12/11/13 Guest Blog
But Society Happens
I’m 32, and I started making rap music when I was 18. More importantly though, I live in the year 2013 right now, I was born in the year 1981, and I’ve been making rap music since 1999. When I first started out this really was a different world. And while the exact means to articulate that difference are incredibly evasive, there is one little observation that goes a long way. In the previous era the music you might hear, all the books you might read, all the experiences you might pursue, and all the people you might be in life were limited to whatever could be found in your immediate physical surroundings. That is, both society (the interactions of humans with their environment) and culture (the interactions of humans with humans), were bound to one another and bound to limited geographies. Certain places produced certain people. But now? These days society and culture are not bound to one another, as people can access and participate in a variety of cultures from anywhere in the world through the internet. However, as much as an individual might alter the cultures they participate in, and thus how they experience their environment, interactions with the environment are bound by social structures that the internet has yet to affect (for the most part). So, while a lot of things have changed regarding culture, and how we connect to it, the society that uses the internet today is essentially the same as the society that preceded the internet 100 years ago (citizen consumers have replaced citizen laborers in a social order that reflects feudal antiquity amidst contemporary complexity with surprising accuracy).
In 1997 in Broward County I used to dub cassettes from skateboard videos that came from California—most specifically I was dubbing cassettes of Bay Area rap. The alternative was to buy into whatever my peers were hearing on the radio and MTV, and I simply wanted to know what else was out there. Finding a way to have access to that music, and creating a way to take ownership of it changed my life, and led me down a path completely different from any of my peers. The culture of skateboarding allowed me to become a different kind of individual. But when I started dubbing those cassettes, and later in college seeking out the stores that sold that music, and the venues where I could experience—and ultimately participate in—that music, I experienced a new society.
The internet’s rise, diffusion, and entrenchment in our lives has led to a proliferation of cultural access that is not at all dependent on social proximity. Cultures used to form around social niches that were very much bound by temporal, and spatial limitations. Without the limits of time and space there would have been no South Bronx in the late 70s, and there would have been no dungeon Family in the 90s. Without the limits of time and space there would have been no Roxy Music, and no Alan Lomax. Maybe this all sounds a little fantastical, but when you remember that the internet has all but banished time and space from the realm of culture, it’s merely the world we’re living in, and it’s important to be aware of the structures that govern our existence. And it is equally important to recognize that it’s up to us to create new social structures that respond to changes in our culture. The contemporary music culture in the United States is not bound by time and space, and the lack of a clear social element in music reflects this. Venues and festivals seem to rarely feature an environment to experience music, instead they offer an environment to socialize in proximity to loud sounds. Artists and audience share a common space online where communication and co-experience are instantaneous through amplified connection. In traditional music spaces—venues, and music stores—IRL connection seems palid and lacking moreso now than I have ever experienced in 15 years of being a participant in many cultures and societies based around the creation and consumption of music. Shit is worse for society now than it has ever been, even as it’s the most amazing time for art that I have ever experienced.
Of course there are exceptions, but contemporary music cultures don’t have much of an IRL social element. There is an amazingly dynamic, expansive, and engrossing social element online, as artists and audience connect over networks like Twitter and Instagram. But the kinds of social interactions that take place online cannot really be said to be a society so much as a social characteristic, or element, or tendency. Unless the connection results in some kind of change that creates inclusion the online cultures don’t affect or create society. Cultures that form through the internet change the way an individual experiences their reality, but they don’t change the individual’s reality. However, in the instances where cultural participants socialize online, and then form some type of bond IRL, that alters how they exist in society.
When it comes to music this is a wholly implicit, but dramatically important facet. Music is residue. It is the skillfully rendered residue of a life lived, and those who create great music invariably live peculiar lives of some type of fascinating depth. However, those who are using technology to create new kinds of culture, and then using those cultures to transform their social reality, leave behind a different kind of residue. A residue that indicates radically different experiences and realities, and a radically different future. These new societies are not really distinguishable from the outside though. The new societies created by new cultures of new technology feature the same people, same behaviors, and same settings as old societies. From the inside, their actions, and thoughts, and the realm of potentials that surround them are entirely different from people who don’t share the same experiences through online connection. When this connection results in some type of inclusion IRL, the culture of making and sharing music online feeds back into society, and the world is transformed. The imperceptible result for the listener is the residue of a life lived in different fashions, which indicates entirely different possibilities for the listener.
To be able to summarize the significance of this new social paradigm being explored by rappers and producers, and the various figures of rap music would surely be impossible. The significance emerges in the future, and we are, for all intents and purposes, in the past. Nevertheless, we are in the midst of it, and discussions are bound to come. For now it’s just about acknowledging, perceiving, and summarizing. Right now it’s about recognizing who is using music to shift society, and who is using it to participate in culture. And that’s what I’m trying to do with this column. Twice a month I’m gonna post some music, and talk about music, and my intention is to elucidate some of the people who are affecting the social structure through their music. Culture is cool, but society happens.
On that note, I don’t have much to say about any of this music. I have no prose-y descriptions, no piles of adjectives, and I certainly am not going to attempt to swindle you with “how cool” these people are. All I can speak on is the people that made all this music. They’re all folks who I know and admire as artists, and people changing the world. All the people whose music I posted here, are people who are changing what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America, and a citizen of Earth. I’m not gonna try and persuade you to listen to, or like something, and I certainly don’t have a dumptruck worth of adjectives to unload. I don’t know what’s cool either. All I can do is share the insights I have about artists who are changing what it means to be alive, rather than reinforcing what it means to die slow.