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By Reece Jamison
This installment of Hot Traxx has turned into a rather pensive piece. I’d like to spend this time addressing a larger issue I find when listening to music in modernity: pettiness. The volume of modern-day music is built up by many artists that, instead of producing complete works of art with an intended purpose, have devolved into mastering a certain “feeling” or persona.
To better explain my point, I will discuss Vince Staples. I want to make it very clear that I myself am a fan of Staples, but his latest release FM! made me feel that I needed to address this issue in my own terms, since he is just another symptom. I wouldn’t take issue with Staples in particular if he didn’t proclaim himself as some sort of rap savior or prophet.
Staples exploded onto the hip-hop scene around 2013 with various scalding verses on tracks by Odd Future artists (“Hive,” “Elimination Chamber,” “epaR”) and the release of his mixtape Hell Can Wait (“Blue Suede”) in 2014, and he showed great promise that he would rise above the others as an artist of consequence.
Vince’s subsequent albums Summertime ‘06 (2015) and Big Fish Theory (2017) contained several tracks such as “Norf Norf,” “Lift Me Up,” and “Big Fish,” that are what the populace labels as “bangers,” but lack any sort of nuanced approach to substance.
Artists like Staples have perfected the hustle of the “persona,” peddling the tropes of the genre and providing nothing more than festival music. His latest endeavour, FM! (2018), is an exercise in excess. Staples presents an eleven track playlist of sorts, reflective of Drake’s More Life (2017).
However, rather than providing insightful social commentary regarding issues of race, gun violence, and poverty, Staples glamorizes them, maybe inadvertently, by glossing over them. Instead, he spits trivial bars about friends getting murdered in the street, general paranoia, and drug abuse over pop beats that privileged kids can dance to at Coachella.
Staples is but a symptom of the larger issue of pettiness, and he’s far from the worst abuser. Other artists, for example, are Action Bronson, Rick Ross, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Kid Rock, Imagine Dragons, Greta Van Fleet, Taylor Swift (shall I go on?), who have wrapped themselves inside a protective cocoon of “art” from which they annually pump out pop tracks that say absolutely nothing at all and are but revelries in fame and stereotypes.
I would say that most listeners are aware of this trend, but from conversations I have had with many, they either don’t care or haven’t figured it out.
Why I bring this up is so that I can leave you with a rumination on a macro thought being explored by many: the post-truth era. Music, in this instance, is a very evident embodiment of this theory, as that pettiness I was describing reveals a deeper truth about the world around us. Culturally, we now engage in the reality of the internet, whereby people can project a certain image of themselves that by nature excludes the many other aspects of their lives or persona.
These artists have figured out how to manipulate the thoughts and emotions of their listeners and taken it a step further by now living these fantasies that they have concocted. This idea is applicable to other aspects of life as well. Donald Trump (a long time Democrat and contributor to the Clinton campaign) ran as a Republican and won the highest office of the land.
Facebook pretends to be a harmless platform that exists so that families and friends can stay connected and share life’s most precious moments, only so the company can turn around and sell your information to the highest bidder. Many news sources/media outlets have become rumor mills with their overproduction of speculation and opinion, irrespective of research on the topic, desiring end results without judgement for the truth.
This has been a troubling topic for any who engage in thought about this dilemma, for it is far from a modern-day problem, as it has plagued humanity for decades. It is hard to condense such a topic in an opinions piece without sounding overzealous, but it does not detract from its importance. My hope is that in writing this piece, maybe I can shed light on the dialogue and encourage others to search for art and content that endeavours for the truth.
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