Monday, June 11, 2012

The Monthly Review remembers Adrienne Rich

When Adrienne Rich passed away recently (March 27, 2012) I did not mention it on this blog.  Somewhere in my library I have a signed copy of a collection of her poetry, but I've never studied/read her work enough to be able to speak about her, even though I've known for a long time that the work (poems and essays) of Adrienne Rich commands a lot of respect from feminists and Marxists.

So, I was pretty happy when I saw that the new (June) issue of the Monthly Review had a whole section devoted to remembering this great poet.

Besides some selected poems, (that had appeared in the magazine in recent years), there was also an essay titled, "Credo of a Passionate Skeptic," (which first appeared in MR in June 2001).  It is a very thought-provoking essay in which she gets into a number of topics and questions.  But, what stood out the most to me seemed to be some self-criticism about how she had viewed Marx and Marxism.

She mentioned that she was, at first, dismissive of Marxism, but this was because she had been "echoing the standard anti-Marxism of the postwar American cultural and political mainstream."  She recognizes that this anti-Marxism was embedded in the early women's movement "both by garden variety anticommunism and by fear that class would erase gender..."  She talks about how she went back to study Marx and "found no blueprint for a future utopia but a skilled diagnosis of skewed and disfigured human relationships."

Although she didn't totally break with common-held American views of communism, (e.g. her summation of Stalin), she did embrace Marxism and was eager to show people where gender intersected with class.  The short obituary in MR ends like this:

So it was not surprising that when the commercial media ran obituaries of her, they sanitized her life and work, giving more emphasis to her awards than her work, characterizing her as angry rather than radical. At MR however, we preferred to hear her words: “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work” (from “Claiming an Education,” 1977).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Music Review: Killer Mike's 'R.A.P. Music'

"This some real G shit/ Ya gotta show respect."

That's the ending to the first track on Killer Mike's new album, R.A.P Music, and if you leave it there, this could just be another gansta rap album.  But it's a whole lot more than that.

For starters, there is the stand-out track, "Reagan," which was named Best New Track by Pitchforck Media in May.  (The album was released May 15, 2012).  I could write a whole essay on the beauty of this track, which exposes some of the oppressive crimes against the basic masses during the Reagan era, but also rants against some of the silly ideas often promoted by hip-hop artists.  Some of the lyrics: "So it seems our people starve/ from a lack of understanding./ Cause all we seem to give them/ is some balling and some dancing./ And some thinking about cars/ and imaginary mansions./"

A couple of the other stand-out tracks include the title track, which is a real homage to hip-hop music, as it compares it to a religious experience. And the very honest autobiographical track "Willie Burke Sherwood," (which has the best summary of the classic book, "Lord of the Flies," you will ever hear in any song).

Of course, what stands out the most on the album are all the contradictions.  For instance, you will hear references to Mumia Abu Jamal and the lack of justice for Black people, but in the same song you will hear Killer Mike refer to women as "Jezebel whores."

He's definitely not a "conscious MC" like Mos Def or Talib Kweli.  (Although his stance on Obama is a lot more radical than most conscious rappers).  He's more in the vein of someone like Ice Cube, who comes from the "hard streets," and whose lyrics reflect the best and worst thoughts of people living in the ghettos and barrios.

"A lot of people try to peg me as a political rapper and I'm not. I'm a social commentator and at times people have politicized the things I say, but I don't care too much for any political party. I care about people..." he recently told Spin magazine.

Killer Mike keeps his ear to the streets, and tells it the way he sees it.  This, (and the great production from El-P throughout the album), are good enough reason to listen to what he's saying.