Thursday, July 15, 2010

black men and verbal skills

Here's Ta-Nehisi Coates, from a thoughtful rambling, on what he won't do to get folks up to his humanity.
I decline all offers to petition motherfuckers for my humanity. I am too selfish and too uppity. I have no deep-seated need to justify and interpret the intelligence, cultural practices or predilections of black people to white people or other black people. In a similar vein, I should not expect to do the work of justifying Nas to you, anymore than I should expect you to do the work of justifying Coltrane to me. My ignorance is my burden.
Coates was explaining why he didn't feel obligated, as so many others have, to make strong cases for how hip hop, for instance, is legit art and all. Of course, not falling into the role of explaining and justifying is a tough job, especially for a black person in high profile venues. But Coates does often succeed.

Coates began by mentioning Raekwon's "beautiful, beautiful" Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, an album that Coates describes as one of his favorites. To demonstrate his affinity for the album, he quotes some of Raekwon's memorable lines.

It's really something to check out Coates's writings about what he finds "beautiful" about rap. There's this strong admiration he has for what we might refer to as "verbal skills," that is, the rhetorical and delivery styles of black male performers.

I've become more and more interested in what we talk and think about when we talk about rap and what interests us about it. By we, I'm referring to black men Coates' age and then too the younger guys I work with at the university. There's all kinds of things that come up when folks discuss rappers and raps they like: admiration, excitement, reverence, confusion, introspection.

I'm aware and understanding of those folks that pinpoint the limits of rap, the sexism of many rappers, the [insert some other black male problem here], [and here], and [ok, and here too]. But there's something else when it comes to these conversations that emerge about the verbal skills, the communicative dexterity of really talented lyricists that perhaps requires more of our attention.

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