The Importance of Being Earnest: Burying the Lede with Chance the Rapper

Hipstars

You have seen them and odds are you kind of are one but don’t want to self-identify as such. Many cling together and work in some of the better-tipping service jobs in your favorite gentrified areas. Their parents are by and large wealthy-ish. Many in Seattle blame employees at major tech companies for rising rent prices as if those people are somehow to blame for going to good schools, educating themselves in a profitable career path and subsequently capitalizing on that investment of self. Fuckers. (That being said I bitch about this too. Rent-too-damn-high and such).

The loci of the past decade’s hipster proliferation is hard to locate precisely. As with all cultural phenomena it is clear from the outset that while the word “culture” is a pretty convenient placeholder the simplicity of the term belies the incalculably nightmarish profusion of shit that bubbles beneath the surface. When someone points out a certain phenomenon as “cultural” or as being influenced by the “culture” of the times they are not drawing a conclusion, but pointing instead to a pretty wide range of possibilities. We live in a culture right now that allows for meteoric and unremarked-upon surges in goat popularity and the existence of Fetty Wap. This seems as good of evidence as any to conclude that culture really hates it when you keep tabs on her.

From a literary perspective (I like books so this is always where I start), propagation of hipster-ness aligns itself fairly well with post-modern American literary movements from the 80’s on. If you want to go that route, then hipsters can be considered as a caste of fairly well-educated people who have grown up digesting content that comments often on the futility of locating ones’ self within a world, the futility of narratives to render meaning from abstraction, and an affinity towards conflating the sentimental with the grotesque. We are a generation of emotional orphans, who have been geared to regard the un-ironic display of sentiment with brow-raising disdain.

As we already said though, it would be crazy reductive to blame sentiments within literature for the propagation of the hipster. The only reason I even chose that as an example is because I like books. In fact, it is probably more likely that the same day-to-day trends within modern culture that precipitated the attitude of the modern hipster were responsible for the similarities we see within literature. In this way, we basically posit that hipster culture and post-modern literature’s disdain for sentiment have a shared root cause rather than some sort of causal relationship.

What then is the issue? You could point to the way in which formative education or even generalized pre-millennial parenting has been wired since (arbitrarily) the 90’s. This is basic “kids rebelling against their parents” stuff. Back in the day (if our own parents can be believed), formative educational institutions and the means by which children were raised tended to be characterized by discipline and rigor. Our parents were raised in households where it was not mete for a father to hug a son, for a person to be rewarded for effort or participation.[1] The politics of the time aligned to this. Children growing up in the 50s and 60s saw their formative institutions as grim paragons of authority and discipline, entities that rather obliquely asserted themselves as policy-makers for the lives of young people. Clearly this wasn’t the case in every instance – but it is certainly well-documented that parenting was a bit less nuanced during this time, with parents and institutions possessing a more clearly defined template for what their young clay-like child should be when they levelled up and attained sweet, sweet something-made-of-clay status.

Since this is being posted on the internet for free I don’t have to prove anything, therefore I am just going to go ahead and assume the prior supposition to be broadly and reductively true. If not, I can at least use it as a helpful analogy to work to where I hope to someday conclude.

Our parents’ parents were demanding, stern and authoritarian. Ours, or at least the broadly privileged and well-educated class of people that make up most of the hipster class, were largely kind, caring and generous, providing affection and approbation in light of our successes and gently guiding us through our failures.

For our parents-as-kids, rebellion was simple – moral even. It wouldn’t even be that far to assert that some of the best characteristics of our parents’ kindnesses could have been part of a master plan: adopt a stance of authoritarian rigidity and watch as your children rebound to being beautiful, caring people.

What wasn’t factored into that mindset is the fact that the same children who responded well to an authoritarian, stick-centric and carrot-sparse upbringing would then, being the carrot-loving adults they are now, be reluctant to pull the ole’ bait and switch and go Adrian Peterson on the next generation’s non-figurative asses.

This isn’t to say we should advocate for more rigid and stick-wielding educational and formative institutions. Not at all. What I am saying is the mannerisms associated with rebellion at some point in time 30 years or so ago got really confusing. Instead of openly rebelling against one’s parents as an authoritative force, kids were instead recoiling in embarrassment from helicopter-mom PDA’s when the school bus pulled in. There is a sentiment of rebellion and reaction to each scenario but while the former instance unfolds as a highly-emotional rebellion against authority, the latter enacts itself as an emotion-phobic rebellion against sentiment.

So where do we go from here? When sentiment and emotional honesty become the enemy, our generation is damaged by it. We can safely do away with an assumption that those emotions and sentiments have simply gone away – they just exist internally as objects of revulsion or embarrassment. Our natural rebellion to our nurturing ends up fighting our nature, as crazily fucking opaque as that clause was.

I don’t like this a lot. Which is why I love Chance the Rapper.


The Social Experiment

I have been to Sasquatch for the last 6 years and I am typically more drawn to the Hip-hop shows than the indy rock that tends to dominate the headlining acts (though this scale has begun tipping the other direction of late, but more to that later). 2 years ago, Outkast headlined Sasquatch alongside two other Hip-hop acts I was excited to see– Tyler the Creator and Chance the Rapper.

Of the 3, Chance was the closest to being an afterthought for me. I liked some of his songs to an extant but there was something just…weird…about his attitude/persona that I didn’t really quite get. I felt like he was in on a joke that I wasn’t a part of. His performance did much to rectify that initial impression.

I remember me and my buddy Nick in the midst of a pit (which was way taller and sweatier than usual – even for a festival) turn to each other at many times and vaguely express how exuberantly badass everything Chance did on stage was. We were fucked up and in the midst of a vibrant narrative. It was hard for language to make out the edges of the experience even when recapping that evening. Just a fuck ton of superlatives. Which at the time pretty much worked.

Chance made many remarks about how it was the biggest show he had ever played. He wasn’t even on the main stage. Was this a true statement for him? I am not sure and I have never bothered to do the research to find out – I believed him when he said things like that. Live music has the potential to create incredible, binding feelings of intimacy in an inherently plural space and Chance created this mood as well as any performer I had ever seen. He wanted to be there every bit as much as we did – maybe more. And why not? We were inhabiting a moment of a dream come true, a dream he occupied and expressed to us with a generosity of feeling that was easy to appreciate.

At one point in time, Chance came out and told us he had written a new song. It took about 3 seconds for Nick and I to turn to each other and agree that Chance was just singing the theme song from the show “Arthur” and we weren’t sure if anyone around us knew what was going on. At first, it was tempting to smirk at the people dancing around to a children’s theme song.[2] We were in on the joke and the teeming (rolling-their-collective-balls-off) masses were confusedly dancing along to a song from the show that taught me (specifically) to not make fun of poor people for eating leftovers.[3] Upon further inspection, half of the people who I was silently judging were singing along. They knew exactly what Chance was doing and perceived it as an opportunity to engage with a performance of sentimental nostalgia rather than perceiving it as a wink and a nudge, an opportunity for subtle mockery. Chance wasn’t talking to the jaded adult, but the enthusiastic 8 year old. Commonalities can be built this way – kids are all pretty similar until various meanderings and decisions bring us further and further from each other. That is why nostalgia rules – the further back you go, the easier it is to find commonalities.

I remember that I was embarrassed for an internal mechanism I hadn’t spent enough time examining to be properly ashamed of. I’m glad that happened. Moments of really internal, profound embarrassment[4] are easy to remember clearly.

Donnie Trumpet’s new album, and namely, the single from it – “Sunday Candy” – a song for which I have a near-pathological fondness, are lyrical instances of the same idea. What I hadn’t necessarily derived from Acid-rap on the first few go-arounds was Chance’s spirit. He is playful without being mocking, a distinction I failed to grasp maybe because I am a bad person or maybe because I was just not wired to expect it. Maybe that is why Chance’s music can be so jarring (beyond his voice, which is undeniably…goofy) to people who are hearing it for the first time.

When listening to Sunday Candy the first time, I had essentially already latched on to this aspect of Chance’s music that I had admired and identified it as sort of his emotional essence. That was what made my first listen to that song so beautiful – I wasn’t searching for hidden meanings or innuendos, wasn’t caught assuming that the lyrics were some vague reference to a girl he was banging but instead was able to take it for what it was – a song about his grandma whom he loved very much.

In retrospect it seems insane that anyone would expect or want anything more from a song. Is there value in being cryptic and opaque? I’m not really sure. Anyone can empathize readily with Chance when he talks about love, and the innocence of the song’s subject – the relationship between a grandma and her grandson – renders the expression of that love all the more universal. He isn’t espousing an impossible idea, just commenting on an authentic possibility – the possibility to be frankly and unabashedly appreciative of a person you love, willing to make that proclamation on a global stage, and willing to share that feeling even as he denies turning his experience into metaphor in one of the first lines of the song (“You say it too – but your grandma ain’t my grandma”).

Chance’ his music and his attitude are incredibly at odds with what I grew up thinking hip-hop to be. Given where we have been for the past 10 years though, maybe his popularity can be seen as antidotal, a required tonic for a generation that vaguely knows it is sick and is beginning to gravitate towards attitudes at odds with their own in hopes that they “rub off”.

Maybe our generation’s newfound appreciation of earnest sentiment is just a regression to senility. Maybe it is an opportunity to learn from our own mistakes and come out in the end better for it. Maybe it is nothing at all. I can only say that if Hip-hop and the music industry can find a place for Chance’s unadorned positivity, then maybe we don’t have to be so goddamn pithy all the time.

<Catchy and satisfying ending>

Or not. Fuck.


[1] This is totally a subconscious reference to something I saw Herman Edwards say on SportCenter the other day which got me thinking. He basically railed on the inappropriateness of giving out awards for effort, citing that rewards are essentially for winners and general pussification may occur if people are congratulated based on what they do rather than who-they-do-something-better-than. Yet, isn’t arduous, slog-up-a-fucking-hill-in-the-snow-for-no-reason effort pretty much the only truly American virtue? Isn’t that the reason why I need to hear people in Presidential debates talk about how relentlessly shitty their parent’s jobs were growing up? How by virtue of herculean mind-fuck near-migrant-worker-stereotype-but-not-quite-cause-we-don’t-like-them persistence they dragged themselves out of the disadvantage supplied by their own parents when they showed up on the east coast with only a handkerchief and a suitcase filled with sawdust to their name only to co-found the greatest sawdust mill the state of New Jersey had ever seen, etc. Also, why is the endurance of suffering espoused as a virtue in this country? Could it be that the people espousing the virtue are not the ones actually doing the suffering? Nah.

[2] It is tempting to smirk at music festivals often – people dress like fucking lunatics there.

[3] This is a real thing and is pretty much the only episode of Arthur that I remember. The other episode I remembered was actually an episode of “Doug” where Doug’s dad makes just a ton of kite puns.

[4] Can you be embarrassed if nobody knows what you are embarrassed about? The answer is yes. Yes so hard.