By now we’ve all heard the back and forth on Twitter between Jayson Greene of Pitchfork and Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Long story short, Prodigy felt that Greene was unable to give a proper assessment of the duo’s music, because he’s not from the same “bloodstream,” (in Prodigy’s words). You can read the tweets here and judge for yourself.
This brought up a good debate as to whether or not someone who is not from the same background as the artist in question can offer any validity in a review of said artist’s music without having lived in his culture. Can a white guy give an accurate assessment of black music? Can a kid from the suburbs accurately review the music of someone from the projects? Can people who live on opposite ends of the spectrum understand the hardships of another without having lived through those circumstances?
Despite all of that, I do think that it’s possible for two people on opposite ends of the spectrum to understand the life of another, but it requires them to give up on everything that they think they know and educate themselves on the culture of the opposite side. This is what Jayson Greene failed to do, giving validity to Prodigy’s comments.
I know that many people have written off Prodigy’s Twitter “attack” as anger over the fact that Greene gave The Infamous Mobb Deep a poor review in comparison to the re-release of their 1995 album, The Infamous. Greene is certainly entitled to his opinion; if he didn’t like the album, he didn’t like it. End of story. The problem, I think, is that the entire review comes off as someone trying to tell someone else’s story, down to the point of alleging that, “Maybe the reissue functions as a renewal of the vows between the two [Havoc and Prodigy], a way to patch up relations while reminding rap fans, and themselves, of the potential power of a flagging, listless brand.” How does he know that? What facts does he have to back that up, or did that come straight from Prodigy and Havoc’s mouths? If it has to be alleged, it probably shouldn’t be said, because while everyone is entitled to their opinion, an informed opinion is the responsibility of the journalist.
This isn’t meant to be an attack on Jayson Greene by any means. It’s meant to illustrate the point that credibility doesn’t come from having lived something, it comes from understanding it. Greene tried to tell the story of someone else, blindly listing factual accounts, without having understood the circumstances first. He states, “If Q-Tip wants to drop into ‘Drink Away The Pain,’ a tightly themed song about alcoholism, to rap only about his clothes – he’ll do that.” Greene shows the cracks in his armor with this statement, reducing a song that actually had many layers of meaning to something little more than shallow, materialistic rap. “Drink Away The Pain” was not about alcoholism, it was about being addicted to self-destruction. In Prodigy’s illustration through his rhymes, every bottle of liquor is a woman – a temptress.
“I love my shorty more than life ain’t that something
To love you Dainy more than living itself
Even though my friends tell me she ain’t good for my health
When I go pick her up they tell me put her back on the shelf
They say yo P she only want you for one thing, that’s your wealth”
These are not just the words of an alcoholic, but of someone who is so addicted to his vice that he’ll keep coming back to it, even though he knows it will take everything from him. This isn’t just about Prodigy, though. It’s about the people in Queensbridge and their vices as well. He ties the overall theme of addiction back to the streets when he personifies Dainy saying,
“..She said all I need is a man to support me
Besides, you from the 41st side of things
And Queensbridge niggas be acting like they kings
Pushing Lexuses, wearing fat diamond rings”
Dainy is the personification of the addiction, not to liquor, but to a never-ending cycle of self-destruction. Prodigy illustrates above that Dainy will have anyone, and he sees the same addiction, the same vices, in the people in Queensbridge. So when Q-Tip goes on to mention the names of countless clothing brands in his verse, he’s using the same technique of personification that Prodigy used to exemplify the theme of addiction. There’s a heist going on, and every clothing brand is a person involved in that heist. Tip’s verse was an attack on materialism, and how the addiction to that materialism is a stigma that at times brings with it a very concrete life or death risk.
“Donna Karen was crying, cause mad shells was flying
Damn all we want is a piece of the pie”
Despite the fact that Tip is creating a fantasy by using clothing brand names, the two lines above feel hauntingly real. The rampant addiction to violence where flashy materialism is at the center even ties back into the bridge,
“When you play with crime sometimes it’s not too fly
Even though the goods look deceiving to the eye”
and ties back again into the whole theme of being addicted to one’s vices, to the point of personal destruction. There’s a self-destructive theme that I think anyone can relate to, because the power in music has always been it’s ability to make the unrelatable relatable.
Point being, it wasn’t just about clothes. But in order to see the song as anything beyond it’s surface lyrics, it requires a deeper understanding of Hip-Hop culture, the streets that it came from, and why those materialistic views and addictions became so important to people who had nothing. Hip-Hop was literally birthed from nothing, and in order to understand an artist that comes from that very culture, it requires more effort than just stating a timeline of events in a review. There’s no prerequisite that says that you have to be cut from the same cloth as another person to understand them. You just have to put some effort into it.