Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Ellington elegance sadly out of fashion

Samizdata's Quote of the Day comes from Mark Steyn, and it's a beauty:
Duke Ellington has more in common with Ravel than with Snoop Dogg. Scott Joplin would have regarded today's "black culture" as an oxymoron.

To eliminate a century and a half's tradition of beauty and grace from your identity isn't "keepin' it real"; it's keepin' millions of young black men and women unreal in ways the most malevolent bull-necked racist could never have devised.

Consider in your discussion a more local implication of Steyn's point: how Apirana Ngata, for example, might have regarded the "warrior culture" so prized by the Maoridom of today.

LINKS: Quote of the Day - Samizdata
Keepin' it real is real stupid - Mark Steyn

Music, Racism, Political Correctness


  1. Thanks, PC. So well written. When is Steyn not on the money?

    And to think he's Canadian. Wonders can happen.

  2. I responded at length PC, but over at my blog, seeing as I had rather a lot to say about both Steyn's article and what I surmise Sir Apirana Ngata might have thought.

    Find it all at


    (PS Still working on my final wrap-up for architectural debate. Email me at work in future, not hotmail because I never check it.)
    (PPS Despite all attempts at covertness, Nic Miller has now posted my IP address on his hate-blog, still has yet to find out who I am. Dang)

  3. That was an elegant snip there, Den. You missed this: "Duke Ellington has more in common with Ravel than with Snoop Dogg."

    That's true, isn't it? And I think put in those terms it rather spoils the thesis you were trying to build up.

    "Who is Steyn to surmise what Scott Joplin would have thought of today's black culture? Who is Steyn to suggest that a great amount of today's hip-hop culture tears down the black musical icons of yester-year, rather than building on their shoulders?"

    Wel, let me suggest that I have no doubt Ellington would have run with horror from the misanthropic nihilism of hip-hop un-culture.

    Or perhaps you can name some way in which hip-hop culture has somehow been "building on" the shoulders or Ellington et al?

  4. PC, first off, I don't think that 'snip' takes anything away from the argument. I was merely trying to shorten down the cast amount of quoting in my response.

    Don't make the mistake of equating hip-hop with gangster rap. From your musical meme I gather that you have extraordinarily little experience or knowledge of hip-hop - at a guess, limited to what you catch on the radio before you switch stations as swiftly as possible?

    'Gangster rap' is a relatively late development ib the history of hip-hop, originally localised to the West Coast of the US and spreading out as it gained popularity. Hip-hop was originally intended as something much more than 'bitches and hoes'. What a more mainstream and hysaterically publicised variety of it has become takes nothing away from what hip-hop is, and was.

    I have been a hip-hop fan since I was a sprog, amongst many other forms of music, and with seven years of DJing at Active in Wellington I was lucky enough to be continually exposed to a lot of fresh hip-hop, and to meet those involved in the scene both here and internationally.

    To call hip-hop 'un'culture 'misanthropic nihilism' is at once uninformed and arrogant. The kind of sneering smugness that immediately gets people's hackles raised.

    I am not going to get drawn into another lengthy argument over relative artistic merit of a genre that is hugely influential and widely loved, just because you arrogantly dismiss it, unless I thought you actually have anything of substance to offer - ie an understanding for the breadth of hip-hop culture and history outside of what you see on the news and avoid listening to.

    I doubt that you can offer that, so I don't know whether it's worth extolling the virtues of Mos Def, Spearhead, Talib Kweli, and many others who represent the real core of hip-hop - those that are actually 'keeping it real' and building on the shoulders of former black musical icons, in some cases collaborating with them.

    I fear the conclusion is foregone in your head. Or do you actually have a wider appreciation for hip-hop that you are simply not letting on?


  5. What is it with lefties? How often does it come back to how one defines 'culture'?

    Ah, but I forget my re-education. All 'cultures' are equal, aren't they.

  6. It's back to re-education camp for you sus!

    I think in his rush to dis Steyn denmt has missed one of the main points - that an expression of culture that claims cultural authenticity is expressed in the language of hatred, despair and self loathing is doomed to failure.

    And hence PC's question - does NZ have the same problem?

    I think it would be safe to say that we are importing some of the problems from the USA with youth identification with the music, message and life-style.

    However, more disturbing is the continual efforts of NZ's retardedly misguided left to embed a continual victim culture into Maori.

    One of the greatest successes of the well applied treaty settlements has been the growing self confidence of those tribes to manage their own affairs without government and hand wringing do-gooder intervention.

    Self reliance is the true mark of cultural success, not victimhood, and that is what Steyn was writing about, and lamenting that Black America does not appear to have the leadership to reshape the debate and re-envision their culture and society.

    Thankfully I think that amongst the various Iwi, Maori do have a sufficient calibre of leadership to move forward and progress the transition of their society and culture away from victimhood, and towards confident self reliance.

    Their biggest problem will be NZ's left who want them to remain 'reservation' Maori who need their help.

    In reality the Left need 'victims' to justify their bankrupt ideology. If they can't find them they will manufacturer them - always.

    My real hope for New Zealand is that Maori will refuse to accept that role and move forward as a culture and society.

  7. Remember also that 'mainstream' hip hop is that which has been deemed acceptable for the ears of the rest of American mainstream society (and, in the end, us as well). Unfortunately, this excludes most of the positive black role models.

    Compare the American model to the British, where hip-hop is more experimental, more challenging and far more credible.

    IMHO anyway :D.

    Sus, how about contributing to the debate instead of prodding the participants.

  8. I thought I did, Polemic .. I was keepin' it real brief! :)

    My point is that the word 'culture' is continually misused. Culture should be, by definition, beautiful and uplifting ... I see little of that in violence, anger and degradation.

    I used to travel through Harlem on a regular basis 20 yrs ago. Saw & put up with exactly the same type of young guy there as I did a couple of years earlier when I lived in west London.

    Only difference? Primarily black in New York; primarily Moslem (Pakistani mostly) in London. Virtually unemployable, poor communication skills, little or no respect for others (particularly women), massive chips on both shoulders and, more than anything else, a remarkably high sense of their own self-importance totally disproportionate to their self- worth. Woe betide anybody they suspected 'disrespect' them. It doesn't take long once they've left school to realise the limitations of their earnings, which fosters an envious loathing - and I use that description deliberately - of successful people who have the material things they would like to have.

    Put all these additives together and hey presto .. you've got a happy hunting ground for anybody who needs a large group of disenfranchised youth for their own ends. Collectivism is so damned convenient!

    I don't know where you and Den live, but Theodore Dalrymple is on Newstalk ZB next (I think) Tues morning, 10th. If you're not familiar with him, he's a retired Brit doctor now living in France. Very good essayist .. have a listen to his take on multiculturalism in Europe right now.

    I reckon he'll sound a lot like Steyn.


  9. Sus. I responded first to Steyn's conflation of mainstream ganster rap values with the entirety of 'black culture' - I think this is demeaning, arrogant, and demonstrative of an almost total lack of understanding of the history and progression of hip-hop music.

    Furthermore, I was amazed that PC and Steyn could both scoff smugly at hip-hop as a style of music: "music," says Steyn, "misanthropic nihilism" says PC of hip-hop culture. This demonstrated a total unwillingness to engage with what hip-hop actually is - it's NOT gangster rap, which was a relatively late development, gaining in popularity and dominating the mainstream not because of it's importance to 'black culture' but because of immense cross-over success with the whole of America. The gangster-rap ideal is driven by its massive commercial palatability.

    I find the fact that PC is always so swift to make pronouncements as to the true objective artistic content of things - in this case hip-hop - arrogant in the extreme. Especially given that I would wager a large number of chocolate fish that he knows nothing of it beyond what he has caught in snatches on the TV and radio. Happy indeed to be proved wrong on this.

    I am obviously a big fan of hip-hop. I find it hilarious that PC and Steyn both see 'hip-hop' as central to the 'holding back' of black culture. What is truly repressive, I guess, is the stereotypes perpetuated in mainstream gangster rap, which is supported by the genres massive commercial success and popularity.


  10. Den, I invited you to tell me any way that either hip hop or gangster rap have "built on" the achievements of Ellington, and you haven't. Because they haven't.

    Your problem, I suggest, is not that either myself or Steyn are making the particular judgements we're making, but that we're actually making judgements.

    You can do that, you know. It's not "arrogant" to make a judgement when the data are sufficient to make judgement possible, it's simple honesty. You're allowed to judge a culture, to judge artistic merit (or lack thereof), and to judge a person based on their behaviour -- in fact you do it yourself when you call us arrogant.

    Does that make you arrogant too?

    But back to the original question: how on earth does either hip hop or gangster rap build on the significant achievements of Duke Ellington? And what does that say for the "black culture" of today.

    [I'll post later about your response re "warrior culture."]

  11. "Den, I invited you to tell me any way that either hip hop or gangster rap have "built on" the achievements of Ellington, and you haven't. Because they haven't."

    I haven't as yet PC for two reasons. Firstly, because work constraints don't allow me to reply at length to you as and when I feel like it, and secondly, and most importantly, because the last time I locked horns with you it was quite time consuming, and while interesting, I don't think you are coming from a strong position of knowledge to justify a laborious discussion. In a nutshell, I don't consider it worth going into 'what hip-hop has become,' 'how it builds on a progression of black musical icons,' and so forth, unless you could demonstrate that my argument is falling on closed, deaf ears.

    As you say,"it's not "arrogant" to make a judgement when the data are sufficient to make judgement possible". Fair enough. It is my judgement that your grasp of what hip-hop actually constitutes is insufficient to have a worthwhile, time-consuming argument. I would be delighted to be proved wrong, but I fear I am right. It happens to be one of those things that I am pretty passionate about, listen to a lot, and read a vast amount on (currently reading a Swedish history of hip-hop, 'Mikrofonkåt').

    For you to summarily dismiss it as 'misanthropic nihilism' indicates that I'd be better off discussing hip-hop history with a bedpost.

    As I say, I'm happy to be proved wrong.


  12. Well, as promised, here's what this bedpost said about 'warrior values' last year, in the context of what we might loosely call South Auckland's 'hip hop culture': 'The Warrior Culture' of South Auckland'

    It's not poverty that created the underclass -- there was always money in Mangere -- it's a culture that celebrates sullen dependency and 'warrior values': swaggering mediocrity, aggressive non-achievement, and a brutal, futureless, range-of-the-moment, fit-in-at-all costs secondhandedness. In these state-built ghettoes it's not cool to stand out or to achieve; survival comes instead by keeping your head down, fitting in and making big friends -- by being a follower, and not a leader. And leaders, when they do emerge, don't challenge the status quo -- they reinforce it...

    I've written somewhere else about the difference between a warrior culture anda trader culture, but this bedpost wonders if it's worth tracking that down.

  13. Very nice, PC, but again you cunningly elude any discussion of the 'hip-hop' argument - you were initially so swift to deride it as having any musical or cultural value .

    It seems that now the argument has switched to a discussion on 'warrior culture' in South Auckland, which I see as entirely distinct from the 'warrior culture' prized by Maori which is entirely distinct from the gang culture you are discussing - the distinction is like that between real hip-hop and gangster rap.

    If you aren't willing to engage on the terms of the original premise, that hip-hop according to Steyn has "...eliminate[d] a century and a half's tradition of beauty and grace" then just say so!


  14. I clearly don't make sentences so good this morning, on rereading above post. The sense should be clear though.


  15. Den, I don't know why you're making a minor career out of being aggrieved. Your original criticism amounted to little more than outrage that rap, hip hop and black culture had been criticised - and your outrage continues here. But we are allowed to criticise, as I see you've recently acknowledged, so maybe drop the outrage, huh?

    Meanwhile, you invited me to define what I meant by "warrior culture," so as I promised earlier I posted what I've said before on the topic to meet that request.

    As for your question, to which I note you've still "cunningly eluded," I asked you who is arguing for the beauties of hip hop to tell us in what way hip hop has built on the achievements of Duke Ellington. I confess I'd be genuinely interested to know: I'm thoroughly familiar with Ellington, possibly the twentieth-century's greatest composer, and much less so of hip hop, so if there are elements of "musical or cultural value" in hip hop as you say there is (and at anything approaching the musical and cultural value of Ellington) then just come out and tell us.

    Frankly, I see none at all, but I'm more than willing to concede you know more than I. So here's your opportunity to tell us. Go ahead.

    But I have to point out that any argument on that score is only peripheral to the main point of that quote: that that present-day "black culture" [of which hip hop "culture" is just one part] has "...eliminate[d] a century and a half's tradition of beauty and grace." Where on earth is the value in that?

    I don't think you've yet addressed that basic point.

  16. DenMT said...
    [Don't make the mistake of equating hip-hop with gangster rap. From your musical meme I gather that you have extraordinarily little experience or knowledge of hip-hop - at a guess, limited to what you catch on the radio before you switch stations as swiftly as possible?]

    Den, may be you can persuade PC to listen more often to hip-hop & funky music. Everytime I tried to request him to play my Michael Jackson CDs, he objected saying that this sort of music (hip-hop & funky) category is not music at all in his definition.

    Its time that PC should learn to enjoy some real modern hip-hop funky music.


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