Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

On Message

In my post about Odd Future, I said that music today—”mainstream” music, pop, country, “urban,” etc.—was devoid of message; it goes without saying that I was referring to a “political” message.

The messages of today’s music, on the contrary, from Rihanna and Katy Perry to the Kings of Leon, Coldplay and the Arctic Monkeys, are entirely “personal” (in the impersonal sense of anything produced for mass consumption, not “personal”in the sense of “uniquely idiosyncratic” or “obscurely private” — and especially not “personal” in the political sense).

This was not always so. Indeed, there was a time when the mainstream had its “political” hits:  “99 Luftballons,” “London Calling,” and the incredibly incomparable, “We Are the World,” to name but a few. (If you haven’t seen the video for the latter song in a while, I urge you to check it out again. It has withstood the test of time and emerged, if possible, stranger. It’s particularly striking how the humanistic idealism of the song is drastically relativized by the fact that many of the people singing it are (or have become) millionaires, some in the “multi”-range. This fact makes the line, “We’re saving our own lives,” coming from certain lips, especially incongruous and even a little jarring.)

This complaint about popular music, however, does not mean that you can’t find tendentious and engaged music out there. It just means that, if you want music with a message, contemporary or vintage, you just have to look for it.

To take one example (albeit from 2001!), consider, “The Sickness,” recorded by the RZA (as “Bobby Digital”), with its impassioned (Nation of Gods and Earths) fundamentalist ethos (“Bless the seeds who praise the Most High without asking why”) and archaically militant refrain: “So praise the Lord/ and raise your sword/ against this wicked society/Society.” Read the rest of this entry »