To The Pitchfork

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You may recall a post regarding an article on music website  Pitchfork (above) in relation to Ireland’s rap scene and, specifically, how the children of African migrants and asylum seekers in Ireland have ‘legitimatised’ the scene.

Further to this…

Derek Hopper writes:

Love it or loathe it – and as many people loathe it as love it – Pitchfork is the millennial generation’s MTV. The hipster’s bible of all things musical, it reaches millions of fans every month and is so influential that its rating system has even been the subject of an hilarious hatchet-job by those masters of satire The Onion (“Pitchfork gives music 6.8”).

That’s why it was so troubling for me to read their article about up-and-coming Dublin hip-hop acts who just so happen to comprise young black men.

The headline read “Meet the African Immigrants Who Are Legitimizing Ireland’s Hip-Hop Scene”.

Legitimizing Ireland’s hip-hop scene.

Not “contributing to” or “improving”, both of which would have been fine and probably true. No, apparently they’re “legitimizing” it.

That’s the first problem. How exactly are Irish people of Nigerian (i.e. a country in Africa some five thousand miles from The Bronx) parentage “legitimizing” the Irish hip-hop scene?

Hip-hop’s exact origins are the subject of some debate but everyone accepts that it is an American art form, just like jazz or the blues. And the vast majority will agree that it has been predominantly an African- American music. Not African. Not black. But African-American.

Pitchfork’s article was no doubt well-intentioned, but it betrays a troubling ignorance of black America in its failure to distinguish between black people in the United States and black people in Africa and elsewhere.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time someone has conflated “African-American” with “African”. The legendary drummer Art Blakey and many other jazz musicians had to regularly contend with this blunder too, when white critics sought an absurd and patronising link between jazz and the “natural rhythm” of the dark continent’s noble savages.

Blakey stated, “No America, no jazz. I’ve seen people try to connect it to other countries, for instance to Africa, but it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Africa”. Sorry Pitchfork and sorry Dublin rappers, but it’s the same thing with hip- hop.

What is it that makes hip-hop “legitimate”?

If it’s poverty then these guys are in the wrong place, because they left actual hardship back in Nigeria. Many will acknowledge that much of modern hip-hop is founded upon a sense of victimhood.

If your mom was a crack-whore and your dad abandoned you as a toddler and your brother was shot by a racist cop and you grew up in the Baltimore projects it means you’re genuine. You’re street.

But Ireland has a humane welfare state. The cops don’t shoot black people. Lame, I know, but cops in Ireland don’t even carry guns. When you’re poor in Ireland you get free healthcare and free education.

So where’s the edge going to come from if you want to be the Irish Kendrick Lamar? You don’t sell records rapping about the injustice of water charges.

The article goes on to talk about “entrenched racism” in Ireland and in the same breath mentions the country’s skyrocketing Nigerian population.

As a white man I’m not going to say black people in Ireland don’t experience racism from time to time, but don’t insult my intelligence and the reputation of the Irish people by suggesting that Africans are immigrating to a country that treats them like garbage. That’s not how humans operate.

Forgive me also for finding rather dramatic Dah Jevu’s burning of a KKK-style mask, which they say is symbolic of their rejection of Irish racism.

The average joe in the street may be forgiven for thinking the Klan were simply a bunch of assorted white racists who took pleasure in lynching black folk, but hip-hop heads can’t be given carte blanche, especially when they’re putting the KKK and Ireland in the same postcode.

If they want to spit political venom they have a responsibility to read their history books, and if they did that they’d quickly learn that the Klan were no friends of the Catholic Irish. History is rarely as black and white as the narrative in people’s heads.

It seems that Pitchfork wants to define hip-hop not as a uniquely African-American music and an art-form born of the black experience in the United States, but as something centred on the melanin content of a person’s skin.

Hip-hop’s origins are in 1970s New York, yet many of the “New Irish” – whose roots are in African countries like Nigeria and Zimbabwe – are being viewed as bona fide producers of hip-hop music because they happen to look like black people in America.

This is ridiculous. It is also racist: it posits the existence of a single, global “black people” of uniform experience while totally ignoring the specifically African-American reasons for hip-hop’s efflorescence at a particular time and place.

This new generation of Irish hip-hop acts may be black, and they may be talented, but the truth is they have no more legitimacy than the white Irish rappers who came before them.

Previously: Decent Irish Rappers

From the Outside In: Meet the African Immigrants Who Are Legitimizing Ireland’s Hip-Hop Scene (Dean Van Nguyen, Pitchfork)

72 thoughts on “To The Pitchfork

  1. MoyestWithExcitement

    This whole post feels like it could be summed up as ”I’m not racist, YOU’RE racist.”

    1. ahjayzis

      Explain? What do you disagree with in what he’s written?

      You’re really, really comfortable labelling people as racist. Like, really.

    2. Clampers Outside!

      No it doesn’t. And it’s a fair point he makes… if a bit whiny :)

      But until Irish rap can pull itself out of the maudlin victimhood rap, with sparse beats and a haunting vocal loop along the lines of… “Comin’ from the northsoide, with a needle in me soide, its a homeless genocoide…. *cue Enya style vocal and uber minimal beats* ” ….and repeat.
      Until the scene moves on from that crappolla it’ll go nowhere.

      London came up with it’s own variant… Grime… where’s Dublin’s at? Too early to tell… me thinks.

      1. MoyestWithExcitement

        As a white man I’m not going to say black people in Ireland don’t experience racism from time to time, but don’t insult my intelligence and the reputation of the Irish people by suggesting that Africans are immigrating to a country that treats them like garbage.

        That’s him getting offended by someone talking about the existence of racism in Ireland. “I’m not racist”.

        “Hip-hop’s origins are in 1970s New York, yet many of the “New Irish” – whose roots are in African countries like Nigeria and Zimbabwe – are being viewed as bona fide producers of hip-hop music because they happen to look like black people in America.

        This is ridiculous. It is also racist:”

        And that’s him, *literally* saying “YOU’RE racist.”

        1. rotide

          If only your zeal in proving people wrong on the internet was matched by your ability to reply to the correct post.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Do you have anything better to do with your life than follow me around and ruin interesting conversations with your trolling?

        2. ahjayzis

          It is pretty racist though. Not in like a burning cross way, purposefully bad way, just lumping everyone within a spectrum of skin colour into one box, ignoring the fact they’re in no way actually similar.

          It’s like saying since Koreans came over our Chinese takeaways are more authentic.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            “It is pretty racist though. Not in like a burning cross way, purposefully bad way, just lumping everyone within a spectrum of skin colour into one box, ignoring the fact they’re in no way actually similar.”

            I agree but I guess then the conversation is how should we feel about that. People put things in boxes. You understand most stuff by associating it with something else. Complaining that folks will think Pandas are found in Japan is like complaining about the weather, to be honest. Western pop culture presents an image of cool black people and nerdy white people. “White men can’t jump…or dance”….or whatever it was called. Irish people are even less associated with an image of “cool” so it’s not entirely surprising that a yank will think Irish people’s attempt at culturally black music will be much improved with the influx of actually black people.

        3. Painkiller

          Racist imbecile. How do you spell onomatopoeia? Your views gush like heavy heavy ass gravy.

  2. classter

    ‘Pitchfork is the millennial generation’s MTV’

    I enjoyed the article but Pitchfork is nowhere near as MTV was way back when. No single outlet is.

    1. rory

      They’re both poo.

      Derek Hopper cares about a poo article from a poo website. He wants to steer the people who can’t discern said poo in the right direction, through logic and a little bit of subtextual racism.
      His words are just as good as anybody else’s.

      MTV was superficial.
      https://youtu.be/31nJGUJhitg

    1. ahjayzis

      You’re kind of falling for the same thing. Wrong black people.

      It’s like throwing a samurai themed sushi and origami party for your Korean friend.
      “But they look similar!”

      1. irishstu

        “Thanks for the intricately folded invite, but your ignorant racism has brought shame to your ancestors, and I must decline”

      2. Mani

        Nigerian music has long been steeped in spoken word music (Fela Kuti for example) so has more legitimacy than a few lads who were inspired by the white trash messiah Eminem.

        1. rotide

          A lot of cultures around the world have a tradition in spoken word set to music but they didn’t invent hip hop. Black Americans did.

          1. Anne

            “The roots of rapping are found in African-American music and ultimately African music, particularly that of the griots of West African culture.[37] The African-American traditions of signifyin’, the dozens, and jazz poetry all influence hip hop music, as well as the call and response patterns of African and African-American religious ceremonies. Soul singer James Brown, and musical ‘comedy’ acts such as Rudy Ray Moore and Blowfly are often considered “godfathers” of hip hop music.”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_hop_music

          2. rotide

            I’m not saying that african music (and carribean and jazz etc) didn’t influence hip hop, but when we think about the prgenitors of hip hop we think about late 70’s new york, not 1700’s Ghana. Hip Hop was ‘invented’ by black americans, surely this fact cannot be in doubt.

            From the article you linked:
            Hip hop as music and culture formed during the 1970s when block parties became increasingly popular in New York City, particularly among African American youth residing in the Bronx.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_hop_music#Origins

            Why are we even having this conversation?

          3. Anne

            “Why are we even having this conversation?”

            I don’t know.. I haven’t read the article yet. … but yeah, we’re in agreement, shock horror… it was influenced by African music.

        2. ahjayzis

          Sean Nos anyone? Also our first language being English kind of makes us culturally closer to African Americans than many people from Zimbabwe, no?

          It still comes back to conflating skin colour with culture. It’s not even ethnicity, there’s thousands of ethnicities in Africa, it’s a colonial wet dream to think “black” = one thing.

          1. MoyestWithExcitement

            Ahjayzis, and I’m going somewhere with this, do you think it’s important for black people to see black people on American tv?

          2. ahjayzis

            “do you think it’s important for black people to see black people on American tv?”

            I totally get that. In the same way it was important for me personally to surreptitiously catch Queer as Folk on TV when I was like 12. It’s important to see people even tangentially like yourself represented. And I can totally grasp why a black kid in white Ireland would identify with hip-hop and other African American tribes.

            But that doesn’t make them interchangeable with African Americans. Same way a D4 airhead swanning around Dundrum isn’t actually a Valley Girl and I’m not Brian Kinney (drat!)

          3. MoyestWithExcitement

            “But that doesn’t make them interchangeable with African Americans.”

            When it comes to black music, maybe it does. There’s the Black Entertainment Network in America and the Music of Black Origin Awards in the UK. They’re comfortable enough with the term black, evidently. No matter, what this guy has done is taken issue with the word ‘legitimizing’. So we’re talking about perception as opposed to the actual mechanics of hip hop music. It’s black music. It’s not really the place of a white guy to tell black folks that they should call their culture African American and not black as he does in the piece. So, yes, a journalist thinking Irish hip hop will be decent because black people are involved is to be expected and it’s not really that racist. I mean, your opinion of Queer as Folk might be different if everyone who wrote it was straight.

  3. Jim

    That pitchfork article is just stupid. Almost *almost* as stupid as the comments sections of most posts on Broadsheet.

    Every point Derek Hopper makes is cogent – I just fear the people who read pitchfork won’t look anywhere beyond the words on the screen to realise what a load of tripe the article is. The use of the word “legitimising” and “entrenched rascism” is just laughable – especially coming from a publication that calls America it’s home. Ice Cube called it AmeriKKKa and for a good reason.

  4. Spaghetti Hoop

    But ALL successful music genres have had a journey outwards from their original heartlands to musicians who merge, mix and develop it into something further. Surely that’s the case here also? Music travels. It is also too fluid an art to be confined to one nationality or race. Look at Dub Reggae for example. This rant is unfounded in a music context…the author is attributing hip-hop only to African-Americans as originators. How narrow-minded.

    1. rotide

      It’s not narrow – minded, it’s factual. Hip Hop did originate from Black American* sources, regardless of where it travelled to after that.

      *in the context of this post, the term African American apart from being clumsy is confusing.

    2. Nice Jung Man

      I agree

      It’s a bit like saying that black guys can’t play country yet as everyone knows Darius Rucker wrote “Wagon Wheel” after an initial attempt at the song by Bob Dylan, neither of those guys are particularly Texan.

  5. classter

    Derek Hopper is going to explain to African people how they should feel about the Irish welfare state & about racism.

    He is also going to pretend that there is no special link or connections between black Africans & black African-Americans. He is going to ignore the importance of black people outside of the US – in the West Indies, France, UK, etc. – to the development of hip hop.

    Writing about race takes a delicate touch, Broadsheet, & this Hopper character doesn’t have it. A quick google throws up a few more clumsy (at best) efforts on his behalf. You are playing a delicate game publishing this guy in the hope of encouraging a few clicks,

    1. Stumpy

      A coherent, reasonable contribution on a broadsheet thread? Witchcraft! Get behind me, Satan!

  6. Polaroid Fluid

    I think the article wants to say that current white Irish rap is drivel, which it is, that’s why it goes absolutely nowhere other than Anto from da nortside pretend ghetto or worse some nonsese about the troubles, instead these lads focus on the FUNK and VIBE and SEXY, things so far unheard from the mama’s boys white Irish camp. Deal with it lads, you’re just not good at it.

  7. LW

    I think this is drivel. I know the square root of shag all about hip hop, Irish or otherwise, but Hopper reducing the occurrences of racism to “time to time” smells wrong to me. I think racism is alive and well, and unquestioned in many settings in Irish life. I think this both from what I’ve seen, and from things like the report mentioned in the link below. It takes more than not having cops shooting black people to not be racist.

    Also raiméis of the highest order is the bit where he drags Irish catholics into the KKK thing. Certainly the KKK was originally against catholicism, but the protest was against Irish racism, I don’t think he’s suggesting that a branch of the KKK true to its founding values has been set up in Ireland.

    http://www.rte.ie/news/2015/1119/743671-racism-in-ireland/

  8. rory

    Here’s that Onion article he was talking about.
    http://www.theonion.com/article/pitchfork-gives-music-68-2278
    All the way from 2007. I’m guessing it must be famous. I wonder how pitchfork staff responded to it.

    I’m guessing the content of the pitchfork website hasn’t changed, so I’m guessing they must have ignored/’rationalised’ the criticism in some fashion. The same way hipsters rationalise their own identity perhaps.

      1. ahjayzis

        I think in this day and age a man and a woman in poverty are probably prone to about the same levels of suffering.

        Women, or men, with children maybe?

        The whole epidemic of men killing themselves due to poverty and all.

        1. Nigel

          I suspect there might be slightly more and slightly nastier predators circling round vulnerable women than around vulnerable men.

  9. Quint

    They also wrote about the sectarian violence in ‘Ireland’. I don’t remember bombings and shootings in Galway and Cork and Dublin in the 70s and 80s. I wish foreign journalists clarified that the troubles were mostly confined to the bit up north that’s part of the U.K.

    1. classter

      Stuff happening ‘up North’ is still happening on the island of Ireland, however useful it is to draw the line at the border & pretend that none of that was supported or funded down South.

  10. Declan

    I haven’t a clue about Irish rap but I it’s a bug bear of mine when people sell the idea of they’re all the same. It’s frankly lazy and an easy way for someone to tell a story which they’ve already prepared. They just need to create “facts” to support it.

    Similarly for Irish history. The idea that we were all holy Roman Catholics, godless Protestants and nothing else is another cheap stereotype. Have a read of Michael D’s speech from yesterday. It’s as thoughtful as you’d expect from him and it tells us it’s not as clear as the story which we (or whoever is telling it) want it to be

    http://www.president.ie/en/media-library/speeches/speech-at-a-state-event-for-relatives-of-those-who-participated-in-the-east#.VvhtH91R-Sw.twitter

  11. Bill Lehane

    While not at all well written, I think the Pitchfork article makes a valid point. The original poster is right to say it shouldn’t be about skin colour but that isn’t the only thing that defines rap. Young Africans who first face hardship in Nigeria and then grow up in semi-poverty in the ‘refugees get free taxis/blacks in the jacks’ Ireland of the 2000s rapping about their experiences sounds much more compelling to me than native middle class irish lads imitating bloody Macklemore.

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