for an Emmy for the opening theme song to the FX series "Justified". Gangstagrass combines bluegrass and hip hop, and has some fantastic music, working with artists such as T-O-N-Ez, Dolio The Sleuth, R-Son, Kool Keith and Dead Prez among others. He's not only afraid to work outside the box, but he's obliterated the box and is free to do whatever he likes, all in the name of evolving.
Think of all the music that we'd never have -- or would be drastically different, if our favorite artists never stepped out of their comfort zone and said "let me try this! Let me see what's what?"
And the artists are forced, these days, to walk this fine line where if they continue to do the same music they've always done, they're criticized for not expanding their vision. But then when you have artists that expand their vision and expand their empire out to more than just what they're known for, then suddenly they're viewed as "Selling out".
I've never understood that logic. I mean, if you don't like the music, if it's not your thing, that's fine, but why criticize someone for trying something new and trying to evolve?
And the main problem I had with Rosenberg's rant today was not that he didn't like the video, or he wasn't down with what Jay was doing, it was how much he seemed to absolutely revel in the idea of boxing yourself in and refusing to think outside of said box.
Jay is telling him to come into the gallery with him, because he wanted to go up there. So Peter follows him and looks in and there's a bunch of "old, rich looking White people. Some lady that looks like my friend Leslie Feinberg's mom." and says "there's weird people in there!".
Jay's like "Come on, man, you're gonna like it there, this is where I'm at. I told you, I've been growing, this is where I'm going.
And Peter responds, "I wanna go with you, but..but I ..I don't wanna go in there, man, I don't feel comfortable. I'm gonna go back here with Sutra and listen to Tony Touch play M.O.P and classic hip hop.... I just can't go with you Jay!"
To which Jay responds, "One day. One day you're gonna understand."
And Peter replies, "Maybe I will. But that time isn't now."
And the thing that got me the most on that is how ...proud of his ignorance he seems. How much he is so damn proud that he can't bring himself to step outside of his comfort zone and possibly learn something new. How great he seems to feel it is that he can't bring himself to step outside of his comfort zone. In fact, when I heard that bit right there, the first thing I thought of was the video for the Avalanche's smash hit "Since I Left You.
In that video, two miners were stuck under a cave in. They are presented in black and white, while the rest of the video, including two hot women that sort of rescue them and encourage them to dance. One freely dances his cares away and is not holding anything back, throwing his inhibitions to the wind.
The other is afraid to do so, and ... well, just watch the brilliant and wonderful video below:
I mean leaving aside the idea that a local hip hop DJ can't bring himself to imagine that a multimillionaire entrepreneur who is the most successful hip hop artist of all time might know something he doesn't and might be able to see something that he can't, there's this sense that I see from a lot of people in hip hop who are not only closed off to the world, from anything that's not what they know for a 100% fact that they like, but they're PROUD of it.
They are PROUD of limiting what they learn. I mean, it's like the stereotypical dumb thug that is proud of his stupidity, that he didn't finish school or work for "The Man". How can you live that way? How can you limit what you know? What you experience?
DJ Neil Armstrong is a great DJ and has the moniker of "AOK" which stands for "All Out King". And he has a saying that he's put on his mixtapes, which often feature music from various genres, not just hip hop, that unless you listen to/play all types of music, you can't really call yourself an All Out King.
Which is true.
Coincidentally (or not), Armstrong was Jay Z's DJ on the Blueprint tour.
Rosenberg is perfectly able to like whatever he likes, dislike whatever he dislikes, and have whatever reasoning for it. It's just the glee that someone can take in the fact that they don't want to expand their minds and take a chance that someone else knows more than you, and that you might like something else, is something I can't wrap my head around. It was just the smile on his face, like he was so proud of his statement, like it was somehow something to just display the ignorance, it was just mind blowing to me.
I'm not saying you have to embrace the art world and start buying Picassos or Rembrandts or anything like that. Just saying, don't close off your mind to things before you even have the chance to be exposed to them.
And I'm not saying that Peter Rosenberg is stupid or anything. When I say he displayed his ignorance, it's not saying he's stupid. The man's gotten to where he is so he's clearly a smart guy. I just think that it's like the difference between being street smart and book smart. With street smarts, you can make a lot of money. However unless you have book smarts, you're never gonna keep it or make it grow to it's full potential.
And too often there are people who are proud of their lack of actual book smarts, as if getting an education or expanding your world view is something to be embarrassed about. And I think Rosenberg has a touch of that. Like if he accepts Picasso Baby, that he's turning his back on classic hip hop, that boom bap, that old school shit that hip hop heads of his age (and mine) grew up on.
And I wish that someone would let him know that he doesn't have to pick one or the other.
Music is awesome that way. It doesn't mandate that you pick one or the other. Feel free to sample and indulge in both equally.
Or maybe he's reacting from the hip hop mindset which has sadly never really been one about embracing different cultures, and considering how many view those in the artworld as being predominantly LGBT, maybe that ALSO explains Rosenberg's hesitance, and explains a lot of the other criticism that Picasso Baby has gotten. Hip Hop is not known for it's tolerance and acceptance. As Anthony Jeselnik bitingly pointed out on his show The Jeselnik Offensive this past week, with the Pope saying "Who am I to judge?" referring to Gay men and women, that suddenly Catholicism was more progressive than Hip Hop.
Sad but true.
And it also wouldn't be the first time I saw someone rip that video because of the perceived number of LGBT individuals that were in there.
To those people, I just say fuck you and take your bigotry elsewhere.
To Rosenberg I'd would say, in the immortal words of one Erick Sermon, "Relax yourself, let your conscience be free"