AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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“OLD TOWN ROAD”: COUNTRY OR NOT?

Soon after Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” debuted in December 2018, it quickly rose to the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. But in March of 2019, Billboard removed the song from the country chart, claiming that it had been wrongly classified as country. The track went on to top the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, staying there for a record 19 weeks. But a debate remained about whether Billboard’s claim was right. Is “Old Town Road” a country song or not? Continue reading


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HOW TO PARTAKE IN THE FUCKERY: A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION ON HIP-HOP, GENDER, AND LANGUAGE

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L to R: Bates, Lissa Skitolsky, and BL Shirelle

In January, we hosted an interview and preliminary discussion of some pressing issues in rap and hip-hop. We wanted to investigate the fact that, in Bill Adler’s words, hip-hop has never been “a model of civil discourse”. We did that by talking to two queer Black women rappers, BL Shirelle and Bates, to get their takes on the matter. Now we follow that up with a roundtable of scholars, each reflecting in their own way on what BL Shirelle and Bates had to say.

[Warning: This discussion contains explicit language, including a variation of the n-word.]

Our contributors are:

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HIP-HOP, GENDER, AND LANGUAGE WITH UNDERGROUND RAPPERS BL SHIRELLE AND BATES

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L to R: Bates, Lissa Skitolsky, and BL Shirelle

This is Part I of a two-part series. Part II is a roundtable discussion of the below interviews, featuring scholars working on these issues.

I. What Is There To Discuss?

A Prompt for Discussion by Bill Adler

Bill Adler is a music journalist, hip-hop archivist, and legendary Def Jam publicist.

As wonderful as it is, as impactful as it is, hip-hop music has never exactly embodied a model of civil discourse. On the contrary, it has often been—and remains—rough, rude, and heedless. Indeed, those very qualities are at least part of what makes the culture so appealing to so many folks.

Happily, hip-hop has also generated a body of exemplary critical commentary from the very beginning. For over thirty years now, critics and journalists who came of age as hip-hoppers have wrestled with the music’s sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and materialism… and have done so with love, from inside the culture.

Naturally, the music’s sexism has been particularly vexing to women, and doubly vexing to women of color. In a review for the Village Voice in 1990 of Amerikka’s Most Wanted, the first solo album by Ice Cube, the critic Joan Morgan quotes a girlfriend of hers as follows: “Joan, you know this motherfucka must be bad if he can scream ‘bitch’ at me ninety-nine times and make me want to sing it.”

To Chuck D, though, it wasn’t a problem—at least not then. Women had R&B, he argued. White men had rock. Rap was by and for Black men. End of discussion.

Let’s discuss.

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7 EXPERTS RANK THE DECADE’S TOP 5 IN MUSIC

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Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

This year marks the end of the second decade of the 2000s. In honor of this, we thought we’d take a look back at our decade with an end-of-year series.

The internet loves lists, especially year-end ones, and we’ll feed that love a little bit this December. We’ll be hosting seven lists of expert Decade-Best picks. We’ve done movies, games, and writing, and TV so far, and you can look forward to two more: traditional visual arts and one surprise list at the end. Our experts include philosophers and other academics whose work concerns these topics, and people working in the relevant media. Up today: music!

Perusing the below lists, you may find yourself wondering: Where’s the Kendrick Lamar? The Lana Del Rey? The Arcade Fire? If you want that kind of list, go hit up Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. We’re here to give you something a little different. The world of music is huge, and contains a lot beyond the contemporary mainstream. Instead, what we have today is a glimmer of that variety in music, including everything from opera and rap to metal and Christmas music.


Our contributors are:

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ARTWORLD ROUNDTABLE: IS CULTURAL APPROPRIATION EVER OKAY?

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This edition of Artworld Roundtable appears in collaboration with Chris Richards, the pop music critic for the Washington Post. Over the next several weeks, we’ll present a series of roundtable discussions based on Richards’ “five hardest questions in pop music”: “cultural appropriation, problematic lyricism, selling out, the ethics of posthumous listening, and … separating the art from the artist.” AFB has rounded up several thinkers working in these areas to see what they have to say about each question. Richards has provided AFB with key examples to draw out the problems and complexities of each debate. Up first is cultural appropriation.

Nicki Minaj and Chun Li. Eminem and Iggy Azalea. What counts as cultural appropriation in music, and when is it bad? And is there such a thing as acceptable appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is the crux of the first of “the five hardest questions in pop music”, as described recently in the Washington Post by pop music critic Chris Richards. Below is the guiding question accompanied by a few examples that Richards finds particularly salient, followed by our contributors’ responses. Continue reading


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BEAUTY IN STRANGE PLACES: ART FIRST

I met a critic, I made her shit her drawers
She said she thought hip-hop was only guns and alcohol
I said “Oh hell naw!” But yet it’s that too
You can’t discrimi-hate cause you done read a book or two
What if I looked at you in a microscope, saw all the dirty organisms
Living in your closet would I stop and would I pause it?
…Speeches only reaches those who already know about it
This is how we go about it

– André 3000, “Humble Mumble

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What follows is a guest post by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò.

This blog recently hosted a post on country music which defended country music partly because of its interaction with the class dynamics between the working class people who listen to the style and the broader culture in which they do so. The author of this piece comes close to a trope I’ve noticed in many online discussions of art, which feature people “critiquing” the performative politics of the authors but not the aesthetics.

It seems to me like some people these days think their political judgments should lead their aesthetic judgments. In the last few years I’ve been in more conversations than I care to remember about why this or that music is good or bad based on the politics or political symbolism of the artist or their work – why we should like this music because it’s made by representatives of this or that identity group, or we should hate that music because it’s “cultural appropriation”. And, worse, I’ve gotten through many of these discussions without drums or melody or harmony so much as being mentioned, much less being the focus. Sometimes, I was myself guilty! Third and perhaps worst of all is something I think of as a predictable result of the social environment helped along by the first two things: A lot of people in various artistic mediums seem very interested in discussing and preening the social significance of their work but uninterested in developing the fundamental skills of their craft. So, in the spirit of self-criticism: I want to try to do all of these things less because I think these tendencies are bad for art. By the end of this piece I want to have explained why I think that. Continue reading