The unrelatable nature of art collecting is where The Roots‘ ?uestlove draws the line in materialist rap lyrics, according to a six-week op-ed series with Vulture. Worshiping Adidas (Run-DMC) is cool, but hording Picassos (Jay-Z), not so much.
Jay-Z has already drawn ire from Drake for his apparent ‘corniness‘, but even with the two tons of hypocrisy that comes with it, Drake’s assessment may be better than ?uestlove’s. To the Tonight Show drummer, Jay-Z’s art collecting represents less of an icon in material culture – like Adidas were thanks to Run-DMC – and more of a statement of Hov will always be richer (i.e. better) than you.
As ?uestlove put it, “He would never want to be in a club that would have you as a member. But this doesn’t offend his audiences. They love it. They want to be just like him so they can exclude people just like them.” He references this set of lines from “My Picasso” to sum up the point well:
It ain’t hard to tell/I’m the new Jean Michel/Surrounded by Warhols/My whole team ball/Twin Bugattis outside the Art Basel
Materialist lyrics in rap – be it Jordans and Adidas, or big-ticket sports cars – has been around for decades. However, we basically waited for a 17-year-old, suburban New Zealander to come out with “Royals” before we all started talking about it again. Lorde‘s skewering of the trope was loudly (and somewhat inaccurately) admonished as racist, and quietly suggested to be slightly hypocritical, given her upbringing. As Black Lips‘ guitarist Cole Alexander points out, many writers of “diamonds and bling” tracks come from ghettos and aspire to these riches – or want to flaunt ’em once they’ve got ’em.
Score one for ?uestlove’s argument about it hurting black people, though, as the indebted, bejeweled status-rapper is a well-documented phenomenon. Not to mention, there is at least a hint of racism in both Lorde’s and Macklemore‘s anti-materialism tracks being written in genres appropriated (read: stolen) from black people, but then marketed towards white listeners. As a white kid-ult from the suburbs, I can’t speak to how these ideas all affect black America. Plus, most of us don’t generally worry about the social impact of our music preferences, as that can get exhausting.
However – and this is not news, either – this crap is simply boring. We got the old cliche ‘I listen to everything besides rap and country’ because these genres recycle their time-tested themes ad infinitum, at least in the mainstream. Luckily, thanks in part to the internet, the Top 40 has opened up to more creative rap as of late. Still, regardless of role model responsibility, anyone whose entire discography still relies on listing their possessions should be shamed simply for crimes against art, not to mention for creating a vacuum that made Macklemore happen in the first place.