Thursday, 4 October 2007

Music Taste According To Race

I started at university about a month ago and I'm just starting to get into the swing of things. I've become fast friends with my neighbour. Nick is a freelance illustrator and loves his comics. Eventually we got to talking about music. He was telling about the band he used to be in, a hardcore/reggae band in Calgary. Nick told he how he had gotten into hip hop lately, stuff like "Sage Francis, Atmosphere especially." I nodded politely and told him I hadn't heard too much of either of the artists' material. His face lit up with excitement. "I have to show you something," he said. Nick picked up a Sage Francis DVD and told me I had to watch it. I went along with it to be polite and we watched it on my laptop. After watching for about 15 minutes, peppered with Nick's delighted commentary, I told him that "honestly, this guy does nothing for me. Sorry."
He looked a little sad but I think he understood.
Now, before I go any further, know that Sage Francis is a white guy, almost defiantly so. But he does clearly love hip-hop, I'll give him that.
And my dislike for him has nothing to do with his race. I mean, I'm a white Jew. It's never been about race in music for me. I don't care what colour you are as long as you're dope.
It goes like that for any genre.
In soul, for example: Eddie Hinton is one of the most soulful singers ever to grace the microphone. I thought he was black when I heard him sing. But when I found he wasn't, it didn't change my opinion of the music. Hinton played in the famous Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Do you think Wilson Pickett cared about his race when they did sessions together?

I think it's important for one to be able to listen without prejudice, even when it's hard. There are many musical artists whose backgrounds are important to their music. So it's important to the music to understand the background and persona of the musician, but you shouldn't judge music based solely on those qualifiers.
Take K'naan, for example. He's a Somalian refugee who moved from New York to Ontario, Canada.
Would a song like "What's Hardcore?" means as much coming from a Canadian native who's never had to leave his country because of war? What about a white guy not from Somalia?
You tell me.

Here's the lyrics:
I put a pen to the paper,
this time as visual as possible,
guns blast at the hospital,
the walls are white washed with tin rooftops,
to show love you lick two shots,
it's dangerous man,
journalists hire gunmen there's violent women,
kids trust no one cause fire burnt them,
refugees die in boats, headed for peace,
is anyone scared of death here' Not in the least,
I walk by the old lady selling coconuts under the tree,
life is cheap here but wisdom is free,
the beach boys hang on the side, leaning with pride,
scam artists and gangsters fiendin to fight,
I walk with three kids that can't wait to meet God
lately, that's Bucktooth, Mohamed and Crybaby,
what they do everyday just to eat lord have mercy,
strapped with an AK and they blood thirsty...

So what's hardcore? Really, are you hardcore? Hmm.
So what's hardcore? Really, are you hardcore? Hmm.

We begin our day by the way of the gun,
rocket propelled grenades blow you away if you front,
we got no police ambulance or fire fighters,
we start riots by burning car tires,
they looting, and everybody start shooting,
bullshit politicians talking bout solutions, but it's all talk,
you can't go half a block with a road block,
you don't pay at the road block you get your throat shot,
and each road block is set up by these gangsters,
and different gangsters go by different standards,
for example, the evening is a no go,
unless you wanna wear a bullet like a logo,
in the day you should never take the alleyway,
the only thing that validates you is the AK,
they chew on Jad it's sorta like coco leafs,
and there ain't no police...

So what's hardcore? Really, are you hardcore? Hmm.
So what's hardcore? Really, are you hardcore? Hmm.

I'm a spit these verses cause I feel annoyed,
and I'm not gonna quit till I fill the void,
if I rhyme about home and got descriptive,
I'd make Fifty Cent look like Limp Biskit,
it's true, and don't make me rhyme about you,
I'm from where the kids is addicted to glue,
get ready, he got a good grip on the machete,
make rappers say they do it for love like R-Kelly,
it's HARD, harder than Harlem and Compton intertwined,
harder than harboring Bin Laden and rewind,
"to that earlier part when I was kinda like"
we begin our day by the way of the gun,
rocket propelled grenades blow you away if you front,
we got no police ambulances or fire fighters,
we start riots by burning car tires,
they looting, and everybody starting shooting...

So what's hardcore? Really, are you hardcore?Hmm.
So what's hardcore? Really, are you hardcore? Hmm.


  1. it's a bit late for any thoughtful commentary, but this summer, during one of the most miserable days of my adult life, the Rock The Bells festival in San Bernardino , I had the chance to listen to Sage Francis. It was a miserable day because it was hot, I ended up being there by myself for much of it, the down time between sets went on forever and the music was ill-suited for a massive outdoor venue. Did I say it was hot? A good 43°C with no shelter and massive crowds. I found a bush, literally, between the two stages and tried to take a nap, or at least a "nap" from the sun. Sage Francis was performing on the other stage so I caught his whole act. I appreciated his approach and reverence for the craft, but his execution fell completely flat to me. I found out he was white later. It's interesting that there are a lot of white rappers who don't sound white in their rapping voice but because of their style you can sorta figure out that they are. Strangely, jazz is often the same way.

  2. Hope it was fun at least.
    That's an interesting idea, Mike. I'll need to see if I can guess next time.


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