Saturday, December 13, 2008

(Mini-Post) Do You Listen To Crap, Or Do You Just Skim Through It?

The original line is "Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?" Jay-Z says it on his duet with Eminem, "Renegade," a song that originally featured Royce da 5'9. But he was replaced because of course Jay grabs more press attention. And he certainly did grab press with that appearance, at least online, giving us the most quoted line in blog, message board and chatroom debates since "rap is something you do; hip-hop is something you live."

Now, Jay was making a small, semi-legit (and semi-straw man) argument with that line about specific misperceptions of his music: "Motherfuckers say that I'm foolish; I only talk about jewels... I made somethin' doin' what I do, through and through, and I give you the news with a twist." Which is fine; I can accept that. I've never been a very harsh critic of Jay's except to say a lot of his music hasn't lived up to the potential he established early on and that a lot of his records don't compel me to buy them.

But it's become the ultimate rap nerd battle cry of "you don't know as much as I do about [who the heck ever]!" An accusation to say that you only fail to see things my way because you haven't really listened to the music. How can you dismiss an artist if you haven't really listened to it? I mean deeply, multiple times, on a perfectly clear sound system in a distraction free sensory-deprivation tank buried deep beneath the Earth's surface?

And, ok, it's technically true. If you haven't listened to every single song on Paris Hilton's album all the way through, then how would you know that one song on there isn't filled with brilliant lyrics and melodies that would reach right into your soul? Did you know Vanilla Ice has recorded eight full-length albums* (not even counting Hooked or the Cool As Ice soundtrack)? How can you be certain at least one of those songs on there isn't a banger if you haven't heard all of them? You can't.

But it's a completely facetious argument. Technically, you can't be certain that the state of Ohio really exists if you haven't actually been there yourself (and even then, it could all have been an elaborate ruse). There's, like, eighty bajillion rappers (eighty bajillion and two is the exact figure if you want to get technical here) putting out music right now; and nobody who's ever challenged whether you actually listen to music, or if you just skim through it, has listened to it all. So at best it's an entirely hypocritical argument. If he's saying that about some dirty south artists, he probably hasn't listened that deeply to many UK hip-hop acts... if he's saying that about pop NY MCs, he probably hasn't really taken the time to properly check out Anticon rappers' albums.

It's a fool's errand - even if you really devoted yourself to checking out everybody on principle, you just physically can't - the running time of every hip-hop song added together is longer than your lifetime's gonna last. ...Let alone trying to get every other genre of music into this fair and balanced equation. If you actually went so far with an artist you're not into - past relying on word of mouth, press reviews and the artist's history, to borrow or download their album and genuinely skim through it, that's going above and beyond giving them a fair chance!

Now, don't get me wrong. If you're actually writing a review, you better damn well have listened to it thoroughly, or your credibility is zero. And if you haven't checked for an artist, presumably you would say that in a discussion, rather than bashing him for whatever imaginary faults you think he might have. Like, let's see... who's really famous who I never really got around to checking out? Young Jeezy. I'm sure I must've heard a single or two on the radio in passing, but that's it. I've never heard an album. But I don't diss him or anything. If he comes up, I just say I never really checked for him, but if people I'm talking to are passionate about his music, I'd probably ask that they recommend a couple of his best songs for me to look into.

But beyond that, it's really a non-point to make. So here's a better question: how much unexceptional, mediocre music do expect to force yourself to listen to before you say it's just not worth your time? And if you're gonna start singing "Renegade" to me, at least make it the Royce version. ;)

*He even had Chuck D on his fifth album, Bi-Polar, in 2001. Bet you didn't know that.