A roommate’s friend in college used to say “n*gger” a lot.
Typically, I never knew what provoked it. I’d be sitting in our suede chair, writing a paper or tapping out an email, when the word would be shrieked from our hallway like a wayward turret sprinkler. Sometimes, he’d just thrust himself in my face and scream it, a smirk across his face, or he’d see President Obama appear on the TV we had in the living room and that would be enough for him to just say it out loud, as calmly as if he were letting out a yawn.
We had all types of people over at my place and he was friendly and jocular with everyone who came over, no matter their skin color, sexuality or whatever other idiosyncrasy set he or she apart. He wasn’t a Klan-esque racist, hate and spittle flying anytime he saw a minority around our college town, but he was what he was.
Black Lips’ Cole Alexander is what he is, too, and in recent comments he made to the A.V. Club, he didn’t say n*gger, but he might as well have.
When speaking on with The A.V. Club about why he hates acts like Lorde and Drake, he made a point about white musicians’ wanting to be black or be from a lower class standing to seem more authentic. While I can see where he’s going, he loses any sort of critical rationality when he jumps into this about Drake:
AVC: You were also thinking about doing a Drake and DJ Khaled song, “No New Friends.” Drake didn’t exactly come out of hard times either.
CA: And it’s not that you have to. I grew up in a decent suburb in Atlanta*, but I do think sometimes in hip-hop, you can hear it in his voice. He didn’t have that pain in his voice, but it’s a subtle nuance. I’m sure he has some struggles in his life like everyone does, but I just don’t like Drake. He seems kind of fake to me.
I like my rappers more ghetto and ratchet sounding. Personally, I like more melodramatic, ignorant rap where they’re talking about violence and anger and it’s just evil. I don’t like when it’s too conscious, I don’t like it when it’s too smart. To me, it’s just like a gangster movie. In a gangster movie, you don’t want to see polite guys; you want to see them do horrible shit. It’s a movie, it’s entertainment, and, at the end of the day, music is entertainment. It might reflect what has happened, but a lot of times it’s an art form of telling stories.
There’s a lot that’s wrong here, not simply taking into account the adjectives he uses to describe the Hip-Hop he enjoys. Whether he chose his words poorly or this is what he truly believes, it’s hard to ignore that this sort of privileged hipster racism isn’t just sincere but omnipresent, and continues to forward stigmas and stereotypes that shouldn’t be in music culture in the first place.
Because even if he doesn’t say it, we know what he means.
It’s treacly, but it bears repeating: don’t judge a book by its cover. Trap, drill–all the sorts of sub-genres Alexander is probably alluding to here are not worthy because they’re representative of being ghetto, but because they’re unique and invigorating, an evolutionary branch to the entire culture itself. It requires actual understanding and an open ear, not a derivative sheath of smarm.
Because Alexander and my former roommate’s friend are what they are: assholes.
* — Author note: The Black Lips formed in Dunwoody, Georgia, in 1999, which doesn’t specify if Alexander grew up there. According to demographics from the U.S. Census Bureau, the town had a median household income of $78,934 between 2008-2012. If Alexander grew up in that town, that’s more than a “decent” suburb. By most Americans’ standards, that’s damn near upper-middle class. Again, perhaps Alexander didn’t grow up there and, if he did, maybe it wasn’t under those circumstances. But let’s call an understatement when we see one.