hip hop music

March 16, 2005

Chris Rock Crossfire

A lot of talk about Chris Rock lately in blogville, coming from some very different angles.

South London's Soul On Ice blog digs the hip-hop sensibility at the root of Chris' comedy:

...Part of what makes Rock so interesting as a hip hop comedian is his measured perspective of the culture. In an interview with Nelson George on the Bring The Pain DVD, Rock insists that his 'Niggas Vs Black People' calling card merely traverses ground already covered by Ice Cube, Chuck D and KRS-One and cites his exposure to NWA's 'Straight Outta Compton' as a life-changing moment which taught him that "you can say anything... and get paid for it."

Yet despite the reverence for hip hop culture, Rock refuses to deify it or excuse its more questionable moments. In his 1999 follow-up Bigger And Blacker, Rock ridicules the way the deaths of Biggie and Tupac were described as assassinations: "Martin Luther King was assassinated," says Rock, "Malcolm X was assassinated. John F Kennedy was assassinated. Them two niggas got shot!" For some it's a harsh assessment, but then it's kicked with that "say anything" conviction that's well, intrinsically hip hop...

But Danyel Smith, after the Oscars, was somewhat less than enamored:

I can't take Chris Rock hollering at me from the television set, so I'm posting. Let me 'fess up now. I never have liked Rock. There's a reason he was guest editor of the last issue of Vibe I oversaw: I was a lame duck. Rock's an angry man, but the difference between him and say, Pryor, is that I rarely got the feeling Pryor was angry at me. Rock's comedy resonates with a real dislike of himself, and of women, and of blacks in general. He hates his position in the world, vaunted though it has become. I can relate to hating How Things Are (see previous post) even though Everything Seems Really Great, and I applaud his right to yell about it. But the thing is, I don't have to listen. Rock brings no insight to my life, no laughter, no new knowledge, nothing but a barely-veiled bitterness that he hawks up as humorlessly as snot. And he's a sucker-puncher ... he leads with a compliment, and ends with s**t on my face. Sneaky bastard. Wishing he and his all future happiness.

Then in Danyel's comment section, Hashim took a shot at Sir Richard:

"Rock is a loud self hating complainer, and Pryor isn't? Hmmm...can't cosign that."

Which caused me, as a fanatical Pryor acolyte, to have a fit:

I like Chris a lot more than [Danyel], and I've often found him smart and insightful. But I've been feeling more and more alienated from him over the years.

What I love most about Richard Pryor is his material was always driven by love and compassion.. Every wino, every prison inmate, heck every deer and gazelle he portrayed, you could always sense his love for that being. And in particular, there was NEVER (and I study his work like scripture) a time that Richard approached his own people from a place of scorn or derision.

But I can't say the same for Chris. I find a lot of his stuff to be bitterly judgmental, coming from a place of "better-than" that really turns me off.

His riffs about the Black community are the most obvious examples.. but even his recent routine about strippers, though it made me laugh before I had time to let it marinate, was smugly judgmental to the point of being damn near hateful. It really troubled me how blithe Chris was about looking down on these women who give him lapdances, and reveling in lazy stereotypes about them ("please, none of these girls ever goes to college!!"), without ever examining his own role in it as one who has obviously paid for their lapdances many a time.

To whatever degree Richard was self-hating, he was always aware of it; he used his comedy fearlessly to explore those places, examined his own flaws with a rigor that was key to his genius. But Chris is rarely willing to go there, he mostly sticks to pointing out the flaws of those around him, while positioning himself above it all.

Richard never gave the impression he thought he was above anybody. He never lost sight of anyone's humanity. (on stage, at least)

There's a lot more I'd want to say, if I could figure out how to say it, about how he addresses our issues within the black community, the form in which puts them out there for public consumption.. his Magic Johnson theater sketch definitely set off alarm bells for me.

If you've read this far I'm sure you have an opinion too. Please share below.

Posted by jsmooth995 at March 16, 2005 1:40 AM

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