Why White Hip-Hop Fans Don't Like White Rappers/Beards, Blazers and Backpacks? Edan
A few months ago, Steve Nash won the NBA's Most Valuable Player award for the second consecutive time. Instantly, the mainstream media and various blogs began speculating whether or not race played a role in the decision. The thinking went because most sportswriters are short, un-athletic and and American-born white guys, they saw Nash as one of their own. This is of course, in spite of the fact that Nash is 6'3, very athletic and a Canadian.
Personally, I agreed with this logic. In general, people tend to root for the underdog, particularly when the underdog is considered to be "one of their own." On some sub-conscious level, sportswriters inevitably responded to Nash's ability to be successful in spite of the fact that
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson had told us again and again that white men can't jump.
Definitely Wesley Snipes' "looking fly" pose
This isn't a new debate. Isiah Thomas once said that if Larry Bird were black, he'd be just another good player. Of course, race played a part in Bird's popularity, but not because his white fans were necessarily racists (though some of them inevitably were) , but more because of the fact that he was "their underdog." 'In the same way that people consider the Chicago Cubs "America's" underdog baseball team, middle-aged white males considered Larry Bird "their guy."
Now let's not all blame whitey, even if Larry Bird wasn't as good as Magic Johnson (a debate I'm not about to have). People of all races and ethnicities often support "their own," especially when "their own" happens to be in the minority in a particular sport. This is why black people often support Tiger Woods, Asians often root for Yao Ming or Ichiro, hispanics worshipped Fernando Valenzuela, Dominicans worshipped Sammy Sosa and the Jews worshipped the Jewish Jordan, Tamir Goodman.
Yet for the most part, white guys who like hip-hop try their best not to like white rappers. Myself included. It's not that we're racists. In fact, most white rap fans are anything but racist. It's just that we have a lot of baggage when it comes to the concept of the white rapper.Worst. Cover. Story. Ever.
Any discussion of the white rapper has to do with every white hip-hop fan's worst nightmare: Vanilla Ice. A character simultaneously hilariously and pathetic, the undeniable albatross of Vanilla Ice still inevitably hangs over the minds of white hip-hop fans. To our shame, the Vanilla Ice fiasco sparked hundreds of insipid "white rapper" skits that still plague society. Skits that have led some to call for a "Cracka Crackdown," an idea that I wholeheartedly endorse.
Needless to say, he did not kill brains like poisonous mushrooms.
In one fell swoop, all the hard work done by 3rd Bass in attempting to prove that white men can rap, was shattered by a man who will forever be a punch-line in history. Ice, the hip-hop carpetbagger, who set the cause of the white rapper back a decade at least.
After Vanilla Ice, the idea of the white rapper was shelved for at least six or seven years and white hip-hop fans could re-group, re-focus their energies, and not have to worry about the question of the white rapper. It's not that white hip-hop fans didn't want to see any white rappers. It was more like we were scared. Vanilla Ice was a horrible experience that no one ever wanted to remember. For obvious reasons, it was best that white people stayed away from rocking the mic. Until...
Odds of this song not annoying you in 2006: Nill
Eminem put traditional white hip-hop fans in a quandary. Unlike Ice or Everlast, the only two white rappers who'd ever blown-up prior to Eminem, Marshall Mathers seemed to be a rare talent, melding the complex rhymes of Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane, with a gift for inciting controversy with clever punch-lines. A far cry from the simple braggadocio of the earlier cracker attempts. Yet at the same time, we were wary of the Eminem paradox (check Joey's excellent take on the matter)
White hip-hop heads wanted to appreciate Eminem's skills, but were loathe to be associated with liking an artist whose fan-base was partially based off of a racial gimmick. It's not that traditional hip-hop fans wouldn't have given Eminem respect at some point, it's more that it got really annoying hearing sorority girls sing along to "Without Me," not finding it at all ironic that they also owned N' Sync albums.
But ultimately, Eminem's sucess didn't just come from technical proficiency, much of it came from Dr. Dre. By endorsing Eminem, Dre. sent a message to people of both races that it was finally okay to like white rappers again--provided they were good white rappers. Dre's endorsement won over the skeptics, many of whom cut their first teeth on N.W.A., Dre and Snoop albums.
Nothing makes me look more intelligent than a pair of glasses and signing to the camera. Dontcha' agree 50?
Indeed no one understood the wariness of white hip-hop fans like Eminem, who went out of his way to repudiate himself from other white rappers, surrounding himself exclusively with black rappers including D-12, Royce Da 5'9, 50 Cent and Obie Trice. Additionally, Eminem made a point of starting feuds with any and all white rappers he came across, including Everlast, Cage and Milkbone.
Eminem understood one of the most crucial things to any musician: the idea of authenticity. As hip-hop is inherently an African-American art form, Eminem's skin color obviously made people question his authenticity.
In an additional effort to counter-act this purported lack of authenticity, Eminem constantly asserted his hip-hop bonafides by name-checking the old school rappers that inspired him. bending over backwards to show his reverence for the art form. These were all smart moves on Eminem's behalf, helping ease people's fears that he was another Ice.
When Eminem debuted many music industry experts predicted that he would be the first in a series of major label white rappers. The prophecies proved false as attempts by major label white rappers have met with various degrees of success, from decent (Bubba Sparxx) to bad (Apathy, Jo Jo Pelligrino) to worst (Paul Wall).
The Great White....Nope
While all three of the aforementioned white rappers hailed from different places and boasted different rhyme styles, the only thread tying all three together was a desire to present themselves as coming from adverse circumstances, trying to prove how authentic they really are. Which is all well and good, but somebody needs to tell Paul Wall that he looks ridiculous with those grills on.
From their varying degrees of success it would seem that mainstream America is not yet ready for another idiosyncratuc major label white rapper (as Paul Wall is about as idiosyncratic as a bowl of Grape-Nuts), but one would expect that fans of underground hip-hop would be the biggest supporters of white rappers, considering that out of any genre of hip-hop, underground hip-hop fans are the most disportionately white. (Trust me on this one, I have concert data to prove it)
Of course, one might readily point out white rappers such as El-P, Aesop Rock and Cage, the only three white rappers that have attained any degree of prominence in the underground world (because Slug considers himself bi-racial, Sage Francis is decent but uninspiring and MC Paul Barman might be the worst rapper of all time). But the majority of the Def Jux fan base consists of people that primarily listen to indie rock and not from the Okayplayer "backpacker" set. Sadly, Little Brother and Aesop Rock don't share a whole lot of fans. There has been some cross-over between the two groups, but not as much as you might think.
To understand this, you need to understand why white hip-hop fans started listening to hip-hop in the first place. By gravitating to hip-hop, white kids received a form of music that provided outlooks different from their own, as L'il Jimmy Goldberg from Great Neck, NY. didn't buy an N.W.A. album to hear a philosophical outlook that spoke to his life of soccer practice and shabbat dinners.
Because "Don't Drink That Wine" was not about Manischevitz
But most of all, white kids start listening to hip-hop for the same reason that people start smoking cigarettes: to be cool. Rather than have to listen to a bunch of whiny white indie rockers, white suburban kids listen to hip-hop and it makes them feel like they're a part of an edgy outsider movement, even if they never really leave the confines of suburbia.
But despite hip-hop's previous success in bridging the gaps between races, white fans of hip-hop are still happily ready to devour their own: witness the case of Edan.
Whether you know it or not, Edan delivered the best hip-hop album of last year, entitled Beauty and the Beat. One of the most original hip-hop albums ever made, Beauty took the psychedelic rap idea that De La Soul incubated 15 years ago and ran with it. The lyrics were full of clever imagery, the rhyme schemes complex and his choice of samples strikingly innovative and head-nodding at the same time.
But rather than receive universal praise for his ambitious work, Edan has generated minimal Internet buzz, not to mention a savage takedown on Pitchfork.
In the Fork's needlessly cruel 1 star review of the Edan single "Fumbling Over Words That Rhyme," Edan is called out for having an "imitation voice," for being "not fun to listen to" "lame" and a "nerd historian." The review ends with the quote, "thank god no one listens to chumps like him." Needless to say, the idea of a music critic calling a professional rapper a nerd is laughable in and of itself. (It should be noted that Pitchfork partially redeemed itself with a very solid and well-written Beauty and the Beat album review)
The review's critique is clear. White rapper=nerdy, something that violates the reason why white hip-hop fans got into rap in the first place: to be cool and to hear an authentic experience, different from their own.
Even though 3rd Bass came out almost twenty years ago, white hip hop fans still refuse to believe that white rappers can be "real" without manufacturing or embellishing some sort of rags to riches tale. But regardless of anyone's white rapper hang-ups, anyone who witnessed last Friday's Edan concert at Spaceland realized once and for all: white men can rap. (well...at least a few)
As I walked into the show with fellow blogger/rapper/Deadhead, David Crockett, (check out his take on the Edan show here), he turned to me and said: "Well, this show is going to make or break Edan for me." I agreed.
But the moment Edan walked on-stage, any doubts that we might've had about his merits were cleared. One of the most unique talents to have entered the world of hip-hop in recent memory, Edan delivered a taut and ferocious 50 minute set, one of the most jaw-dropping I've ever seen a rapper deliver. In its course, Edan rapped while simultaneously scratching on the turntables, manipulating a voice modulator and somehow never missed a beat. The performance was one of the most commanding I've ever seen. At one point, he walked into the crowd, leaving the mic smoking for five minutes, delivering brilliantly constructed flows for five minutes straight, never taking a breath, never even relying on a hook. Anyone who knows rap couldn't help but be wildly impressed.
But question's about Edan's authenticity needn't answered by his rigorous knowledge of hip-hop history, or his DJ prowess, but in how much rhyme technique Edan has obviously learned from the greats. His scientific rhyme schemes display lyrical patterns obviously gleaned from Hall of Fame rappers like Pharoahe Monche, Ghostface and the GZA, his cadence is reminiscient of a fierce, young and hungry LL Cool J. It's definitely no imitation.
But Edan's talents aren't limited to hip-hop, as he displayed a prodigious skill on the guitar, twice picking up the instrument to deliver two minute instrumental pieces. He even used a kazoo to punctuate it. It clearly showed why he got into the prestigious Berkee School of Music to study the guitar.
You know you're at a good hip-hop show when even the weed carriers are dope. In fact, Edan's weed carrier, the dread-locked Dagha was much better than a weed carrier. He was a very good rapper in and of himself, laced frenetic and charasmatic verses throughout the entire. performance. Truth be told, Dagha is more impressive than 99 percent of the major label goons that dominate your radio air waves (let' s get real...Rick Ross looks like a movie henchmen).
The power and force of the set reached its apex at the last song of the night, the song "Rock N' Roll" off the Beauty and the Beat album. As Crock Tock put it,
"Edan and Dagha concluded their scorching set with "Rock And Roll," Dagha delivering his banging verse first. For Edan's verse, Dagha stood on stage with a stack of LP's, each one featuring a band or song that Edan mentions in his clever and well written verse. The crowd responded most forcefully with the rhyme "My mental fabric, too thick for Lenny Kravitz/Who imitates Jimi Hendrix in every fashion," while Dagha flipped a whack Lenny LP cover followed by Jimi's Electric Ladyland album."
I've been to a lot of hip-hop shows in my life and Edan's performance was one of the best that I've ever seen. Hip-Hop is a genre that doesn't innovate well, yet at the same time it's desperately in need of innovation. Too many shows are the same. Rappers eager to take your money and mail in a 45-minute set. Underground heads who spit bar after bar of lyrics about how great their lyrics are. Enough is enough. If you're sleeping on Edan, it's your loss, he's one of the most unique talents in any genre of music.
And as for all those questions of authenticity that seem to trouble white kids who like hip-hop, I can't think of anything more authentic than a rapper that can rap effortlessly while DJ-ing, rock a crowd with nearly as much confidence as Big Daddy Kane, and flow tremendous. Even though he might not "speak for the streets," he speaks to a universality that can be appreciated by any music fan in the world. Please pick up his album and if you already have it and you don't like it, give it another chance with an open mind. In a rap world infested by copycats and imitators, it's refreshing to hear someone finally try to innovate and do it right.
Passion of the Weiss Review: 9.3/10