White Privilege and the Adolescent Power Fantasy
I just recently watched The Defiant Ones, it’s a documentary about Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine — and by extension — it’s a story about music production, artistic expression, and the journey that rap has taken since the late 80s. It caused me to go back and listen to 2001 and really analyze the music and the lyrics. For me, that was the album that really put rap and hip-hop in the mainstream. Especially considering the Slim Shady LP came out the year before. I had no idea that Dre/Interscope/Aftermath took such a massive risk betting on a quirky white guy with blue eyes. It’s interesting that such a large portion of 2001 influenced my paradigm and perspective on the world. There’s something about southern California gangsta cultural morae, and the rap music that came from that area in the time and space is an infectious mental shift. The lyrics are so rough and abrasive, yet the music is soothing and melodic, even tribal in instances. It can inform and influences the way one looks at the world. From fashion to attitude, and social issues as well.
Given the fact that black people only make up 13% of the population, cultural appropriation (or, social gentrification?), and the adolescent power fantasy all collide in the same manner which fostered white acceptance of blues and jazz as respectable musical art forms, those notions resonate as a strange symbiotic whole… From a white male perspective we expend the same ambivalent energy that perpetuates disparate impact as the energy that drives subtle change — that is — those of us who aren’t overtly racist are the ones that encourage the primeval interpretation of masculinity. Being able to enter a mental space where emotionally connecting with an aggressive struggle does not immediately or directly impact class, status, and societal bias. I’d say that’s white privilege. Portions of the documentary spoke directly to this; one instance stands out, where Dre’s mother was talking about how she asked her son why he felt the need to use the lyrics that he did, and his response was something to the effect of, ‘mom, if I don’t rap like this, they won’t listen to me.’ Dre was right, it’s the hyper-masculine archetype that feeds the adolescent power fantasy. So even if there is a disconnect from the socio-economical tension and stress that birthed the music, the shock factor and the self-empowerment that is espoused through the lyrics and the music are ultimately why those types of albums sell to a bunch of white suburban kids. The intimate nature of how this type of music addresses oppression is an appeal the same as when people gawk at a horrific traffic accident.
But, listening to 2001 again for the first time in years, the true genius of Dre is how it holds both the attitude of The Chronic, and the wisdom and maturity of the decade that it took to get there. Several lines in the lyrics across multiple songs talk about being a family man and moving out of the hood, obviously, the opening track “The Watcher” establishes that the listener can prepare for less-juvenile content, while still maintaining the edge that is expected;
“I moved out of the hood for good, you blame me?
Niggas aim mainly at niggas they can’t be.
But niggas can’t hit niggas they can’t see.
I’m out of sight, now I’m out of they dang reach.
How would you feel if niggas wanted you killed?
You’d probably move to a new house on a new hill.
And choose a new spot if niggas wanted you shot,
I ain’t a thug, how much Tupac in you, you got
I ain’t no bitch neither.
It’s either my life or your life,
And I ain’t leaving, I like breathing.”
Interestingly enough, I listen to those words, in particular, with a different ear now. Granted, 90%+ of the album is all about profane hyper-masculinity, and the concept of gangsta, but moreso than just capitalizing on the subject matter, the album is also an exploration of the idea itself. It’s difficult to be a loving and faithful husband and father and still be out running around like a self-dejected egomaniac trying to ensure his genetic material makes it to the next generation, even if the vessel spilling its seed does not. The juxtaposition works on a commercial level because it appeals to both sensibilities without being overtly preachy.
We still haven’t gotten Detox, but I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the work that was done for that album ended up being used on Snoop’s solo work. While 2001 features some amazing keyboard work, Tha Blue Carpet Treatment is a true testament of how impressive of a pianist Dre is, something that he isn’t really known for, or at least talked about as. While most producers are satisfied with sampling records, Dre is concerned with replicating the feeling of those classic tracks by using real instrumentation. Whether that is the sign of a frustrated musician, or the business sense to know that he’s either creating it himself, or paying a black musician who is doing honest work rather than royalties for something that some old white shareholder will probably reap the benefits of — it’s neither here nor there though. The style and swagger of the music speaks for itself. The advantage is obvious in the clarity that using real instrumentation instead of sampling brings to the table.
Still blows my mind that the decision was made to put Akon on Tha Blue Carpet Treatment for the song “Boss’ Life”. The single version featuring Nate Dogg is far superior, especially considering it carries and features such a clean piano line through the entire song. It took 6 years from 2001 to Tha Blue Carpet Treatment, 6 years before “Imagine” made to the end of that album. The song “Imagine” is very reminiscent of “The Message”.
Could the world handle a concert where Dr. Dre sat behind a piano for 90 minutes?
I’m sure I could go on and on… Really this was just a test to see how Medium works. Maybe I’ll come back to this piece and expand it a bit more when I have some time.