LIFE IN LONGFORM: LETTERS FROM THE Hedonist: “The Role of The Critic in Hip Hop”
I get asked all the time why I’m doing this. “This,” being hiphophedonist.com.
The simple answer that I give the most frequently is that I firmly believe in the value of the critic within hip hop music. I was born and raised in the MTV generation, and I remember reading Rolling Stone, Spin, Complex, XXL, and et cetera waiting for albums to drop and wondering if I’d agree with the critics. I remember Nardwhaur – I mean, really, if an artist couldn’t hold their own and defend their art, he would be there to keep them honest.
Art is objectively subjective. The critic is a necessary part of a system of checks and balances.
Oscar Wilde addresses this in the preface of The Picture of Dorian Grey:
“The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things. The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.”
Naturally, to truly understand my opinion on the matter, one must also understand how I came to stand where I do. I’ll spare the details of my messy life; however, in closing, I’d like to just say a couple of things about hunger.
There was a moment in March right before I moved here to Edmonton where I almost let life consume me. It’s easy to do when all the odds are stacked against you, when you’re tired and lonely, when the people around you turn out to be snakes in the grass. It is the moment that kills a lot of good people – the moment when the vice or the easy alternative or the abusive situation wins, because in that moment, their hunger is greater than yours. They consume you – or, you self-destruct.
I’ve been grinding this life thing out on my own for a long time; however, I’ve been lucky as hell to make a few truly spectacular friends who hold me the fuck down when I can’t do it for myself. Thanks to some remarkable humans who love the hell out of me, I got away from Hell on Earth, onto a bus, and into Edmonton. I’m starving, but I don’t mean physically hungry. I’m ravenous in my conquest to live the life of my dreams. The fact of the matter remains that my personal life is still full of messy little fires and disasters that I’m working my ass off to extinguish and solve. This is long days, late nights, tears of joy, stress laughter, government-funded attempts to find my footing and forge my path. This is the utter refusal to allow anyone or anything to stand in my way.
Right now, hiphophedonist.com is but a fledgling website that I’ve constructed with $70, a lot of time, and a big vision. The Hedonist Monthly and the PuffPuffPodcast are but facets of this diamond in the rough. One day in the (hopefully, not too distant) future, I want to have a record label and mentorship program for young artists in addition to gaining the necessary clout to be able to provide advocacy and support for all persons experiencing marginalization and abuse.
Hip hop has literally saved my life more times than I can count, and it continues to every single day. The Hedonist allows me an outlet for my creative energies, going to events keeps my depression from allowing myself to stay in my apartment for weeks on end, and seeing my hard work pay off is keeping me from allowing myself to place my worth in the hands of others.
So, why am I doing this?
Because I have to.
*NOTE: THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPREARED IN THE MAY 2016 EDITION OF THE HEDONIST. REPUBLISHED IN CONJUNCTION WITH http://www.hiphophedonist.com