It's ridiculous that anyone would read the New York Times for music coverage. Still the sad truth is that staff critic Jon Caramanica wields serious influence over the commercial hip-hop landscape, his master narratives weaving mittens for inept writers everywhere to handle trend rappers. So with another Grammy gala toasting mediocrity upon us, I thought it was a fitting time to eviscerate his write-up of last week's Stretch and Bob reunion show.
In this latest attempt to canonize the trite likes of Lil Wayne, here Caramanica further proves that, along with MTV's Sway and other nefarious co-conspirators, he lives to design new clothes for the emperor. And he doesn't just applaud garbage – the king of shock-and-awe hyperbole slings the silliest superlatives imaginable. In his review of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Caramanica went so far as to write that Kanye is "as good [a rapper] as anyone he’s previously blatantly idolized or emulated."
It could seem that Caramanica doesn't know better (which is the case with most critics who attempt to write about hip-hop). But he does know better; for publications ranging from the Village Voice to Vibe, Caramanica has covered every sub-movement and fringe phenomenon to jolt the genre for more than a decade. So what's his problem? At this juncture my best guess is that he's invested so much time inflating lousy artists that he has to hyper-actively defend them.
The Stretch & Bob review is an especially tough read, as Caramanica goes to sick lengths explaining the mad rapper phenomenon to Times readers: hip-hop, in his alleged view, is like the NBA, and, with some exceptions who land in jail or rehab, the hardest working and most talented cats naturally emerge on top. To this point he belches: "plenty of the most famous rappers — Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and others — are also the most technically accomplished, upending the underground’s superiority complex."
In his trademark self-important way, Caramanica does throw the underground a bone, declaring an impending comeback on the backs of Das Racist and Odd Future. And that's where his logic really slips – refreshing as both of those acts are, there's never been a lack of artists punching at the ceiling, bucking status quo conventions and giving mainstream music writers big pandering boners. From Blu, P.O.S. and Homeboy Sandman to the harder likes of Isaiah Toothtaker and Reks, there's an infinite crop of MCs who make the technically accomplished Rick Ross sound like Rappin' Rodney.
I disagree with most of Caramanica's criticism, but this evaluation is extra irresponsible considering the context. In seeing Rock, Buckshot, Masta Ace, and other masters tear a stage down, he determined that underdogs are just disgruntled failures. Not me; when I listen to those old KCR clips, I'm reminded of how Stretch and Bob taught me long ago that for every low-skill payola hack who dominates commercial airwaves, there are countless indie MCs who deserve praise and attention. If only they'd get more of it from the newspaper of record.