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January 5, 2003

Eff a Rap Critic (c) Method Man

Here's a little rant I wrote in response to this essay that assesses the proper role of a critic. I wrote this with comtemporary music critics in mind, so it might not apply as well to other forms such as the "Fine Arts". Or maybe it does?


1. In the trinity of Artist Audience and Critic, the critic's viewpoint will always be of least value. Passages like this: "Conversely, only a public ill-served by its critics could have accepted as art and as literature so much in these last years that has been neither" I find absurdly arrogant. This notion that the job of a critic is to be the Shepherd, and guide all us lost lambs to the safety of proper standards, is a delusion of grandeur.

The only relationship that matters is between artist and audience. If the critic and the audience are not seeking the same things from the artist, it's not the audience that is misguided, it is the critic whose criteria are outmoded. Critics like to imagine they are out on the field calling plays or assessing penalties, but the truth is they are merely commentators on the sidelines, and nothing they say has any effect on the outcome of the game. In short, there's nothing sadder than critics who think they matter.

2. Timelessness is not necessarily a relevant criterion.

3. "Can a standard of craftsmanship apply to art of all ages, or does each have its own, and different, definitions?" - It is the latter.

4. "The result of this convenient avoidance is a plenitude of actors who can’t project their voices, poets who can’t communicate emotion, and writers who have no vocabulary — not to speak of painters who can’t draw" - When critics say things like this it usually indicates a shallow understanding of what the audience seeks and what the artist is trying to achieve. Their stubborn loyalty to inapplicable standards blinds them to the levels on which this art is meant to function. It's like if you went to see Riverdance and said "well these guys didn't move their hands at all, so they obviously don't know how to dance."

5. Not to say I am hating on this essay. I think I can roll with "purpose and craftsmanship" as pretty good, broadly applicable standards, so long as our definition of craftsmanship is shaped by our understanding of the purpose. I think the most sensible method for a critic is to figure out what was the artist trying to achieve, and did they succeed at it. Usually, instead of this, critics are guided by their own tastes, and judge the artist based on what they think he/she should be trying to achieve. This places you in the illogical position of condemning artists for failing to do things that they had no intention of doing in the first place. I think a good critic knows the difference between "he is doing something badly" and "he is doing something I don't like

January 31, 2003

Jay Smooth vs. the Driving Shoe

I was in the newspaper today, in the last few paragraphs of this piece on Funkmaster Flex and his new "driving shoe", whatever that is.


Drivin' Fresh In Flex's Kicks
by Ellis Henican, NY Newsday, 1/31/03

Jay-Z can have his bling-bling sneaker deal with Reebok.

Nelly can rap about his undying Nike love.

"I like the all-white, high-top strap with the gum bottom," he declares, lest there be any confusion about his footwear preferences. "The last person that touched them, I been shot 'em."

Jam Master Jay, even in death, can have his memorial Adidas.

These days, pretty much any successful hip-hop artist can hype a high-priced sneaker. But leave it to Funkmaster Flex to come out with hip-hop's first driving shoe.

That's right. A hip-hop driving shoe.

"I'm big on driving," Flex shouted yesterday inside the giant Foot Locker store in Times Square, as fellow Hot 97 DJ Fatman Scoop nearly shook the building with his high-volume turntable scratches.

Big on driving: That is what is known as automotive understatement, urban-style. Funkmaster Flex is the living intersection of cars and rap.

"Your car is an extension of your personality," said the gregarious recording artist, club DJ, urban entrepreneur and host of the annual "Funkmaster Flex Celebrity Car Show."

"I had 30,000 kids at my last car show," said Flex, who was born Aston Taylor Jr. in the Bronx. "And one thing I noticed was no special footwear. Nobody was making footwear for driving in. I like wearing a nice shoe when I drive."

The result is the FMF-1 Driving Shoe, sold under the Lugz brand. For yesterday's launch, Flex, joined by artist-friends Busta Rhymes and Lil' Kim, was signing autographs, posing for photos and helping customers trying on his shoes.

The FMF-1's, which look like a cross between a sneaker and a country walking shoe, have tire-tread soles, "like a BF Goodrich," Flex said. They come in three colors - white, wheat and silver. They cost $69.95.

"The shoe is round and sleek, the way a new car is," Flex said. "And it's strong. It's not like it's gonna fall apart on you. It's made for driving."

And what about all those real city kids, whose main mode of transport is the MetroCard? "It's also a hanging-around shoe," Flex said.

Who better than Flex to put his toe into this market? His evening mix show on Hot 97 can sound like an urban version NPR's "Car Talk." Rappers drop by to discuss intricate hand detailing, custom sound systems and 24-inch rims.

And why not? Flex has his own auto-customizing club, Team Baurtwell, that has all but cornered the flashy-rapper car market. And his own fleet of tricked-out wheels is an undeniable eye-popper, emphasizing modern classics. A '69 Dodge Charger RT straight out of "Dukes of Hazzard." A '70 Chevrolet Chevelle SS. A '70 Plymouth Duster. A '66 Chevy Impala SS. But his main rides these days are a couple of gas-guzzling heavyweights, a 2003 Lincoln Navigator, which is featured in the driving-shoe ads, and a 2000 GMC Yukon XL, both wildly customized.

It all goes back to his first car in the Bronx, an '84 Oldsmobile Delta 88, which was repossessed when the struggling club DJ failed to keep up with the payments. It was, apparently, a deeply traumatic event. That humiliation, he has said, changed forever how he dealt with money.

And now, here he is, roaring onto the uncharted highway of the driving shoe.

Some hip-hop purists were asking pointed questions yesterday. They were wondering how broadly the commercialization of this great urban art form will spread, whether all this endless brand-extension somehow tarnishes the soul of a music that came up honestly from the streets.

"Run-DMC had a line," recalled Jay Smooth, who does the beloved "Underground Railroad" hip-hop show on WBAI. "The line went, 'Calvin Klein's no friend of mine/Don't want nobody's name on my behind.'

"That was around 1984," an eon ago in hip-hop, Jay said. "It used to be that if brand names were used at all, they were used ironically. Now, it's clothing lines. It's sneaker lines. Driving-shoe lines. It does counteract the image that black athletes and musicians can't handle their finances. And that's good. But I do wish sometimes these artists would focus on doing things in the community, focus more on their artistic endeavors."

A worthy suggestion, one that many hip-hop fans might embrace. But no one at the shoe store yesterday seemed troubled by thoughts like that.

Least of all Flex.

"This is not an expensive item," he said, before helping a young man in a fleece sweatsuit into a fresh pair of FMF-1's. "These aren't $150 sneakers. These are $70 shoes. Everybody doesn't own a Rolls-Royce or a Benz. Anyone can get these."

About January 2003

This page contains all entries posted to hiphopmusic.com: in January 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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