I gripe too much about hip-hop journalism

. . . because although he deserves some of his detractors, you’ve got to concede that Sasha Frere-Jones  is a good journalist.*  He is plain-spokenly erudite: the guy isn’t a dick about how much he knows.  His writing has the style of all good teaching, because he clearly likes what he’s talking about and wants you to like it, too.  Jones is an amateur in the original sense.*  His latest piece in The New Yorker is both a mini-history of rap and a compact survey of contemporary stylistic trends and lyrical tendencies, as well as good recent albums, including the mixtapes of Freddie Gibbs (who da truth).   The thing I like most about Jones is that he pays attention to form; mainly to musical form–as a musician, that’s the perspective he works from–but with a good sense of why lyrics matter and should be interesting.  Given the entwined histories of poetry and music, Jones would make a good literary journalist, too.*


* TGR knows almost nothing about music journalism and is the kind of person who gets his music tips from The New Yorker and smart friends.

* There will always be a need for generalist critics, i.e. specialists who can transmit their knowledge to an audience of intelligent laypeople (see Wood, James).  This is particularly important vis-a-vis music culture/criticism, which tends to fracture into little islands of pompous cognoscenti, and thus needs critics who aren’t, well, pompous when talking to people who know less about music than they.

* One can admire a critic’s general toolkit, so to speak, without admiring or accepting ALL of his/her specific ideas and positions.  For instance, S F-J is wrong about Kid Cudi being abrasive, and he likes Grizzly Bear a whole lot more than I do.  Nonetheless, I acknowledge that the way(s) he lays out his opinions is/are graceful.


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