Criticism, In An Age When Criticism is Dead
By Ben Dale
Mac Miller is finding unlikely success as a white rapper in a hip-hop culture that normally excludes such anomalies. Boosh.
Though the idea is a rehash, there is something markedly different about Mr. Miller, a certain je ne sais quoi that distinguishes him from his obvious predecessors such as Vanilla Ice, The Beastie Boys and Eminem, which I will try to elucidate over the next few pages and paragraphs.
This is not a puff piece, and I’m not trying to convince you to spend the $30 he’s charging for a ticket to his show at the Nutter Center on April 14. I simply want to explore the cultural phenomenon of Mac Miller and what it means to be a white rapper in post-9/11, post-recession, post-postmodern USA, circa 2012 (the year it all comes to a violent, fiery end).
Mac Miller’s videography is like an exercise in Internet memes. You may have seen the one — “Take a shitty photo, apply a vintage effect and write something in Helvetica.” All his videos have that aesthetic in mind, a party time parade through pop culture with a vintage lens. It’s campy.
Camp is not something achieved self-consciously, but rather with an unaffected innocence that many urban dwellers lose far too early, just like our virginities and our minds. Mac Miller is camp. He takes what he does so seriously that it becomes a joke. His fans don’t understand camp, they only understand that hipsters hate him, and they hate hipsters so they like Mac. It’s an anti-intellectual pastime, Mac Miller fandom. It’s like voting for Bush without a hint of cynicism or trying to convince someone to listen to Dubstep. Though it might actually be ironic if hipsters started liking him for his campiness (confused yet?).
Mac arrives at the perfect time to capitalize upon the mainstream’s obsession with image over substance, and is a testament to the postmodern fact that you don’t have to actually play music to call yourself a musician — you just need a killer promotional team to transform yourself into an Internet virus. His “music” is neither intellectual nor visceral. It’s as if he’s the middle child in the same satanic family as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, rebelling against his siblings’ shared androgyny with a “cool pose” machismo appropriated from hip-hop culture — which is sort of admirable, and definitely more likeable than the aforementioned performers.
What he shares with his musical siblings is a complete lack of anything to say, a deep nihilism so unconscious it is ineffectual. There is no challenge here. The music is instantly familiar and comfortable for the postmodern Gen-Y consumer of pop culture: under-25 year-olds whose brains have already been ice-cream-scooped by a college culture of Molly hallucinations and relentless bombardments of Jersey Shore mongoloid nonsense.
Yet I was tasked with interviewing Mac, and I am an opportunist too. The idea seemed simple enough — talk on the phone with an up-and-coming rapper —nothing new here. Little did I know that speaking with Mac Miller entailed wading through a posse of middlemen akin to trying to schedule a meeting with Don Corleone.
The first interview fell through, because Mac had just finished a show and his publicist/manager/daddy wanted him to rest up for the next night’s festivities (mind you it was 11p.m.). I thought the situation highly ironic and humorous on account of Miller’s image as a 24-hour pothead, womanizer and party animal, and especially so due to his song entitled “Up All Night.”
It was then that I first suspected I was dealing with a phony. But whatever, I gave him the benefit of the doubt, I didn’t judge a book by its cover, and muttered various clichés in my mind as we rescheduled the interview for when Mac was feeling more “fresh.”
I was told he was actually an articulate and engaging conversationalist, and I understand not being able to find the words after a taxing night of depravity and excess. Mac probably just needed a big blunt and a blowjob before he could get on the phone with some hack writer from … where was it again? Oh yeah — Dayton, Ohio.
Mac finally got on the line and I thought I heard throngs of hip-hop honeys and jingling bling in the background. I imagined a white kid, surrounded by sultry seductresses on a circular bed, Hefner-style, with surly ex-linebackers guarding the doors and windows, ever on the alert for “haters.”
So how’d the show go last night Mac?
It was pretty rowdy. There were a lot of college kids. [Mac Miller]
I hear that the college crowd is your main demographic. How do you respond when people call your music “Frat Rap?”
I don’t know what that music is. People can call me whatever they want. [MM]
So how long have you been involved in the “rap game” now, Mac?
Well, I been puttin’ out mixtapes for about five years now. But I wanted to be a rapper ever since I was eight years old. I just like the music, and I like to make it. [MM]
So who were your early influences in your formative years?
Outkast, DMX, I’d listen to anything. [MM]
So what I notice about you is that you didn’t go by the traditional methods to music stardom. You sort of bypassed the whole record industry, instead relying on a huge Internet campaign and word of mouth spread a la Barack Obama, 2008. Can you tell me about that?
[Speaking in the “Royal we”] It was just like we were impatient. We didn’t want to wait around for a label. We just started doin’ whatever we could. [MM]
I see on Wikipedia that you are a multi-instrumentalist. Did you play anything on the record?
I played guitar and keys on “Up All Night,” and drums on “Under the Weather.” I want to get into that more. I hope to do everything myself someday. I’ve recorded a lot by myself, but that stuff I just haven’t released. [MM]
You have a song titled “Donald Trump.” Did you ever actually get to meet the Don? I hear he likes your song.
Do you think his hair is real?
Who knows? I mean, his hair is a good marketing tool. I’ve never seen hair like it before. [MM]
I’m sure it was essential to his real estate fortune. Mac, could you define “hipster” for me?
Someone who hates anything that people like, and only likes things that the masses don’t like. Anti-culture. [MM]
Did you wake and bake today Mac?
No, I woke and interviewed. [MM]
What’s your favorite herbal strain?
Sour Diesel. [MM]
Bongs, joints or blunts?
What do you think when people compare you to Vanilla Ice?
I think that’s a stupid question. [MM]
Right. Moving on. How as working with Maroon 5?
Well I just rapped on some tracks. I talked to Adam [Levine], but we didn’t actually get in the studio together. [MM]
So I see Levine’s been working with Justin Bieber. What do you think of that?
Bieber’s the shit. I wish him the best and hope he keeps growing. [MM]
What artists would you most like to work with in the future?
Andre 3000, Kanye West, M.I.A. [MM]
What’s next for Mac Miller?
I have a mixtape out — Macadelic — and this is the Macadelic tour. The tape has Cam’ron and Lil’ Wayne on it. [MM]
Where will the tour be taking you?
We’re going back to Europe again this summer. [MM]
The ladies want to know, do you have a girlfriend?
Don’t you think that may disappoint some of your female fans?
Nah, man. Those ladies never met me. I’m a regular-ass motherfucker. Rappers need lovin’ too. [MM]
What would you be doing if you weren’t rapping?
I’d be cooking. Cooking random ridiculous concoctions that everyone would think is disgusting until you try it. [MM]
Thanks, Mac. Do you have any last words?
Macadelic is coming this month, along with the tour, which is gonna be awesome. We got the Cool Kids and the Come Ups coming along. [MM]
So that was the interview. Pretty bland, right? Which is why I saw fit to supplement Mac’s conversational deficit with editorial of my own. It should seem obvious to any listeners of his “music” that he really lacks a voice, a style, or an image to call his own. He is simply a recycled amalgam of things past — and sadly I fear — of things to come. He’s got that suburban, whiny Jew rap of The Beastie Boys down pat, and along with the self-aggrandizing ridiculousness of Vanilla Ice, and wannabe-Eminem style flow.
He’s the perfect product to buy your children next Christmas, or Easter, in this case. Wait, what am I talking about? You don’t have children if you’re reading the CityPaper. You’re a hipster. You hate all things mainstream. Having kids is sooooooo mainstream. You probably had your tubes tied on your 18th birthday. You couldn’t possibly understand the genius of Mac Miller’s vision. You’re a hater. You’re killing our future.
Do yourself a favor — head over to E. 3rd Street and spend $30 on some Xanax from a Juggalo. Or better yet, come out and support a local Dayton band on April 14, rather than be hustled by such a shameless self-promoter as Mac. Undoubtedly Mac Miller doesn’t need or care about you one bit. His lyrics, after all, profess that his #1 priority is “gettin’ money.” He tells you up front what he wants from you, and it’s your choice if you wish to be exploited like a Lady Gaga monster. If you’re in college and falling for this “Frat Rap” bullshit, then I think legitimate questions need to be raised as to the quality of your university education.
So yes, I’ve devolved to the status of “hater.” But no matter how much vitriol I could pour on poor Mac Miller, it’s nothing compared to the hatred his music expresses for what I and like-minded others believe to be genuine music. Besides, his life is undoubtedly more awesome than mine, and probably yours too, dear reader — a fact that seems to be the greatest injustice of all. I’ve got to respect him as a businessman, though I would never stoop to call him a musician. I’ve heard too many real musicians to slander their names in such a way.
Rock’n’roll is dead. Rap/Hip-hop/Urban music is dead. All we have left in this decade is the mindless, soul-crushing churn of Dubstep remixes and the endless cynicism of the artists competing to capitalize on myopic trends. I’m not sure if music is a nourishing form of sustenance any longer, but the era of computer-generated beats and Internet-created icons is here to stay, provided the Internet doesn’t go down when the aliens invade on Dec. 23.
Listening to digital music, to me, is like using a condom: It doesn’t feel right, the government wants you to do it, and it leaves you yearning for the real thing. So it is with regret and an unexpected sense of catharsis that I announce to you my retirement from music criticism, to focus full-time on horror writing. I must be getting old, because I no longer understand the trends and the feelings of the masses. I’m grossly out-of-touch and doing you a disservice — I’m being critical in an age when criticism is called hating. I have a negative attitude. I’m not helping anyone’s self-esteem. If I had something nice to say, I guess I would’ve said it by now.
Bring it on, haters.
Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Dale at BenDale@DaytonCityPaper.com.
[Photo: Ian Wolfson]