Friday, August 19, 2011

Post-Kanye Kanye: How He Learned to Stop Trolling & Love the Haters

My friend Ben at his blog Uninterpretative! wrote a recent lengthy response to my short commentary on Cher Lloyd’s hit UK single, “Swagger Jagger.” He states:

"I'm really interested in this song as an extension of the claim I was trying to make about a Post-Kanye aesthetic in rap, defined by a structural shift from the hater as antagonist to the hater as primary site of value production. This song seems to possess that shift as an already complete ideological imprint - it is, as it were, the 'common sense' of the song that the ephemeral 'hater' is a source of value. 
"These two points - that of the 'hater' as primary creator of value, and swagger as (might I go so far as to say fetishized?) labour - seem to me to be indispensable to an understanding of this song, and the milieu out of which it rises."

I wanted to do him the courtesy of writing an even lengthier response which further develops his theory of a Post-Kanye aesthetic in hip hop, and how that relates to our broader contemporary ideological paradigm.

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In my view, the labor of the hater, and by extension the bourgeois of the "troll," translates into the libidinal economy of “schadenfreude,” a German word translated into English as “the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.” 

It is an economy of desire whose basis of “production” is predicated on the perpetuation of negative externalities (the suffering of others) and speculative short-term value (doing it for the “lulz”.)

Cher Lloyd is merely the corporate manifestation of the bourgeois “troll,” who uses the labor of the hater to generate temporary fame and market value via notoriety. This is evidenced by the fact that “Swagger Jagger” reached #1 on the UK’s Singles Chart, despite the overwhelming amount of “dislikes” (121,837) compared to “likes” (63,616) on the song’s YouTube page.

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"To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish." - Arthur Schopenhauer

When I think of a hater, a few essential characteristics come to mind.

The hater is powerless in everyday life; he is resentful due to his own lack of political efficacy; he is uncritical in his critique, and is a sophist as opposed to a philosopher; and he has ultimately been wronged in the past, and is eager to project his insecurities in the form of envy.

In an era where the majority of youth are jobless, socially disenfranchized, and politically powerless (see:  London rioters), it doesn't surprise me that the primary site of value production comes from haters.

Thus, in my perspective, the hater’s work is always-already proletarianized by the "swagger" trolls who condition their envy. Not only does the hater wield the instruments of hate, he himself becomes an instrument of hate---and in the case of Cher Lloyd, one that is used in the service of corporate marketing.

The hater does a type of "work" that does nothing to benefit himself or society, other than to function as a scapegoat and a producer of negative affection.  It is not a kind of work that produces “savoir-faire” (ways of knowing) and “savor-vivre” (ways of living)---in fact, it is just the opposite, in that it disinvests the one doing the hating of any work towards self-knowledge/self-improvement.

I should mention that by no means am I intending to "naturalize" the hater's work.  Haters often have a reason to hate, and a "troll" who baits them into their haterdom---precisely in order to generate value via short-term notoriety for a self-serving agenda which only further destroys the livelihood of the hater-laborer, perpetuating his hatred.

Just think of Republicans, FOX News, and the British conservatives condemning the London rioters as barbarians, and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

With that said, trolling haters is neither a craft, a skill, nor a trade. It does not create, it only destroys. It is the antithesis to art---it is death.

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Digressions:



1. I would like to argue that the internet provides the perfect outlet for this libidinal economy of schadenfreude to thrive. This is in that the web, with its default recourse to anonymity, precludes personal responsibility for one’s actions, making it an abundant playground for trolls and their subsequent haters to thrive in. The hacker group “Anonymous” is one manifestation of this tendency, in that their primary motivation is not to benefit people or society, but to “do it for the lulz.” They are essentially trolls in hiding who “Profit!!!” from the suffering of others.  (Their move towards hacktivism and political protest, while commendable and valuable, appears only to be a secondary phenomenon to the trolling which they spawned from.)

2. The libidinal economy of schadenfreude---based on envy, anger, and general negativity---is the equivalent of trying to cash in on thousands of bad checks. Perhaps an even better analogy in light of recent events is to compare it to deficit spending, and the raising of a debt ceiling so that one can continue to invest with toxic assets.  Eventually that bullshit has to bounce. It is unsustainable, and destroys the social base on which all production is founded.

3. To illustrate how the libidinal economy of haterdom/trolling is unsustainable, think of those figures who benefit from the liquidation of a “real economy” of production, such as repo-men and pawn brokers. What happens when no one has stuff left to repossess or to pawn? When the bank and/or pawn shop owns all of the assets, what happens to the basis of the economy (exchange?). 

When envy and schadenfreude destroy the broader libidinal economy whose basis is the exchange of desires, what happens?---stratification into self-doubt, self-loathing, and paradoxical self-obsession, in which personal insecurities disinvest the social strata of their ability to "build" in a trans-individual manner.

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Kanye and the Dharma

I believe what is needed now more than ever is a libidinal economy of “metta,” or loving-kindness---that is, of beatitude, OMs, blessings, good-will and understanding---essentially, the foundation for an economy of contribution “in which to economize means ‘to take care’” of both the world and the people in it (Bernard Stiegler).

Along with “karuna,” (compassion: “the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish”), “mudita” (empathetic joy: "the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings."), and “upekkha” (equnamity: "not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal”)---these “Four Immeasurable Virtues” form the basis of a prefigurative politics, whose infinite objects of desire are capable of producing trans-individual “hopes for the future,” in the Husserlian sense of protentions. These are powerful and ancient ideational strctures that have the capability of restoring momentum to a libidinal economy on which “real” economies of (industrial, social, and psychic) production depend upon.

With that said, I am not a Buddhist.  But certainly, I believe there is something life-affirming and libidinally productive about the Four Immeasurables. Oddly enough, insight into these virtues is also the reason why I’m beginning to like Kanye more as both an artist and a person.



Despite Kanye’s lack of tact, moral deficiencies, and personal blunders, he has always made a point to publicly apologize for his actions and to take responsibility for his past indiscretions.

For example, in the song “New Day” on Watch the Throne, he describes the life of his unborn son via the trope of “the sins of the father” as a thinly veiled conceit for acknowledging his insecurities and admitting regret towards his unscrupulous deeds---in particular, declaring that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on a national telethon:

And I’ll never let my son have an ego
He’ll be nice to everyone, wherever we go
I mean I might even make him be Republican
So everybody know he love white people
And I’ll never let him leave his college girlfriend
And get caught up with the groupies in the whirlwind
And I’ll never let him ever hit the telethon
I mean even if people dyin’ and the world ends
See, I just want him to have an easy life
Not like Yeezy life, just want him to be someone people like
Don’t want him to be hated all the time judged
Don’t be like your daddy that would never budge (“New Day,” Kanye West)

I admit, when Kanye says “I <3 Haters,” it can definitely be read as a method of trolling that utilizes the envy of haters to produce a kind of notoriety that he can profit from. But taken in another context, couldn’t it just as well be a sincere and almost Christ-like manner of speaking?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44, King James Bible)

To end, I quote from a friend of mine on Facebook, whose recent status update puts what I’m preaching into applicable practice, and which may help (us) proletarianized haters into reclaiming the means to (libidinal) production:

"So often we spend time acknowledging the presence of 'haters' and all the negativity they send our way but we don’t take the time to acknowledge and appreciate all the ones who love and support us and supply us with the positive energy we need to overcome."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Watch the Throne Review, Part 1: Spectacle and Speculation



spectacle mid-14c.,
1. "specially prepared or arranged display," from O.Fr. spectacle,
2. from L. spectaculum "a show, spectacle,"
3. from spectare "to view, watch,"
4. frequentative form of specere "to look at,"
5. from PIE *spek- "to observe" (see scope (1)).

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speculation late 14c.,
1. "contemplation, consideration," from O.Fr. speculation, 
2. from specere "to look at, view" (see scope (1)). 
3. Disparaging sense of "mere conjecture" is recorded from 1570s. 
a. Meaning "buying and selling in search of profit from rise and fall of market value" is recorded from 1774; short form spec is attested from 1794.

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In a recent blog post reviewing Watch the Throne at MostlyJunkFood.com, the author "slenst" brings up two rich yet contentious points:  that the majority of what is marketed as hip hop today is conditioned by it’s relationship to “hype,” and that the cultural legitimacy of hip hop as a source of creative vitality is being devalued by its relation to economic utility.

What I want to do is push this argument further.

I propose that it is not only hip hop, but our entire ideological paradigm that is conditioned by “hype," including serious domains of human existence such as financial markets.  This is especially true in the sense of political economy, or rather, how the value of anything is regulated and determined in our society.

The nature of "hype" as it functions in both hip hop and financial markets is two-fold.  "Hype" consists of both spectacle and speculation---spectacle in the sense of anticipation that builds towards an artificial climactic event, such as a big box office movie release, and speculation in the sense of the future value assigned to such an event, such as it’s estimated box office market value.

I use movies as an example because American cinema in particular has a track record of producing multi-million dollar mindless blockbusters that exclude the existence of most films of substance making it into mainstream theaters.

Aside from movies and hip hop, we have entire economies of exchange who’s value is determined by spectacle and speculation---which is just another way of describing the short-term financialization and corporate marketing of everything in our contemporary lives, from the technology we use on a daily basis to the cultural identities we align ourselves with.  (For more on technological obsolescence and the marketing of identity, see my post on Cher Lloyd and Proletarianization.)

What "slenst" appears worried about is the reduction of the value and meaning of hip hop to this artificial and gimmicky economy of hype. For the most part I have to agree with him.  There is a real danger in falling pray to this logic of late capitalism, as evidenced by the 2008 financial crisis and the popping of the American housing bubble--a careless market that was essentially "hyped" up with no solid foundations on which to stand on.

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‎"What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not." The Road, Cormac McCarthy


But in contrast to the liquidation of hip hop’s cultural legitimacy/longevity through short-term spectacle, speculaction, and marketing, an equally present danger lies in foreclosing hip hop’s dynamic of possibility by declaring that “hip hop is dead,” or by distinguishing between “good” and “bad” hip hop.

To nostalgize upon hip hop’s so-called golden era(s) is to ignore the fact that the foundation of the culture functions through it’s perpetual flux of influences, both high and low, and prematurely forecloses on the possibility of genuine exchange between social strata (i.e. Kanye's line in Otis: “sophisticated ignorance, write my verses in cursive.”).

Hip hop is problematic. Nothing about it is “given” or should be taken as such.  But the fact that it is problematic is also what makes it resilient, adaptable, and able to evolve.

Hip hop is no doubt different than it was in the 80’s, 90’s and even early 2000’s. But this is the inherent nature of music, and of all things in themselves.  Distinguishable forms arise and subside like tides in an ocean, but the momentum of the currents remain, shaping the environment and itself being shaped by the changing milieu.

If we were to extend this metaphor to hip hop as a cultural force, it can only really be seen as a wave of influence that conditions and is itself conditioned by larger forces---such as the political, economic, and social climate.

What is most important to keep note of is the overall momentum of the historical milieu as a whole, and to record the ways in which it builds upon itself like a tsunami that never quite reaches its destination.  Hip hop may never be as it once was, but that’s not to say that it’s effects can’t still be felt, seen, or touched.

What is at stake today is shaping hip hop into a culture of literacy and ideational production, as opposed to a culture of material consumption and spectacle.   


Hip hop fans, whether of the commercial or underground sway, more than ever need to “do the knowledge” and stop accepting what’s given to them as just being given.   To see hip hop for what it is and to anticipate where it’s going, we need a memory of where it came from.  On top of that, it is imperative to realize that this memory in itself is far from absolute and subject to change, both retroactively and during the context of it’s own time.

This is the reason I love websites such as rapgenius.com, where through an economy of contribution users analyze, interpret and give meaning to hip-hop lyricism through critiquing it as poetry.  The future of hip hop as a culture and a way of life depends on communities (as opposed to commodities) of exchange such as this.

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Part 2 of this review offers an in-depth analysis of how Kanye West and Jay-Z's album Watch the Throne juggles the tension between speculation, spectacle, and expanding the "scope" of hip-hop through a return to it's roots in sampling.

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Photo Credits

Père Ubu, "Society of the Spectacle" August 3, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Katrina. Tuliao, "Philippine Stock Market Board" July 30, 2008 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

iammeltron, "Hip Hop Sucks" May 5, 2006 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Roc Marciano & The Return of the Repressed


Roc Marciano’s Marcberg is contemporary hip-hop’s equivalent to fine wine. If your ears were a nose, they’d be filled with the aroma of 90’s golden era rap upon popping the cork/tearing the shrink wrap. The bubbles would spout subtle hints of N.Y.C’s gritty street violence, and the tint would consist of blood, sweat, and tears. The album is a true labor of love, perfect in it’s imperfections, and the antithesis to corporate driven hip hop which has become fashionably disposable in its drive to technological flawlessness---a la autotune and 720p YouTube videos.

I do not mean to say that Marcberg is in any way poor in quality. What I mean to say is that with commercial hop hop, there is nothing left to the imagination. Every sound byte is calculated into dollar signs, and every second is designed to attract as wide a demographic as possible: young Caucasian males, adolescent girls, college-aged club hoppers, etc. The Hip-Hop & R&B Singles Charts is the equivalent of a national newspaper written in 5th grade vernacular. Except instead of information, what is offered is a broken mirror of disposable trends and off-the-rack “swagger” designed to disenfranchise youth of their intelligence and originality.

What we have with Roc Marciano, and similar artists such as MarQ Spekt, is fidelity; faithfulness to a D.I.Y. tradition in hip-hop long since lost, save for a few who still "pay homage, respect,” and push the conceptual envelope (see: Pusha T and Sean Price). In an era where unclever non-sequiturs reign supreme (see: Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne), Marciano’s lyrical stream of consciousness paves the way for a novel stroll down what’s now considered cliched territory---the street hustler’s narrative---laid over minimalist sample-based tracks inherited from the MPC-2500, an artifact which itself is fading into technical obscurity via the rise of Macbooks and digital production.

Needless to say, Roc Marciano's mindset stems from another temporality altogether, denoted by the blaxploitation sound clips found in the aptly titled "Pimptro," as well as in the transitions between the album's otherwise seamless 15 tracks.  There's a raw hunger here that differs from the sense of entitlement that today's would-be rappers posit on their guest spots, the kind of hunger that gets you from "skinny to chubby / in the city that's gully."

Whichever way you slice it, Marcberg contains a plethora of quotables well-thought out in their verbal execution and visual coherence. Roc’s unique stylings bring poetic relavence back to hardcore hip hop, a now mostly buried art form, through image-laden lyrics such as found in the second verse to the title track:



"Prada on with the cashmere
Keep the gat near the cashier
We like deer versus black bear--
Rap clear, and let the wax tear off your back hair
I’m back in here, act sincere
I smash your ear
With a glass of beer like “yeah!”
The mad stare with the Shaft beard..." (Roc Marciano, "Marcberg") 

With all that said, Marcberg is hands down my favorite album of the year. Although admittedly not for everybody, that seems (to me at least) to be the beauty of it.  Like fine wine, this rare style of hip hop is an acquired taste, but is nevertheless distinguished from the fountain-soda pop rap made available anywhere, to anyone.  And that by itself makes it worthwhile.

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Photo Credits

gfpeck, "Red Wine" November 7, 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cher Lloyd and the Proletarianization of a Generation

A friend of mine wanted my two cents on this video by Cher Lloyd called "Swagger Jagger."

 I'd never heard of the artist or the song before, but my immediate impression was that it functions as an extended commercial for solipsistic marketing---i.e, hip hop tropes and electronic noises slapped together to appeal to confused adolescents with attention deficit problems---nothing you haven't seen before.



Here's what I had to say:

"I find it interesting that the first thing object displayed is a cell phone, because it works as a good analogy for describing what "swagger" and identity means in the context of this video.  "Swagger" here has a quality of built-in obsolescence to it that reflects the broader ideological milieu we're living in. 
Like technology (i.e. cell phones), swagger's not built to be durable, or even to be understood---it's always something you buy into until the "next" thing comes along. It's short-term and disposable. 
Like technology, swagger's not something you want or even desire---it's something you need or you'll be left behind in society, like owning a 10 year old cell phone that can't text. 
Like technology, it's designed to manipulate your senses and direct your attention towards a screen, which acts as a soplisistic mirror for defining yourself. 
But since the (culture and technological) industries control the means to this access to yourself, they literally and figuratively own the means to your identity and sense of worth. 
So when Cher Lloyd commands us to "get on the floor," "count our money," and "let it go," she really means it. She wants us to be complacent knowledge-less workers with only enough purchasing power to buy our fleeting sense of identity back from the very companies that liquidate any working sense of identity."