Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Among the most egregious offenses in the Sun-Times review of This Is Modern Art is the subtle racism of referring to playwright Idris Goodwin solely as a “hip-hop artist.” Goodwin has been a playwright in this city for at least as long as I have and possibly longer. I first remember seeing his name and work in Chicago around the time I began to wade into the waters myself.
Weiss knows exactly what she’s doing here–she’s simultaneously dismissing Goodwin’s experience as a writer for the stage and she’s also sending up a warning flare that there might be hip-hop in the genetic code of the play. But she doesn’t mean “hip-hop” here. She means “urban,” she means “street,” she quite possibly means “thug,” she almost definitely means “noise that I wouldn’t call music.” She means “stories white people don’t need to like, care about, or even validate as Art.”
When I used to listen more frequently to pop radio, I recall hearing two versions of the songs “Fly” by Sugar Ray and “No Scrubs” by TLC. Some radio stations played the original cuts, and others played a version that cut out Super Cat’s interstitial reggae stylings and Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes’ entire rap breakdown.
In other words: They cut out the parts of the song that sounded the blackest. Even if they were just trying to get the time of the song down to the golden three-minute mark, it says a lot about what part of the song they considered most expendable.
What I know about rap and hip-hop is that it’s a skill like opera is a skill and just like not everybody can hit those notes, not everybody has the ability to find flow in language in the way the best rappers do, to come up with metaphor in rhythm time and again, to hear percussion as more than something happening in the background. Watching a truly gifted rapper freestyle lightning-quick rhymes off the top of his or her head for minutes in a row is one of the most impressive displays of artistry you can find yourself privileged to witness.
It’s distressing that one of the two major theater critics in our increasingly diverse theater city has been granted a certain invincibility behind which she regularly lobs half-considered-at-best ideas about race, class, and religion. It’s unconscionable that when minority teens are given a voice of any kind to protest the broken systems in their society, Ms. Weiss considers their protests “sanctimonious and destructive.”
You’re allowed to dislike a work of art. But you have to have the honesty and openness to consider it art even if you don’t like what the art is saying.