Adam Mansbach 2008

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We Got It For Cheap
Vibe Magazine
, August 2007

I can get another you in a minute, and matter fact he'll be here in a minute. It hit me one night, standing in a club in Oakland, that the refrain to Beyoncé's inescapable hit "Irreplaceable" was the most on-point summary of the culture industry I'd heard in ... well, a minute. The ill part is, hip hop not only bows to its own commodification and disposability, but celebrates it. The checks and balances that once kept hip hop accountable to itself are overdrawn  and overturned.  We can barely recognize ourselves, protect our borders, or remember what we'd planned to accomplish once we blew up.

Today's teenager knows nothing of hip hop as a social movement, a response to marginalization, or an outraged conversation about race and class. For such a profound disconnect to occur after a mere thirty-something years, with almost all hip hop's major players alive and well (okay, maybe not so well), speaks volumes about both the breakdown of the mentor/apprentice networks once crucial to the evolution and dissemination of style, knowledge and responsibility, and about the power of the media monopolies that have replaced it. What do we sample in 2007? Not old soul songs. Not drumbreaks. We sample modes of oppression — cartoon-capitalism, funhouse-mirror masculinity, casual brutalizing misogyny — with a fervor that trumps the originals.

Nowhere is this more obvious to me than when I check out the way white kids have walked into hip hop like it was their parents' living room and thrown their feet up on the coffee table. Once, hip hop was one of the rare sites where whiteness was rendered visible -- something white kids had to grapple with and answer for if we wanted to participate. Those discussions have devolved into insular self-satisfaction, flourishing unchecked in the virtual world that has replaced actual communities.

Your man Don Imus unwittingly put his finger on something. In a sputtering defense of his comments, he dragged hip hop into the mix, asking why rappers are allowed to use the words for which he'd just been fired. The answer is that their permission is underwritten by an unexamined culture of racism -- by the absurd assumption that black community standards are lower, and thus pimping and hoing and its attendant terminology are no big deal. The notion of a salacious, morally-permissive black world remains exciting to millions of white fans.

Artists and record companies are happy to keep up their end of a profitable feedback loop, as long as nobody mentions corporate responsibility. And what self-respecting mogul would, when it's so much easier to lay in the cut, feign indignation as necessary, and profit off a pathology as quintessentially American as hip hop: the great fascinated fear of all that lies outside our understanding.


Adam Mansbach is the author of the novels Angry Black White Boy (Crown) and the forthcoming The End of the Jews (Spiegel & Grau/Doubleday).


Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing