YOUR GENTLE HOST has rarely been so ready to strangle the self-appointed mandarins of the Hiphop Nation as when confronted with the latest edition of their monthly exercise in self-aggrandizement, The Source. The June issue has Snoop Dogg on the cover. It was supposed to feature Eminem in that spot, but Source editors got jealous when they saw Rolling Stone's Eminem cover story--not because the rock mag hit the newsstands first, but because its reporter seemed to have gotten better access to the young phenom. Eminem swears he's all about "the culture," but didn't sufficiently connect with (or is that kiss up to?) The Source (who, typically, took credit for Em's success in the very first line of their feature). Good for him. My respect for the man continues to grow.
Source editors are really the mag's guardians. They supplemented their Eminem feature with an extended section of tag-team handwringing over the "seismic shift" the success of a white rapper supposedly represents. Source mandarin-in-chief Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, in his Editor's Letter, seemed eerily able to predict my reaction, writing, "I think you'll find it a compelling piece of journalism." Yeah, Seyfu, I'm compelled to call out you and your staff of junior politicians. Eminem's got more hiphop spirit in one blonde, peach-fuzz whisker than you guys got in your whole flight-mag excuse for a rap journal.
And yeah, it is fucked up that certain white kids are more hiphop than certain black kids. Let's talk about it! Shouldn't an overeducated Gen-X black writer have something to say about what is and isn't hiphop? But the crew The Source signed up--including Time's Christopher John Farley (author of the newsweekly's patently absurd "Hip Hop America" cover story)--prove way too conflicted to address the issue. Like everyone else in The Source, they're so busy trying to prove they're down, so terrified of being called bourgeois race-traitors while at the same time pandering for the approval of the miniature patricians who apparently live on their shoulders (not to mention that of The Source's huge white readership), that they couldn't possibly tell us what they really think--if they even know anymore after so much wishy-washy "objective reporting." Professor/author Michael Eric Dyson, in his Source essay, is of two minds even about white kids using the N-word.
Farley and fellow essayist Dalton Higgins, meanwhile, make clear that they have little idea what hiphop culture is, besides that they're definitely a big part of it, word up. The two of them base their assumption that Eminem portends a cavalcade of similar white-rap successes (rampant music-industry rumor: we're on the cusp of a huge promo push behind Insane Clown Posse) by extrapolating from changes that occurred in blues, jazz, and rock. Neither writer even attempts a reasonable accounting of the big, historic differences here, or bothers to warn against a repeat of the mass abandonments of black artforms by the black audience once white players came forward with their own interpretations. Neither ventures a guess as to what Eminem is saying to his rabid following of mallrats, or offers any suppositions about whether that has anything to do with the message sent by purely black hiphop.
It does. If you're not clear on this, augment your independent Eminem study with some Mobb Deep, whose fourth album, Murda Music, is due next month. This is the group that reduces whole street philosophies into chanted mantras of up-to-the-minute slang. Mobb Deep's tracks are correspondingly stripped-down and dead-on precise--a close listen conjures a SurroundSound equivalent to a sudden understanding of jailhouse fashions (saggy pants and head rags, bitch). There's a whole culture in there! These young men are smart, ingenious, and want nothing so much as to be able to feel good about themselves. Golly--in their situation, it seems, this necessitates being perceived as very dangerous. Now why doesn't that go the same for Eminem?
The clown posse at The Source is utterly insignificant as long as the likes of Mobb Deep are around to explain who they are and where they come from. (Of course, when The Source profiled them, the reporter forgot that Havoc and Prodigy were artists, and spent the interview demonstrating how street he was, too.) They're products of racism, plus hard work, courage, and genius. Eliminate either side from the equation, and the result will be something other than hiphop.