HIPSTER RAP: YAY OR NAY?

Ah yes, the hipster rap phenomenon most commonly attributed to bloggers and their compulsive need to order and organize everything into meaningless labels and trends. It started with the emergence of acts like The Cool Kids, Kid Sister, Kid Cudi, Mickey Factz, Mikey Fresh and on and on…(basically everyone I’ve featured on this very blog, coincidence? Who knows).  Just moments ago, Jay Smooth over at Ill Doctrine posted a new vlog on hipster rap that offers his always witty two cents on the matter:

I love the opening breakdown of the word “hipster” itself because homie hit the nail on the head: we might need to retire the word! It means so many things to so many people that there’s really no universal, shared definition to speak from…However, I disagree with him on the latter part because well, I have a deep love for fly men of color in tight/fitted attire and I’ve always loved $lick Rick for his flow and his steez. You know me, I can’t leave the house without all my (fake) gold and I have to give thanks to the godfathers of hip hop for that one. But hey, why don’t we let the targets of this so-called “hipster rap” movement tell us their side of the story. Let’s begin with Mickey Factz. He’s been known to drop the word “hipster rap” in his music to set the record straight that “hipster rap” is simply a made up term! Watch the following interview with SitDownStandUp.com where he elaborates on his point of view (it’s at minute 1:02):

True story. No bad blood against hipsters but he’s clearing his name…not a hipster rapper, just hip hop or “global music” (I’m not too sold on that one but okay). Is the need to call these hip artists of color “hipster” an attempt to align them with whiteness? Or does the category “hipster” transcend race? Cheeaa Right. My bad, I won’t let my bias silence you, please share your thoughts forreal forreal, I’m interested because I think a lot of us would fall into this category if we produced our own music. Let’s close with Kidz In the Hall’s interview on the “hipster rap” backpack:

Don’t worry boo, there are some bloggers in your corner. Post some comments, let me know where you fall in this whole “hipster rap” debate. Also, I have an audition today @ 4:30 so send those positive vibes my way. MAD love to everyone, have a fun and restful weekend.

Comments
9 Responses to “HIPSTER RAP: YAY OR NAY?”
  1. Lois P. says:

    I really appreciated the Ill Doctrine video – he spoke some truths, but I don’t agree that we should retire the entire categorical label hipster but (try to) understand its po-mo complexities as an umbrella term – inherently problematic? I don’t know. We, critics of hipsters or hipster rap, should possibly reevaluate why we critique it – is there something more specific about hipster rap? do they rap about similar things? is that’s what is frustrating or is it purely because they wear skinny jeans and are thus lumped into some sort of american apparel groupie?

    Just some thoughts.

  2. victor says:

    i think kidz in the hall said it best: “jansports is now louis vuitton knapsacks.”

    to piggyback on some shit i was talking about on hima’s blog a while back i think it’s important to not, in the words of jay smooth, “tight pants profile.” tight pants signify a lot of things. everything signifies a lot of things. the trouble with the word hipster (the trouble with any word) is that it is a matrix of intersecting definitions; some concurrent, others contradictory. if you look at any word closely, it disappears. words don’t mean things so much as suggest them. or maybe it’s better to say: linguistic significance is not inherent but contextual.

    that said, if i were to suggest a non-qualitative, provisional, working definition of the word hipster for the context of my specific argument, i’d propose that two crucial elements of hipsterism as i see it are: 1. irony and 2. appropriation– and i’ve skimmed the little bit of the required critical literary theory assigned to me as a wesleyan english major (we should probably get into where elite western education factors into all of this later) to venture to guess that the hipster, in its “essential” or “platonic ideal” state, is comparable the foucaultian “philosophical dandy.” a philosophical dandy would not vehemently defend the honor of the title “philosophical dandy” by virtue of the very fact that (s)he is one, and so believes that no term has any inherent honor worth defending vehemently. in the same sense, it could be argued that if one of the tenets of hipsterism is unabashed appropriation of various cultural tropes (i use the word trope here very loosely), it is because of a refusal to acknowledge these cultural tropes as anything but aesthetic, inherently meaningless and only given meaning by context, and therefore it is only a matter of course that an “ideal hipster” rejects the the word hipster. in fact, the idea that the word hipster suggests actually dies in the use of the word hipster. any word, actually, can be sort of considered a death of an idea. a useful analogy: language is like one big che guevara t-shirt, i guess it’s the right idea but there’s something wrong with it.

    in any case, while it is easy enough to catch on to the fact that if you want to pass as a hipster you would do best not to openly self-identify as one, the definition of hipster (the definition of arguably any word) never hinges on any one thing, is vague, is determined by exclusion rather than inclusion. a hipster is defined by what it is not (sound like some allan isaac “legislating whiteness” shit, anyone? isa?). the catch is that the concepts of “meaninglessness” and “nothing” is crucial to the definition of the “ideal hipster” (ironic, unabashedly appropriative <–apparently not a word? fuck spellcheck) and so the “ideal hipster” seems to be capable of being defined by anything. which makes for tricky discourse.

    “luckily” however, the term “hipster” as it is most typically used (which i see as a sort of sloppy facsimile of the platonic “ideal hipster” earlier proposed) is defined using a much lazier set of criteria (or often enough, the single criterion of tight pants) and is usually more synonymous with the word “poseur.”

    now if one were to argue that all human action is affectation, then this issue of posing becomes one of intent and one of breadth of referential knowledge. in other words, everyone’s a poser, whether they choose to believe they are or not–an idea that creates four types:

    1. those who choose to believe they are posers and pose well
    2. those who choose to believe they are posers and pose poorly
    3. those who choose to believe they are not posers and pose well
    4. those who choose to believe they are not posers and pose poorly

    looking back on this list and trying to fit myself into one of these types makes me realize it is a flawed list. the flaw is in attempting to distinguish a definition for “believe” as well as definitions for “poor” and “well.”

    what i would go as far to say in terms of my personal thoughts on cultural appropriation, is that i believe culture in many respects is appropriation, and my issue has always been more about the criticality (spellcheck says that is not a word but spellcheck is a hater) with which any artist (or person, really) chooses to appropriate and thus inform the world culture.

    i earlier mentioned that language was like a che guevara t-shirt: the right idea but with something wrong with it. i wrote it because it was a slick “pull quote”-esque aphorism but i was being coy. the “something wrong with” the che shirt is capitalism, duh. which brings us back to the jansport becoming the louis vuitton knapsack; the idea that hipster rap as a term (whether or not “hipster rap” as thing even exists) necessarily must include ideas of class and class signification (not to mention race, which is a whole other can of words).

    kanye has been admired for how embraces self-contradiction: on the one hand, he seems to be political and morally-minded, on the other, he self-deprecatingly refers to his addiction to haute couture (“but at least he’s honest about it”). now, i have a lot of yet-to-be-properly-articulated thoughts about kanye floating around in my head but his cultural impact is undeniable.

    consider his concert at the democratic national convention compared to 8 years ago, when rage against the machine (whose multi-ethnic make-up and genre-splicing is despite its similarity to “hipster rap” definitively non-hipster in its didactic “nietzchean prophet” foil to the “foucaultian dandy” aesthetic of bands traditionally understood as hipster bands) protested the dnc by playing a concert outside of the convention center, the show ended in a riotous fray of police brutality.

    now consider that ratm played at much more subdued concert in protest of this year’s dnc with special guest wayne kramer of the band mc5 (who, as an interesting sidenote, were founding members of a so-called “revolutionary” group known as the white panthers, a group that was formed “in solidarity” with the black panthers but as a separate organization, and which received a lot of criticism for its misogyny, racial ignorance, and general ineffectiveness), which played a 1968 dnc protest concert that ended in even bigger riots that the one in 2000. ratm and kramer then reportedly then led “a peaceful, five-mile march to the pepsi center.”

    there is so much more going on here than i can possibly begin to pontificate upon but i’ll just put it like this: the dichotomy of ratm and kanye could not illustrate more perfectly the shift between the “jansport” rap of yesteryear and the “louis vuitton knapsack” rap of today. and in my opinion, m.i.a. is a perfect example of a successful synthesis of these two types (and an immensely more talented artist than both ratm and kanye).

    i actually think m.i.a. is comparable to obama. if one were to make the argument that the “ideal hipster” is comparable to the foucaultian “philospophical dandy,” one might even go as far as to argue that the ideal hipster is comparable to the rafaelle marchetti-an “global cosmopolitan” and then go even farther to say that barack obama is a hipster (a testimony to which being obama t-shirts on sale at urban outfitters). i say it facetiously, but with a straight face. obama is a lot of things. to call him a hipster is to either insult him or to inflate the word hipster with much more significance than it can bear. but there’s a whole shitload of words that are inflated with much more significance than they can bear. (postmodernism for example, which, btw, obama has also been “accused of.” have you peeped sam han’s blog entry on that? cray cray. smart dude.)

    ok this comment on your blog has gone on way too long and there’s still so much more to say but i need to go eat so i’ll holler at you later. but good blogging. and tic toc is the SLAP! and i have a lot to say about tropic thunder too but that’s for another time.

  3. Jills says:

    sigh, where to begin

  4. bEn says:

    “the closer you look at a word, the more distantly it looks back.” — karl kraus, as quoted by walter benjamin

  5. Bran, vic and heems boy says:

    Goin off Vics ideas – To me one of the most interesting aspects of the whole hipster phenomenon is that I’ve yet to actually meet one. While this could be explained by Victor’s suggestion concerning any would-be hipsters conscious or sub conscious awareness that self-identification = a categorical emptying-out/betrayal of any possible signfication of the cultural category that ‘they’ do(on the low) aspire to embody, I think that explanation can be applied too generally. As Victor illustrates w/ his example of Foucault’s philosophical Dandy, there are numerous examples of people/types of people who have been involved in various cultural/philosophical movements who have refused to accept what others presuppossed their identities to be – from DuBois’s insistence on the fact that he was not a race man, to Camus’s stated position that he was not an existentialist, etc. etc. In this sense, I think the disparity between the ubiquity of the word and the paucity of ‘openly’-hipster individuals, deserves it’s own special explanation.

    To me the ill-defined word ‘hipster’, even more so than ‘existentialist’ or ‘race man’, is a category that exemplifies human beings basic and desperate need to produce knowledge/categorize. I understand, philosophically, Camus’ and Dubois’ refusal to adopt their aformentioned would-be identities, however at the end of the day I’m going to argue that there were actually individual existentialists, that there were/are ‘race-men’, and that any refusal to accept or not accept that label was an individual making a decision. Hipsters, however, cannot choose or not choose to be labeled as such, because hipsters, as living, breathing individuals, don’t even exist. In my mind, the category of ‘hipster’ serves as a defense mechanism for individuals to combat what has emerged as a unique cultural threat. Specifically, the threat that ‘hipsterdom’ poses to human beings basic quest to ‘appropriate’ the other as object of knowledge. Or basically, peeps desire to to know shit. The reason hipsterdom poses such a unique threat to our ability to produce knowledge, which requires the appropriation of what-was-formerly other as object of knowledge, I think, is precisely because would-be members of this culture create/ express themselves mainly by piecing together bricolages of what has already been appropriated (which I don’t think is a bad thing). As Vic mentioned before, all culture is appropriation, which I would agree with, but I think you could argue that we’re at an all time high. In this sense, the only over-arching aesthetic of our time that there is to ‘know’ is constituted by a mix of previous aesthetics that have already been known. And I think this leaves people who try and define it pissed off and feeling like they have nowhere to go. The word ‘Hipster’ then becomes the catch-all category in which to dump what many unfortunately see as cultural detritus. In many ways the amorphous definition, and shocking unoriginality of the cultural category hipster, gives great insight into the myopic view of contemporary culture that those who throw the word around have: all they see is a big amorphous blob of shit composed of things people already knew about. And in the end, the reason why the word is thrown around with so much vitriol, is because people can’t handle the basic anxiety associated with they’re inability to define a black rapper like kid cudi who says his influences are groups like the crash test dummies and the red hot chili peppers. So automatically, he’s a hipster. But Cudi doesn’t self identify as a hipster because he’s making a philosophical statement like Foucault’s Dandy, DuBois, or Camus – Cudi doesn’t self identify as a hipster because it would be literally impossible to see one’s self as such. As I suggested, Hipster’s only exist in people’s minds as people or groups of people who, paradoxically, they don’t know what to make of because they seemingly exist as synthesis of 15 things they already know about.

  6. Isa says:

    heartfelt thanks to all of you for taking my silly post to unexpected/critical places. i’d respond more thoughtfully but i’ll save you the paragraphs of “big ups” and “what he/she said”. of course, there is much more to say and i invite you all to jump in wherever, whenever.

  7. luke says:

    brilliant commentary. loved the vlog from illdoctrine.

  8. ADS says:

    these comments are annoying enough that they could have only been written by hipsters.

    i was at the blue scholars/hiero show at the fillmore last night, and Geologic from Blue Scholars said this: “There are only two kinds of hip hop. There isn’t backpacker, hipster, mainstream, gangster, pop, nerdcore, none of this. Only two types of hip hop: good and bad.”

    nuff said.

    -Dre

  9. Isa says:

    oh snap, discrimihate alert! dj premier also once said “i don’t like fake motherfuckers, i like REAL motherfuckers” and while i understand the sentiment of real/fake motherfuckers and good/bad hip hop it doesn’t actually mean anything in particular. even premier agrees. also, geo/prometheus brown is one of the headiest (in an anti-imperialist, reclaiming language type way) emcees (i read his blog) and i definitely don’t think he’d be as quick to ride off everybody’s comments as hipster just because they dropped some nietzsche and walter benjamin but hey, i could be wrong.

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