I had planned to do a TAKE a couple of weeks ago on Machine Gun Kelly (MGK) and the punk album he released recently, but I wasn’t sure how to frame it in a way that made sense at the time. Little did I know, not too long after seeing the news of his new project, I’d end up seeing a post about the restock of Death’s …For the Whole World to See (2009) record on the Drag City website (it’s still available!) and that would lead me to spending some time listening to Black punk bands. I really wanted this week to be a little bit more extensive (5 bands, instead of the 3 I got to), but my mental health (and unquenchable need to go on bike rides all the time) prevented me from doing so lol. But I had a really good time with what I was able to listen to, and I’m DEFINITELY here for my continued listen and uncovering of Black punk bands.
This short and impromptu (lol I really ditched that second Week Fulla Women in 90s and 00s R&B) week has shown me/made me think more intentionally about a bunch of things. Namely, the reduction of Black music to just variations of hip hop and R&B. I talked about this in January, when Tyler the Creator’s IGOR (2019) won the Grammy for Best Rap Album. Tyler took his moment in the spotlight to talk candidly about how Black music is always called “urban” or pushed into the hip hop and R&B categories, regardless of the actual content of the project. In IGOR‘s case, a more accurate spot would have been in the pop category or some other musical space that fully took into account the expansiveness of that project. And that’s a practice that has gone on FOREVER; Black folks aren’t recognized as being able to exist outside of those pre-imposed spaces, so the music we make is awkwardly placed into the categories that have little to no resonance with the creative product. Meanwhile, non-Black folks – white folks, in particular – have co-opted spaces like rock and pop that were pioneered by Black people and built a Tr*mp-approved wall around it.
since we’re here…
A month ago, I wrote a piece on Tyler the Creator and his move towards Black Visibility. In that piece I talk about how Tyler has existed within them musical imaginary – as a race-neutral black body that white guys could attach their hopes for blackness onto. Because Tyler hadn’t openly aligned himself with blackness, … Continue reading TAKE #6: What Does it Mean for Tyler to Win “Best Rap Album?”
Well…I guess it’s technically a year and three days later, but you get what I’m saying LOL. I think I’ve talked about Tyler enough on here for it to be pretty clear how highly I hold him in my mind (and my heart <3). I believe that he is one of the most creative people … Continue reading TAKE #13: Tyler the Creator’s ‘IGOR’ – 1 Year Later
This goes along with a general infantilization of Black folks in broader society by white folks – meaning, there’s a level of paternalism that white folks (both historically and contemporarily) have exercised over Black folks. The treating of Black folks as second-class citizens, withholding of resources needed by predominantly-Black communities to the point of Black folks needing to essentially beg for basic human needs/rights, grouping Blackness and Black folks into neat categories that determine the hierarchy of treatment/interaction, and general dehumanizing of Black people all fall into this act of paternalism/infantilization. These two things come together to do (a bunch of things lol but in particular) a couple of things. #1: Non-Black members of our society generally can’t see Black folks outside of the labels they placed on us, and when Black folks try to take agency back and self-determine, that work is unrecognized and they call us whatever they want anyway. Which leads to #2: the ostracization and invisibilizing of the contributions of Black folks in “non-Black” spaces. Black folks (I’m speaking from an American context, but some version of this exists all over) have never properly been written into the general historical archive (one which is written for a very specific purpose and that purpose is not to accurately describe the contributions of Black people in America). Our history has been shredded and burned into nothing but a month in February and a couple moments sprinkled here and there, where MLK Jr. quotes run rampant and people place black squares on their Instagram pages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the case of punk (and rock music generally), the existence of bands like Death and Pure Hell have gone virtually unnoticed until decades after they’ve laid down their guitars, and even then, only a small portion of the population even knows who they are. Like, groups like Pure Hell, Death, Fishbone, and Bad Brains made HISTORY, but have yet to be recognized in any substantial way – a point that even the artists themselves have made. And it’s not that they necessarily wanted to be recognized as the “first Black” anything; they just wanted to be recognized in the same ways as their white counterparts; they wanted to be recognized for BEING there and EXISTING there – doing the same thing (if not better ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) than the white folks around them!
And #3, and the point I wanted to talk about during my initial brainstorming for the MGK piece: people often consider (and these are typically people who don’t listen to hip hop or only listen on occasion) hip hop to be a place of musical stagnation. They ask why hip hop doesn’t grow up; when will it have a big cultural shift? What this particular point brings in, again, is that idea of the reductionism of Black art and music. There’s always a relegating of hip hop to a lower-class of cultural products, so people who make hip hop music often aren’t taken as seriously as other artists, despite the skill it takes – a move that’s very much rooted in anti-Blackness (and again, the infantilization of Black folks). And it also brings in the conversation of the ways non-Black folks who “make” hip hop music are able to traverse those boundaries of stagnation and exist beyond that perpetual adolescence. MGK was able to make a whole ass punk album, and it was SUCCESSFUL. People raved about it when it came out – called it the best thing he’s put out. MGK can be a “rapper turned pop-punk provocateur” (Apple Music), while people STILL call The Weeknd’s projects R&B/hip hop when they’re CLEARLY – at least recently – more pop-leaning, and Tyler the Creator makes a whole pop album with ONE rap song and people can’t conceptualize that OR want him to be grumpy Goblin (2011) Tyler again.
White folks are able to take hip hop, use it and the people in it for clout points or as a backdrop to their rebellious phase (a la Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber), and then shed that hip hop image for one that’s cleaner (hoiler) and whiter when they’ve had their fill of it. I like to call it a “vacation in Blackness.” It’s the place tourists go when they wanna get away; they can take pictures with the locals, partake in local traditions, and then head back to their regular lives once they’re done. And they don’t just head into obscurity when they return; they head back into successful, Billboard-charting albums and Grammy awards. This is exactly why I don’t mess with non-Black rappers and hip hop artists; this, along with a bunch of other things, makes me very uncomfortable with them taking up space. That might be a problematic take, but I don’t care lol.
NOTE: UGH, a few days after MGK released his project, he said something – in an interview – like “other rappers make excuses on why they fall off,” and I can NOT find the interview where he talks about this. That’s definitely not the exact quote, but the sentiment was the same, and it was really that sentiment that sparked all of this, because it’s like….even if they did switch up their style (which many have done), they don’t get recognized in the same way as he did with this project. And it’s also like…how are you gonna come in someone else’s genre and try to say what they are and aren’t doing right? I really wish I could find that quote because it really speaks to the point I’m hoping I’m making.
So, this week has made me think about a lot. I just got finished listening to Soulless Machine (2007) by a Black punk band from Botswana called Wrust that I was put onto by a Tumblr post I saw a couple weeks ago. Reminded me a lot of Noise Addiction – just a lot of…noise lol. But I dig it. I wanted to do a First Listen on this project yesterday, but I wasn’t able to pull myself together enough to do so lol. That disappointment aside, this week has made me (musically) very happy! I think I mentioned a couple of times during the week that this is the type of music I would have LOVED so much in high school and middle school – peak emo phase. I still love it now (because, let’s be honest…the emo phase never goes away) but I know it would have hit different about 10 years ago. I think the legacy of Black punk continued/continues to flow through newer artists like Juice WRLD (RIP), Lil Uzi Vert, Denzel Curry, Rico Nasty, Odd Future (at its prime), and N.E.R.D (at its prime). The names of the Black pioneers who led the way in punk music and played a crucial role in making it what it became may exist under a level of obscurity, but their presence will be felt for decades to come. Hopefully we can learn from the error of our ways and continue to give them the flowers they really deserve.
here’s something else you might like…
I’ve been thinking a bit about this. Not because I necessarily want to – mostly because every other thing I see relating to hip hop recently is about this lol. After a couple of nights of sitting in my bed and contemplating (read: spending my time thinking because I can’t sleep), I’ve settled on my … Continue reading TAKE #21: Who’s the Better Lyricist: Lupe or Kendrick?