There are short and obvious answers to this (“white people” “most music writing sucks” etc.) but rather than being glib I would like to focus on the underlying rationale behind this form of Bad Writing. After all, it’s about much more than Young Thug. And it’s about more than music writing, because narratives like this are never limited to “writers.” They represent much broader attitudes. And these attitudes have real consequences for artists and culture: see Chicago’s effort to tax small venues around the Flashdance-like notion that hip-hop and DJing don’t qualify as “fine arts.”
From day one Young Thug has received “compliments” that serve to undermine him and hip-hop as a whole. The above quote—about how he’s “evolving language”—isn’t just an oddly anthropological turn of phrase. It’s also an implicit criticism of hip-hop as a genre.
For large swaths of culture writers and in the broader white popular imagination, it’s assumed that hip-hop is, at its core, disposable. Every time an artist in the genre Matters, his or her existence has to be defined in *contrast* to the very genre and traditions that made him (or her). The “evolution of language” argument contends that most rap is remedial, but this one guy is breaking with that obvious truism. He isn’t evolving rap, which isn’t redeemable at its core; he’s evolving language, “transcending” his host genre & becoming important to the rest of us.
In any art form, most art is remedial. But exceptional artists in most other arts are seen as great exemplars of their medium. Great artists in rap are celebrated for being everything their art is not. So writers talk about how Thug is great because he’s “post-verbal” or that he’s evolving language or…some other thesis about how the work he’s doing matters to people who otherwise ignore rap. As a result, artists like Thug become elevated beyond all reason: being great rap artists isn’t enough. To get white America on board, he needs to matter outside of hip-hop.
The problem, then, is that rap as a whole is being ignored, diminished in contrast to its some of its best stars. All good rappers are “evolving language” by definition…because rap as a whole is “evolving language,” it’s an art form shaped by the conversations of *many* voices interacting and pushing & pulling against each other. The press can only sell rappers who they can weave some kind of narrative-of-progress from, one which exists external to the genre. So rap is only good (their thinking goes) if it can further some narrative external to rap itself.
In other words, it’s time that people embraced hip-hop as a genre with a multitude of artists pushing its narrative boundaries; that we can elevate Young Thug without diminishing the genre he came from, the many innovative and creatively powerful artists who GQ has yet to profile. Young Thug is great because he’s a great rap artist, which is all he needs to be.
Nice post. I think a lot of the overwrought Young Thug writing is also the result of a conversation within the genre, i.e. the need for his supporters to prove to rap cons that the emperor not only has clothes, he’s rocking deconstructionist avant-garde shit you never seen before. Couple that with his gender subversion, and watch the earnest hyperbole pile up from writers of a certain generation or ideology.
Yeah on a micro level that’s definitely happening but I think in their overreach they end up shortchanging so many other artists. And often the artists themselves. In this piece, he suggests that the emotion comes from sound not from lyrics which…is not remotely a new thing in hip-hop, not historically, nor currently. And that even shortchanges thug’s lyrics, which are often emotional & quite real!