In hip hop these days there is an urban legend of a “culture vulture”, often hurled as a pejorative towards white rappers. This Rumplestiltskin figure weaves straw into gold by essentially selling out black culture for vast amounts of wealth.But is that reality? I mean as silly it sounds, it seems that the spectre of Vanilla Ice seems to still loom over hip hop. Just ask Post Malone who has been labeled the persona non grata du jour. How many times are we going to hear the refrain of “Mayonnaise Music!” lobbed at artists?
Now, I understand the concern from the black community about whitewashing. Black people were robbed and stripped away from music they invented – from jazz, blues, to rock – only to have it whitewashed. And they are afraid of that happening again. And one can argue that Iggy Azaela was a perfect contemporary example. But her star didn’t last very long.
How about the white rappers who came in and never got a fair shake? I only need think of Russ and the Fuck Russ twitter movement. Is Russ arrogant? Sure. But so were Dj Khaled and 50 Cent who were lauded for their arrogance and determination. In a set of interviews, Russ made a point of how an early Pitchfork review affected the mental health of Mac Miller who just recently passed away. “Would Mac have turned to drugs if he had not been judged so harshly early in his career?” quips Russ.
*Eds. Note – The Pitchfork review mentioned is written by a white journalist. Pitchfork is known to be a white-owned publication and often criticized for being too white. This is not meant to be a black vs white or us/vs them contrast.
What about Asher Roth? He too was lumped in as a frat rapper but later went to the underground to develop his sound and has worked closely with Chuck Inglish (The Cool Kids) to develop as an artist. Asher Roth veritably is not a culture vulture, so where did he go?
Now let’s return to Mac Miller for a moment. If you had been following his career over the last few years, you most certainly would be familiar with The Divine Feminine album. The blue-eyed soul adult contemporary hip hop album that showed Mac was developing his sound even further and was well received by critics. But some people in the outer concentric circles of hip hop panned it for being a sellout pop record.
To the point – Is blue-eyed soul bad? I need only think of soul singer Mayer Hawthorne who is signed to Stones Throw Records of an example of blue-eyed soul music being great.
I understand the cultural anxiety that the rise in popularity of white rappers creates but I am not alone in thinking it is not always justified. White rappers are often derided much harder than their peers. One only needs to think of Eminem and his war on his critics over the last few years. Here we have a beloved established rapper who is often cited with the greats having to do a balancing act to keep people happy. And even he has been named a culture vulture over the years.
Did Eminem release sub-par music over the last few years? Without question. But so has Lil Wayne who too was once considered one of the best rappers alive. And his music is not nearly as scrutinized. [**Ed. Note: Tha Carter V was fantastic] That isn’t to say Lil Wayne’s music isn’t judged negatively, just that the former is judged more harshly.
To be clear: white rappers do not make better music. But they don’t instantly make worse music simply because they are white. Talent is talent.
And that to me is the crux of the matter. I’ve seen Twitter posts of #whiteonwhitecrime or about how white people had a bad week during the time between the death of Mac Miller, and Eminem & MGK, as well as G-Eazy, beefing. As if these events were somehow exclusively felt by a white audience.
This isn’t racism and it may be a bit of a stretch to say it’s prejudice. Especially since the urban legend of “culture vulture” is rooted in truth but it does do a disservice when using it to mute the experience of others.
The entire hip hop community should be mourning the death of Mac Miller because he was a talent. Just as the entire hip hop community should have mourned the death of Chinx Drugz and Stack Bundles.
By creating a separation between white rappers and everyone else, we are perpetuating a divide that hip hop never rallied behind. Do we need more divisiveness in today’s climate?