Thursday, January 12, 2012

Slate: The End of Cred--officially about gangsta rap but potentially about rock star pastors

Something puzzling happened in the face of this exposéthe hip-hop equivalent, one might have thought, of a James Frey moment. Ross’ rap-world prestige only grew. On his solo debut, from 2006, he had seemed something like the Stone Temple Pilots to Young Jeezy’s Pearl Jam: a likable-enough instrument of record-label market-cornering. Like Jeezy, Ross commanded a gritty drug-slinging persona and matched it with a blunt, unfussy rapping style—gruff voice, magisterial slowness, abundant repetition, minimal wordplay—that doubled as ostensible proof of his authenticity. The absence of artfulness implied the absence of artifice. But whereas Jeezy had laid the groundwork for his major-label debut over several years with mixtapes and independent releases, building buzz from the ground up, Ross seemed to arrive from out of nowhere, and he was easy to dismiss as a one-hit sound-alike, rushed to airwaves to capitalize on the popular coke-rap tren.

There are superstars who slowly and steadily emerge through decades of honing a craft and honing a vision and there are others who after just a few years of focusing on a single thing explode on to the scene.  In rap this dynamic seems to take place one way, while in megachurch preachers it occurs in another way.

For instance, there are a megachurch pastors who become famous less for any one thing than for a more comprehensive approach to the overall work of pastoral activity and consideration of Scripture.  A Spurgeon, for instance, is not known for one set of sermons or ideas, is he?  A D. James Kennedy may be remembered for being conservative but not necessarily for a single memorably articulated message.  A Benny Hinn will get known for "the annointing" and healing services.  A Jesse Jackson will get known for his political activism. A Todd Bentley will get known for "fresh fire". A Mark Driscoll is known as "the cussing pastor" (even though this is not actually accurate) and as the sexpert pastor (as Real Marriage continues to establish despite the salvo in chapter one, no less,where Mark admits he spent a large amount of time in his marriage resenting his wife's frigidity and neither realizing he played a role in her feeling unable to trust him or that she had a history of sexual abuse)

But Ross’ success in the wake of the Officer Ricky scandal is more than a story of artistic improvement. It also demonstrates that hip-hop audiences have changed their valuation of street credibility from the requisite it once seemed to be to something far more fluid.

The stable fan base of Mark Driscoll even in the wake of his confessing he didn't live up to his pulpit spiel about a vibrant and unshackled sex life, may be a Christianese version of the gap between the posture of the gangsta rapper and the reality of the professional entertainer's normal life.  So after a decade of preaching about Song of Songs like this was what was implicitly happening in his own marriage it turns out that this wasn't the case at all with the Driscolls.  Oh well, the gangsta rapper may have been shown to have not been living the life he rapped about but that's not important, the rap is still compelling, right?  

The megachurch pastor street cred rap may be the reverse of the gangsta rap street cred in chronology and social/ethical trajectory ... but it may be that both come together to form a grand Moebius strip that plays out across white and black American pop culture.  The evangelical equivalent of street credibility may be as fluid now in its way as street credibility in gangsta rap may be more fluid now than it was twenty or thirty years ago.  It's not that the reality has to fit the stance or the posse in every single detail.  Thou doest have to say the magic words exactly, in theory, but in the end what we get is the reply from gangsta rappers and rock star pastors that, "Maybe not every tiny little syllable but, basically, I said `em.  Now send me home."

Now if you read my relatively recent blog post about the different approaches to sonata allegro form taken by Sor, Giuliani and Diabelli you would understandably conclude I have neither a strong interest in, nor any significant knowledge about, rap or R&B and this would be right.    Other than Cee Lo Green I admit I haven't remembered much of anything from rap or R&B that I've heard in the last ten or fifteen years.  But there are times when I like to read about styles of music I don't usually listen to when there's an interesting cultural commentary element to it.  Jonah Weiner's commentary on the shifting nature of street credibility as a foundational element to the personae of gangsta rappers seems to quite naturally bleed of the streets into the pulpits of megachurch rock-star celebrity preachers.  Carl Trueman was right to bring up what he called the aesthetics of plausibility.

So if Mark Driscoll admits in a book deal confession/marriage manual he spent maybe a decade not getting the sex he so ardently preached about from 1999 through maybe 2007, so what?  The book is called Real Marriage, we know it's about a real marriage because that letter L is tilted off to one side to tell us from the cover this is going to be vulnerable and real.  If we don't know Driscoll from Bob Barker that dangling letter L will make sure to spell things out before we even open the book. 

Gangsta rappers and rock star pastors ... some potentially interesting overlap.

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