Nicki Minaj and Rosenberg: The internal battle between "authentic" and "unauthentic" music

This past weekend New York's Hot 97 radio station held their annual Summer Jam concert in New Jersey (yes there is clearly some irony in throwing a concert for a radio station based in NYC in the neighboring state, but I digress). Entertainer and hip hop star Nicki Minaj, herself a Queens native by way of Trinidad (big ups) was supposed to be the headline act. It was going to be Nicki's first chance at headlining one of the most iconic, (though of late dwindling in national prominence) concerts in her own home town. Hours before Nicki was to take stage with her Young Money label mates, one of the morning radio hosts of Hot 97, Peter Rosenberg, better known as simply Rosenberg, made the commentary that Nicki's music wasn't "real hip hop" (the irony of this white Jewish man questioning the authenticity of a music form created by black and brown youth in the streets of the Bronx in the 1970's isn't lost on this writer, but again I digress). Nicki upon hearing about this public rebuke of her art was told by her label owner and fellow rapper Lil Wayne to not perform at the concert. Needless to say she was too happy to oblige. What struck me most about this whole brouhaha, while petty to some extent, is how the idea of what is real hip hop has hindered the growth of the art form.

Hop Hop was born out of the history of black and brown youth feeling that the music, culture and people around them were not talking to their experience. Out of that need to be heard and expressed came about the most fantastic musical artistic forms to grace this country and world within the past thirty plus years. As the music became older it has been so infused (read taken and used by many) so well that it is the as symbiotic with American culture as apple pie and racism. What has been a large issue is what does that growth look like, especially to those who want to maintain the "authentic" caliber of hip hop." Allow me to quickly dispel the myth that there is an authentic sound to hip hop or blackness. The idea of authenticity within the black and brown community is one of the most ridiculous ideas that continues to permeate culture. Toure, pop culture writer and critic in his book "Who's Afraid of Post Blackness" makes the argument that blackness is more diverse now than it ever has been. No one has ownership over the correct way to do blackness. Black people who like to go to brunch and attend wine and scotch tastings are no more or less black than those who like to stay on the block and listen to music at insane volumes. Blackness has to be a collection of all things possible since black people by nature are all things possible. What concerns me about the authenticity argument among black people is that often times it is some of the most nefarious of activities that are associated with being authentically black. This is deeply concerning for those who want to envision a blackness that entails a broad and realistic view of what people can be.

This authenticity dilemma is especially troubling in music. I liken those who believe hip hop should remain authentic to parents who have children and expect them to always stay the same. People grow and change over time. Music has to as well since it is created by people. I have friends my age who still only listen to Biggie and Tupac and Jay-Z and have called other artists unauthentic. They fail to appreciate the breadth of how much we have changed as a culture over the past twenty years. Music has become more global, with the infusion of European club music, Latin beats, Caribbean rhythms and African bass lines all joining forces in hip hop. This melange is what makes the art form still vibrant and amazing. There can be little doubt that this growth has made the music more appealing to various cultures.

I have spent some time traveling the world and noticed the impact of hip hop. In the tropical climates of Antigua, to the French communities in Paris, to the slums and cities in Kenya, to the streets of Montreal, hip hop has its own flavor and culture that continues to grow. There is no doubt that these countries understand the value of making the music representative of their own cultures. No one can dare say that their music isn't hip hop because it definitely is.

Maybe what we need to do is appreciate music for what it is and drop the title of hip hop and rap altogether. Maybe then artists like Nicki Minaj will not have to be ridiculed for their work being unauthentic. But frankly until black people come to terms with the push and pull of the authenticity debate as it relates to the entire culture, then the argument will permeate to other aspects of culture, at the clear detriment to the community at large.


Anonymous said…
Very well written, yet I totally disagree...if she wants to be a pop artist be a pop artist, some of her music ain't hip-hop and that's ok...but the 2 shouldn't be confused either and her toeing the line to appeal to a larger fanbase that wouldn't know her if she didn't appeal to the "authentic" hip hop crowd first shouldn't be neglected...she's a bamboozling circus clown who'll keep getting lighter to appeal to her lighter new audience. Shit is sad
Let me begin by saying I am no Nicki fan. I have tremendous issues with her content. But I stand to make the argument that hip hop music today is pop music, meaning that it is the popular music of its time. Every genre of music that is popular today borrows hip hop elements. And hip hop borrows some of those elements that aren't historically viewed as hip hop. Take an artist like Lil Wayne for instance. I doubt anyone would say he isn't a hip hop artist, yet he made a rock album. I believe that the longer we continue to box ourselves into narrow visions of what our music is, we invariably are saying that we are viewing blackness and our culture in a boxed in view as well.

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