Thursday, March 24, 2011

Comments on "That's Life" and Aesthetic Appreciation

If you haven’t somehow picked it up from my earlier posts, I have a real pet peeve about the mixture of politics and morality with art. Its not that I have a problem with the inclusion of these things in art: it would actually be impossible to remove them from any art that isn’t completely abstract. It is, rather, the judgment of art’s quality based on its moral or political content that really pisses me off. Rap is an especially ripe field for this and the issue is complicated. It is not simply that critics laud so-called conscious rap undeservedly, but that critics use morality as a reason to dislike rap inconsistently enough that it removes the readers ability to understand where the so-called value of the music comes from. Many critics, for example, that might have been seemingly repulsed by explicitly sexual music by people like Lil Jon have recently not been able to shut up about the (admittedly overblown) sexually repulsive content of Odd Future. Why the inconsistency? I have some ideas but I really don’t know. What I do know is that my ability to love music is not related to my evaluation of the morality of its lyrics or the political stance of its creator. Its a simple as that.

So you can understand why, when I recently discovered Killer Mike’s “That’s Life” and subsequently listened to it fifty times in a row, I was perplexed. 2006’s “That’s Life” is basically a political monologue, a track in which Mike expectorates all of the frustrations that he has with the moral inconsistencies of major public figures. It is, in other words, ridiculously dated, with references ranging from Tom Cruise’s couch jumping to FEMA’s disastrously mishandled response to Hurricane Katrina.

I can imagine really being effected by this track at the time. There is something extremely cathartic, even five years later, about someone just calling a spade a spade, in the way that a speech with similar content would be cathartic. But why do I want to listen to if over and over again? If the political content of the song is what makes it worth while, I should be able to just listen to it once or twice to get the message. Ok, so Bush doesn’t like the poor, that’s it. But that’s not it.

The fact is, even though I was around in 2006, I was 17. I was aware of the political issues of the time, but my opinions on them were completely unfinished, and because of that my feelings today about the issues Mike raises are not nearly as passionate as they could be. But this song is effective even in the references that I don’t remember. I don’t, for example, remember when Oprah boycotted Ludacris, but when Mike says, “I saw the smirk on they face when you came at Luda/The same nice ladies that forgave Martha Stewart”, my heart just keeps on racing. While the references of this song are extremely specific, it is simply a fact that the sentiment, that of a confidently defiant frustration with hypocrisy, is not. In this situation, although politics and morality are definitely necessary ingredients, it is politics that serves art, not the other way around. This song is effective because the frustration that Mike communicates is relatively universal to people of any political or moral stance, not because the specific political problems that Mike has are ones that I should have myself. Bush has been out of office for years, but when Mike says, “And his momma said the women oughta feel at home/Gettin’ raped in the bathroom in the Superdome,” I don’t need context to be effected.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the song is effective musically as well? It is.

No comments:

Post a Comment