IN TODAY'S NEWS
Random trio of stories to share:
1) I like a good critical beatdown as much as the next guy so thank Jehovah for Matisyahu, the born-again Hasidic reggae artist who's become the favorite punching bag for New York music critics. The NY Times' Kelefa Sanneh threw the first set of blows though you had to read a bit between the lines to suss out what he was really trying to say:
- "...he is also a white reggae singer with an all-white band, playing (on Monday night, anyway) to an almost all-white crowd. Yet he has mainly avoided thorny questions about cultural appropriation. He looks like an anomaly, but if you think of him as a white pop star drawing from a black musical tradition, then he may seem like a more familiar figure."
- "Perhaps Matisyahu's fans aren't familiar with a little-known group of performers who still make great reggae records: Jamaicans."
Of course, now Sanneh's review looks like a love poem compared to Jody Rosen's evisceration of Matisyahu on Slate.com. Perhaps it's best for a Black critic to subtly hint at a white/Jewish person's racial/cultural transgressions but perhaps being Jewish himself (though not, like Matisyahu, Hasidic) empowers Rosen to pull the kid gloves off and just state it plainly:
- "The truth is, Matisyahu isn't really a novelty—his is the oldest act in the show-business book. Minstrelsy dates back to the very beginnings of American popular music, and Jews have been particularly zealous and successful practitioners of the art. From Irving Berlin's blackface ragtime numbers to Al Jolson's mammy songs—from jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, who passed as black, to Bob Dylan, who channeled the cadences of black bluesmen, to the Beastie Boys—successive generations of Jewish musicians have used the blackface mask to negotiate Jewish identity and have made some great art in the process.
Matisyahu is the latest in this line, and while his music is at best pedestrian, his minstrel routine may be the cleverest and most subtle yet. Matisyahu is like a thousand other white guys from the suburbs who've smoked a lot of dope, listened to some Burning Spear records, and decided to become reggae singers. But as a Hasid, he has a genuinely exotic look—that great big beard and the tzitzit fringes flying—and the spiritual bona fides to pull off songs steeped in Old Testament imagery. It's an ingenious variation on the archetypal Jewish blackface routine, immortalized in The Jazz Singer (1927), when the immigrant striver Jolson put on blackface to cast off his Jewish patrimony and become American. In 2006, Matisyahu wears Old World "Jewface," and in so doing, becomes "black."
Somewhere, Snow is having a good cry.
2) A federal appeals court has upheld that Mississippi has the right, as a state, to bar the sale of adult sex toys. As BoingBoing notes: "it remains a crime for responsible adults to sell vibrators to other adults there, but a gun? No prob!"
3) The XXL blogs have launched - I didn't realize it was multiple blogs; interesting approach. Some familiar faces: Bol, Kris Ex, Tara Henley. So far, Bol's been the only to make a big run at it (I learned that it's not Tall Israelis but 6 Ft. Chinese who be running this rap sh--); we'll be curious to see how the other folks, especially Kris and Elliot Wilson fare with it. I've been waiting to see how other folks have responded to it but there's not much there yet except for a short piece on Prohiphop.com.