Stop Calling It “Guilty Pleasure” Music
“To round this up, do you have any favorite artists that you know are just completely ignorant trash but you love it still?”
This is the final question asked by Anderson. Paak to Little Simz. The two were brought together by i-D vice for a casual, candid conversation.
It’s a fitting pair, two artists making waves that are slowly becoming big enough to submerge the music industry. The exchange is a good read, both speaking on their upbringing, favorite MCs, songwriting methods, and their views on the relationship between drugs and music. It was this final question that sat with me long after I finished though, like an aftertaste that leaves you a bit nauseated.
I knew the kind of music Paak was referring to, but can you really love something that is complete trash? The way he phrased the question left me with a familiar feeling, one that often comes up when songs are labeled as guilty pleasures. Why would you feel guilty about something you enjoy? It’s not like you’re having sex with your best friend’s mom or cheating or stealing from a department store, those are pleasures you should feel guilty about. Shouldn’t we be able to express our endearment for a certain kind of music and artist without having to defend why?
Growing up in Atlanta, a city that gave the world Lil Jon, Ying Yang Twins and Dem Franchize Boyz, I would hear it all the time — I’ve said it myself. Maybe that’s why it leaves such a bad taste, it’s like looking in the mirror at your younger, naive self.
I really thought I knew music, that I had a grasp on what was good and what wasn’t. I hung around people that thought the same. All we talked about was music. There was always some snarky, intellectual defending their love of Gucci Mane. For all the love he received, I also was well acquainted with his haters. They didn’t hate him, they still played him, but it was always with snide commentary. They made it seem as if the music was beneath them, justifying their enjoyment due to the banging beat or catchy hook.
Atlanta had a lot of hit makers that weren’t considered lyricists: D4L, Crime Mob, Young L.A, Jay Money, Big Kuntry King, the list is never-ending. Soulja Boy got it the worst. I’ve heard his name get dragged through the mud since MySpace. Trash, dumpster juice, recycle bin ready, he really is a terrible rapper, but I heard it all by the same people that downloaded his ringtones and danced to his songs in the clubs. Even if we secretly enjoyed “Crank Dat,” the way we would respond to their music always came off as insecure and pompous, worried that our image could be tainted by liking a song. We were high school students, it was in our DNA to be insecure and pompous. In some ways, we still are.
I grew out of that mentality, it took a while just to enjoy music for what it was. Instead of being one dimensional, being more open-minded changed my perception. I don’t like everything, but I stopped worrying about what music I was supposed to like. There’s this misconception that ignorant music is for the ignorant. That you are dumber for liking artists like Young Thug, Migos or Fetty Wap, music perceived to lack intellectual value. Is it so hard to believe that even the brainiest of scholars can enjoy turning up?
I’m certain there’s a valedictorian that downloaded Purple Reign the day of its release, a lawyer who passed the bar and dabbed to 2 Chainz’s “Watch Out” in celebration, a doctor that fills up Xanax prescriptions while humming Travis $cott’s “Antidote,” and they aren’t lesser for it. Maturing showed me how much you miss out on worrying about what someone else thinks. Especially when it comes to something that you enjoy. That goes for those that try and force their likes on you. I hate when you can tell someone is trying extra hard to convince you that an artist is good, or a song is great. They add a layer of context that’s unnecessary, by the end you aren’t certain who they’re trying to convince — you or themselves.
I’ve played some Rae Sremmurd that has lifted my spirits during some very dismal nights. They aren’t rapping lyrical miracles that will take you back to the golden era but they’re fun, and sometimes you just need to hear “Drinks On Us” to get you through a tough week. Music is about mood, feeling, entertainment and enjoyment. It’s not a math equation, it’s not complicated, it’s not about right or wrong — you aren’t married to a certain sound or taste. Boom-bap can coexist with the trap, the catchy can live with the complex — you can have the intelligence and the ignorance. Play Gucci Mane and Kendrick, Future and Nas, J. Cole and Travis $cott, you don’t have to champion or trash one over the other.
I’m learning, growing, and expanding my tastes everyday. Not only getting a better understanding what I look for in an artist, but being open enough to listen to those that didn’t leave the best impression. There was a time where every bone in my body told me that Future was absolutely terrible. I hated his mush mouth, I would scream to the high heavens that he was an abomination sent to make me suffer one radio hit at a time. Even when I found songs that I liked, I wouldn’t fully embrace them. He didn’t fall under my definition of “good” music and I thought I had good taste.
One day, I came across this song on SoundCloud called “Codeine Crazy.” I played it again and again in disbelief that this was the same Future that I spent years tearing to pieces. It’s not just Future, when I first heard Chance The Rapper’s “Juice” I thought his animated, high-pitched voice sounded like a box of kittens being drowned. I hated it but I couldn’t pull myself away. There was this strange charm about the way he rapped, now I can’t get enough of the kid. Imagine all the music I would’ve missed if I closed my ears to them both? Maybe that’s why I haven’t given up on Lil Wayne.
Anderson’s question wasn’t meant to be offensive, he’s clearly an intelligent artist with a vast knowledge of all kinds of music. He is someone I suspect listens to everything. It was the way he phrased his question, a way people have been asking that very question for years. Plus, the music he makes, you don’t expect him to like Madeintyo. I’m actually surprised that he even knows who that is, a fairly unknown artist who will undoubtedly blow way up after Travis $cott releases the studio version of his “Uber Everywhere Remix.” If you listen to Little Simz, you don’t expect her to enjoy Gucci Mane, but she does.
We assume that artists enjoy kindred spirits, that they listen and draw inspiration from those that mirror their styles. That’s not always the case. Tyler The Creator loves Waka Flocka & 1017/Bricksquad, Q-Tip publicly shared his admiration for the Migos, Kanye adores Young Thug so much he wants to do an album with him. I believe artists are open to other artists. Like anyone else they gravitate toward music they enjoy. Love what you love, if it’s trash treat it like gold, no amount of judgement should make you feel guilty about what songs bring you pleasure.
Now go play that song you’re embarrassed by at ear shattering levels and stay away from your best friend’s hot mom.
Originally published at www.djbooth.net on January 26, 2016.