Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Paul Shirley: Racist/Not-Racist Music Reviewer

Paul Shirley is not a smart person. He's an ex-basketball player who turned diary-writing into a post-sport career. Recently he wrote one of the more embarrassing, history-ignoring, borderline racist pieces about Haiti yet committed to paper.

In it, he essentially blames Haiti's problem on its general populace. Here is his Twitter feed. Here is the piece. He also writes for ESPN. Flame away, dear reader(s). He is to be publicly disemboweled.

He also writes MUSIC REVIEWS(!?!?) for ESPN. And they are...well, amazingly terrible. I'm not sure how I missed them. I will take the next couple weeks having fun with his shittiness. Here is his piece on Gucci Mane (who Paul Shirley detests) and Kid Cudi (Shirley loves). You can imagine just how wonderfully curmudgeonly this is going to get. I will not keep this brief. This will be long and drawn out.

If nothing else, I've learned this about the world of music: Like small business owners and Hollywood agents, bands don't work during the holidays. As such, by the time my family had finished tiding its collective yule, my cache of music was as depleted as a UN rice truck after six hours in a Sudanese refugee camp.

Hmm...in light of the recent statements, I'd love to give him a free pass on the UN rice truck...nope. He wrote this two weeks ago. And now the Haiti piece. I'm no in no way P.C., but perhaps Mr. Shirley needs some sensitivity training?

Instead of forcing my way into a discussion of bands I haven't yet fully digested (hello, Neon Indian), I took a different tack. On various recommendations, I procured some of what the kids are calling "rap music," turned up my receiver, and sat back in an effort to appreciate the latest efforts from Kid Cudi and Gucci Mane.

My nuanced, thoughtful and stately analysis of the latter:

As an album, Gucci Mane's "The State vs. Radric Davis" is trash.

If it meant that Gucci Mane weren't allowed to release music ever again, I would go as far as allowing the older brother I never had to administer to my person 12 Indian Rope Burns, 17 Dutch Rubs, and maybe, just maybe, an Atomic Wedgie.

Hey, so you don't like the prevalent sound of mainstream hip-hop? Is that what you're trying to say? I can't tell, only because it was lost in your horrible attempt at humor. Perhaps try another refugee joke. It worked so well for you last time.

My dislike for the "The State" can be traced to the album's predictability. Mane employs every trick that has made me come to hate rap music over the past 20 years.

Twenty years? When did rap music germinate? 1979? Somewhere around there? THIRTY YEARS. THIRTY YEARS of rap music. Also, YOU HATE RAP MUSIC? Shouldn't the article end here? How could you enjoy the rap music of Kid Cudi if you hate rap music?

Misogyny? Check.

"I pimped that white girl like a m------------ hooker."

(As a bonus, it appears that there might have been some latent racism available as well.)

Clumsy descriptions of sexual methods and locations? Check.

"I'll take you to Six Flags and [edited] you on a roller coaster."

False bravado? Done. Over and over and over again.

(See every song.)

Ubiquitous references to marijuana? Obviously.

(There's even a song called "Kush Is My Cologne.")

References to self in the third person? Available.

(Is every other line sufficient?)

Dumb skits, interludes and meaningless conversations meant to show how "street" everyone is, even though the album was released by a major label (Warner Bros.)? Of course.

(There are three.)

Major label albums released on major labels that aren't somehow street: Any Wu Tang joint. Dr. Dre. Nas. Snoop. The Clipse. Jay Z. Biggie. Indie/Major label cred is dead in this modern era, Shirley. That isn't your problem. Your problem is that kids like Soulja Boy, who grew up in a nice neighborhoods with well-to-do parents who buy them music studios, become financial successes bragging about street cred when they seemingly have zero.

Also, YOU THINK THREE SKITS ARE A LOT FOR A RAP ALBUM?!? How about De La Soul's classic "3 Feet High and Rising?" That album is half fucking skits. Skits have been a part of rap music for decades. But you already stated you hate rap, so you thusly hate skits. It's your opinion. That's fine.

"The State vs. Radric Davis" sounds like an album made by a 13-year-old who's been addled by daily hits from a pipe since he was 2. And I'm not referring to smoking -- whether of tobacco or of other substances. I mean that it sounds like someone has been hitting the person who made this album with a pipe for 11 years.

That said, I could imagine listening to a song or two en route to a bar. Once every six months or so.

But high art it is not.

It's trash, it's garbage...but hey, I'll listen to it on the way to a bar. You see what you did there Paul Shirley? You revealed the essence of Gucci Mane's music; it is party music, it drowns in its own irreverence. It is NOT HIGH ART. Gucci knows this, and most people who have an iota of intelligence recognize this very fact. You should take that "hit in the head with a pipe" joke and apply it to yourself. Many times.

Now that I've gotten all that vitriol out of my system, I can move on to the good news:

Kid Cudi's "Man on the Moon: The End of Day" is one of the best albums, of any genre, I've heard in months.

I don't want to dwell on the negative, because my objective as a music writer is to bring to light music that I think people will enjoy, not to point out the flaws in other pieces. But because Gucci Mane is so bad, the contrast between him and Kid Cudi becomes all the more evident. The lesson learned from Kid Cudi's debut is that rap music doesn't have to be childish, ignorant and potentially harmful to the health of young brains. Assuming, of course, that Kid Cudi is a rapper, which is a question to which I'd like to return in a few paragraphs.

But first, let us bathe in the sweet waters of positivity.

On "Man on the Moon," Kid Cudi (real name Scott Mescudi) presents the narrative arc of a man trying to understand himself -- his purpose, his past, and who, exactly, he is. Mescudi's is a lofty goal but, because he approaches the project with a level of humanity not often found on records of any sort -- let alone on hip-hop records -- he succeeds.

Kid Cudi isn't just a rapper, he's a singer-songwriter.

One of my problems with most rap/hip-hop albums is their inability to hold my attention for their breadth. (Breadths?) The aforementioned skits, interludes and crappy guest stars take me out of the, well, flow, and I never recover.

My attention span, or lack thereof, is not a problem on "Man on the Moon," even though the album is 15 songs long. There is no filler. Even the tracks that could be interpreted to be interludes, portrayed as they are as "Nightmares" in the protagonist's journey, work. In fact, they're some of the best songs on the record.

THE 'NIGHTMARES' ARE SKITS. THEY ARE SKITS AND YOU DETEST SKITS. Just state an opinion and stick to it. Your head. A pipe. Please hit.

All this effusion was bubbling to my brain's surface even before Mescudi dropped a guest-star bomb on me. I was listening along, thinking, I'm so happy that I like this because if I bashed two rap artists in the same column, everyone would call me a racist for sure … Then I heard the unmistakable strains of RATATAT.

So if you don't like rap music...you're racist? Conclusions, you have been jumped to. This is terrible. No wonder he wrote that piece on Haiti. The old "I'm just a poor white boy stuck in a P.C. world" shtick. You aren't. Grow up and think like an adult. Just because I hate modern jazz music doesn't make me a bigot. It just means that I have an opinion. The end.

Kid Cudi works with RATATAT!

You see, I really like RATATAT. As if the exclamation point didn't make that clear. And if Kid Cudi has the taste and intelligence to secure the participation of RATATAT on his album, I like him even more.

This is about to get really, really awful. As bad as listening to him gush about RATATAT? Worse.

When I finished listening to "Man on the Moon" for the fourth time, I was jubilant. I had, once again, found rap music that I liked.

But something was eating at the edge of my consciousness. That something was this:

I'm not entirely sure Kid Cudi purveys rap music. I know he's black (ish?) and that his music is relatively monotonal. But as I listened to "Man On the Moon," over and over, I couldn't help but be struck with how much Mescudi sounds like …

A singer-songwriter.

First of all..."black (ish?)"...I literally want to punch Paul Shirley in the face. This is not honesty, nor is it contrarian. He is a lazy writer, hoping to catch your attention through the use of manipulatively rabble-rousing rhetoric. I'VE GOTTAN OPINION BRO, IT'S SO TWISTED, CZECH IT OUT. Secondly, his music is monotonal therefore it's rap music? FTW? Have you heard J Dilla? Deltron? El-P? Pete Rock? Large Professor? Prince Paul? The list goes on and on. I know this is an opinion piece, but it stinks up to the rafters. If I'm interested in something, I do a little...RESEARCH. And then I can back up my interest with facts, which in turn creates my opinion.

Monotonal is not a word. Spell check should tell you that. Monaural? Is that what you meant? Because Monotonal means there is only one tone, and that would mean rap music is the sound of one note. You are not intelligent.

I know what you're thinking, depending on who you are. If you were Kid Cudi, you'd say, "Oh brother, just when I was starting to get some credibility, some white dude calls me a singer-songwriter."

If you're a militant hip-hop fan who happens to love Kid Cudi, you're thinking, "Shirley, you're just trying to fit Kid Cudi into your tastes, instead of adapting your tastes to embrace music that you thought didn't exist."

To Mr. Mescudi, I would say … Don't worry about my judgment; no one actually reads these columns. They're a write-off for ESPN.

To Mr. Militant, I would say … No, I'm really not. I have no problem writing that I like rap music. I haven't done so very often of late because there hasn't been any worth writing about since 1993.

I kid. I had to write that just to see how many people would stop reading immediately after the "1993" to fire off an angry e-mail that contained epithets and suggestions that I listen to Common, Saul Williams and Atmosphere before I start shooting off at the keyboard.

Very quickly: More fun contrarianism, he says he like rap music when he earlier said he did not like rap music, and the three rappers he comes up with are too hip to be square Common, Saul Williams and Atmosphere? Amazing.

My toe-dip into the tepid waters of classification is not meant to imply that Kid Cudi is a singer-songwriter in the vein of Jack Johnson. But plotted on a spectrum that runs from Pete Yorn to Mystikal, he's probably closer to Yorn than most would realize.

In case you don't believe me, check out "Sky Might Fall" here.

As I listened to "Man on the Moon," I couldn't help but compare Cudi to my favorite rapwriter/songrapper: Jamie T. Singsong delivery. Intelligent lyrics. Occasional admissions of weakness. The only difference being that Cudi is decidedly not from England.

In the end, I suppose, it doesn't matter …

Oh no. Here it comes: the part where I wrap things up and say that it doesn't matter how we classify Kid Cudi because good music is good music … [sound of me snoring as my head hits the fancy backlit keys on my laptop]

As I've finished this column, it has occurred to me that this will be posted the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I hate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I think it's a divisive holiday. Instead of celebrating an intelligent man who happened to be black, there are those (and they are many) who would have us celebrate MLK because he's a black man who happened to be intelligent.

I'm no great spokesman for race relations; many of the black men around whom I've spent time shared a seething dislike for me that had me checking my pockets to make sure I hadn't stolen something from them. As a result, I have my own built-in prejudices and idiosyncrasies.

Yes Paul Shirley, I'm sure this is true. You are victim of reverse racism. Incredible. This piece has gone from asinine to Dada in less than a page of awkwardly structured prose.

I have learned this, however: The more time we spend trying to divide people up, the less progress is made.

So when I write that Kid Cudi isn't purely a rapper, don't think it's because I'm trying to co-opt him into a white world. Instead, listen to his album. Pay attention to the journey he takes the listener on: through his protagonist's confusion, despair, hope and insecurity; and finally, on the last song on the album, to an appropriately tenuous sense of 21st century self-actualization. That the song in question is probably about marijuana is not important, at least to me. What's important is that the album succeeds mightily, where others might have failed.

Hey, would you fancy that. He actually talks a little about the music. Astonishing.

Give it a listen. Whether you're young, old, black, white, a fan of country or a fan of post-electronica jungle house dubstep, I think you'll find a way to relate to Kid Cudi. And a way for him to relate to you.

Then, when you're done, throw away all your Gucci Mane CDs. Because those shouldn't relate to anyone, white or black.

Do you know what's better than anything? Acting like a closet-racist throughout an article and then attempting a colon-cleanse of sorts by using the final sentence as a "get out of jail free card."

In light of your recent incredibly narrow-minded statements, I'm afraid I can't let you out of jail, Mr. Shirley. You see, you've written a wealth of "music reviews" for ESPN that are all prime Writemare material. Unlike Gucci Mane, we will welcome you with open arms.


Uticas said...

once again, misogyny is only bad in rap music.

Anonymous said...

Not sure where to post this but I wanted to ask if anyone has heard of National Clicks?

Can someone help me find it?

Overheard some co-workers talking about it all week but didn't have time to ask so I thought I would post it here to see if someone could help me out.

Seems to be getting alot of buzz right now.