I read many American music critics—including Sasha Frere-Jones, Kelefa Sanneh, Jeff Chang, Jon Caramanica, Jon Pareles, Oliver Wang and Stanley Crouch—to get a feel for my own writing, and Greg Tate is the man that I admire most. His writing is sharp, provocative, and he always speaks his mind. Below is an except from his “Hardcore of Darkness: Bad Brains” to illustrate my point:
Hardcore? [Bad Brains] take it very seriously. You say you want hardcore? I say the Brains’ll give to you hardcore straight up the ass, buddy. I am talking about like lobotomy by jackhammer, like a whirlpool bath in a cement mixer, like orthodontic surgery by Black & Decker, like making love to a buzzsaw, baby. Meaning that coming from a black perspective, jazz ain’t it, funk it ain’t hardly, and they’ll probably never open for Dick Dames or Primps. Even though three white acts they did open for, Butch Tarantulas, Hang All Four, and the Cash, is all knee-deeper into black street ridims than the Brain ever been and ain’t that a bitch?
The essay came from his Flyboy in the Buttermilk, a book I have not one but two copies of. I thought I lost one so bought another one, but then found the other one.
Beside Tate’s book, Oliver Wang’s Classic Material: The Hip-hop Album Guide is a collection of hip-hop reviews that I come back from time to time for inspiration. One of my favorite pieces from the book is on Jay-Z contributed by Elizabeth Mendez Berry who is a brilliant critic I come to respect after reading up on her works, particularly with “Love Hurts.” In comparing Jay-Z with Che Guevara, she concludes her essay with:
Guevara abandoned a cushy career in medicine to pursue his lifelong goal, the creation of his an egalitarian society uncorrupted by decadence or deprivation, whereas Jay corrupted his community by selling street medication. Later, Che left the relative comfort of celebrity in communist Cuba to stir up revolution throughout Latin America, while Jay ditched dope-dealing for the relative comfort of Big Pimpin’ rap. Che died trying to change the world. Jay lives large in the world order. But even if you can knock Jay-Z’s logic, you can’t knock the hustle.
Damn, she sure knocked the hell out of Jay-Z’s logic, and I just love the way she ended the essay with the title of his track “Can’t Knock the Hustle” (his flow is virtuoso).