Adam Schatz is a musician. His band Landlady has just released the album Upright Behavior on the Hometapes record label. His saxophone and keyboard sounds have appeared on albums by Vampire Weekend, Those Darlins, Hospitality, Sleigh Bells and Quilt. His previous published works consist solely of a column about donuts and not-donuts for Brightest Young Things. You can follow him on Twitter here and hear Landlady here. (Photo credit: Sasha Arutyunova.)
I’ve just torn up my piece about Rae Sremmurd’s new record Sremm Life. It’s not because I keep misspelling their name. (Actually, I’m really good at it now.) It’s because, as someone whose only current cause of unease is my body’s adjustment to a newfound coffee habit on tour, I have no perspective of value on Rae Sremmurd’s new record.
Even though I love rap music. Even though I believe in my own critical mind. Even though I can rip their songs apart and build them back up. It doesn’t matter and the world gains nothing from my input and loses nothing from its absence.
The piece I tore up was a letter, addressed to the two under-21 artists whose party-rap record struck me as lazy and boring. They’ve reached a level of popularity off the backs of two singles that apparently lit up the summer, and that alone felt like a meaty enough justification for my weighing in, my alternative perspective. So I went at it. I wrote the letter.
And it read as a lecture. Even though I acted honest, and took the temperature of multiple sides on every point I made. Even though my questions were thoughtful and my analysis reasoned, my itch could not be scratched and I saw no purpose in the words I wrote.
I didn’t understand.
You can listen to Sremm Life and make up your own mind, just as I made up mine. I thought I deserved to be more impressed by the crowned new talent, who worked their way up from nothing. But I felt nothing.
I never once said the songs were bad. I still don’t think they’re bad. There’s something there, the production is living and the intent in the voices is impassioned. But I don’t understand Rae Sremmurd’s music. And I’m probably not supposed to. The equation doesn’t add up to my ears and heart that wait semi-patiently to the right of the equals sign. The figures in the songs don’t resonate and I don’t understand.
And picking it apart on the internet doesn’t feel necessary.
This perhaps exposes a common occurrence in the critical atmosphere. Just because the critic doesn’t understand the art doesn’t mean that it’s bad; if I don’t understand Rae Sremmurd, then maybe I shouldn’t pass judgment on it. I have little feeling about this record. I can, however, conjure a mess of emotions with the flip of a switch: I can allow myself to feel jealous of an artist’s success with music that I don’t feel is worth the millions who do seem to care; I can allow myself to feel cautious about an artist’s reckless vulgarity and sexism, and the veins that pump blood to it through the history of the genre and its well marketed success; I can obviously find faults in the youngness of Rae Sremmurd, and pry open that notion to point towards flaws in what they rap about.
But those judgements are tainted and not for caffeinated and comfortable me to spout. They don’t seem earnest and I cannot in good conscience throw them about. I do not come from, or regularly enough dip my toes into, the culture that this album grows from. It’s more than just race and it’s more than just location, it’s more than being young and more than rap music, it’s more than Autotune and dancing girls: it’s a complex combination, and unless I know the map or at least can trace the hills and valleys, I’d rather shut up and put something else on.
In my role as the guy who’s supposed to say the thing, I feel entitled to say something more, with finality. But there’s nothing to be said. And that says it all.