Hip-Hop Blogger Has A Beef With “Village Voice”

Dec 8th, 2006 // 35 Comments

A few days ago, one of our commenters pointed us in the direction of a lengthy post on hip-hop blog DallasPenn.com regarding Village Voice hip-hop writer (and blogger) Tom Breihan. The missive takes specific issues with some of Breihan’s writing–that he uses the n-word proxy “ninja” a little too frequently, that he prefers Lil’ Wayne over Jay-Z–but it all comes down to whether or not a white guy like Breihan should be writing about hip-hop to begin with. They even label him a “wigster,” short for “wigger” + “hipster.” And just in case you don’t get the point, there’s also a minstrel headshot. Subtle!

In the last three days, the comments on the post have blowing up, both pro and con: The Breihan bashers seem to have a long-simmering frustration over the fact that hip-hop writers for mainstream periodicals are often privileged white guys, and feel Breihan is arrogantly assuming that he has the right to interpret and criticize black culture; the Breihan boosters claim that while they have their own problems with his writing, the post plays the race card to cover up its weaker arguments.

Whew.

Anyway, Breihan hasn’t yet responded on his Voice blog, Status Ain’t Hood. And while this is normally the part of the show were we work in some tie-it-all-up-with-a-joke kicker, we know when we’re out of our element, and it’s hard to riff when people are comparing writers to trigger-happy NYPD officers. So instead we’re just going to send it to the boards: Take a look at the post, the replies, and some of Breihan’s work, and mull it over.

COMBAT JACK Runs A Check On TOM BREIHAN’s ‘Hood Status… [dallaspenn.com]
Status AIn’t Hood [Village Voice]

  1. Jay

    With myself being a privileged white guy, I think playing the race card to cover up the weaker points of the arguement sums it up nicely.

    But isn’t saying that only black people are allowed to critique black culture more racist than Tom trying to explain his thoughts on it to his readers?

  2. steevelk

    I would think it really depends on who is reading the commentary. Writing is for the reader not the subject. So if the writer satisfies the readers needs then he/she has done their job. The writer’s race, like any quality other than the content is unimportant.

  3. Gynoklastes

    COMBAT PANTS or whatever his name is makes a good point: it’s so easy to mark off who belongs in a given culture and who doesn’t — just look at them! If they don’t look right, then they’re outsiders, and should limit themselves to cute, respectful agreement with insiders. Oh, and STOP SNITCHIN’.

  4. The Mozfather

    Yeah, that DallasPenn blog entry was awful and should not be commented on further.

  5. natepatrin

    Dude wants to talk about hipsters ruining rap and then talks about people not knowing their history — man, NYC hipsters helped make hip hop when Run DMC were still rocking plaid! Tom Tom Club, Blondie, ESG, Liquid Liquid — recognize!

  6. Bob Loblaw

    “Should not be commented on further???”

    Bullshit, Moz. It’s a dialogue. Granted, the guy’s making an argument you might not like, but if you read the comments, there are obviously a lot of kids that feel the same way. At the very least it needs to be aired out.

    At times reading about hip-hop on Pitchfork, or the Voice, any number of rock-oriented rags, can be grating, like the author is taking on an air of authority about a genre he hasn’t studied as closely as rock. It seems to be done to avoid rockism, add some kind of credibility, make it seem less like pasty white dudes writing about pasty white dudes. It feels forced, at times, like bullshitting your way through a test because you’re smart and you know how to sound informed.

    Still, we’ve all grown up with hip-hop. Even if you haven’t been paying attention, it’s unavoidable. It’d be impossible not to have some kind of critical response, and so of course, every man’s entitled to his. I’m not sure where the middle ground lies–I think the problem has something to do with that air of arrogance and authority–but I know that stifling dialogue isn’t the way to go.

  7. eric harvey

    anyone making the claim that there exists a single “black culture” = ROFFLE

    anyone saying that only members of said dubiously and ignorantly defined “culture” may make critical judgments about its popular musical output = ROFFLE No. 2

    rocking the “minstrel” insult against any caucasian writing crit about african americans, inheretnly implying racist, instead of critical, intent = retro-ROFFLE

    blogger taking out frustrations at not being able to counter past shallow hipster diatribe = revisionist, proxy-ROFFLE

    being completely ignorant of irony in a blog title, and taking it as face value = humorless, uneducata-ROFFLE

  8. Miss Harvill

    Twenty years after his death, people still get worked up about Elvis.

  9. Dan Gibson

    I was going to make a “Fight the Power” reference here responding to Miss Harvill, but I forgot my “ghetto pass” at home. It’s in my other wallet with my Petsmart frequent shopper card.

    In other news, blogger drama is straight fire!

  10. Little White Earbuds

    If race is a determining factor in the ability/right to offer criticism, why not any other number of factors? Would I not be allowed to offer my criticism of ultra-hetero music like Hinder because I’m le gay? Unable to criticize Christian rock because I’m an atheist?

    And does anyone think a white critic would throw the same race card at a black critic talking about “white culture” music? I mean, besides the fear of sounding racist.

  11. Furman P. Slothra

    Its funny how the Weezy/Jeezy hate turned to Breihan hate so fast. But I guess it’s natural that Status Ain’t Hood act as the lightning rod/scapegoat for all the hip-hop scholars who flood nah right and dallas penn with 500 comments every day. The biggest problem Breihan has, ultimately, is that he gets paid to write a blog full time about rap. If he was a black guy in jail for using SIDS babies as coke mules, he would still catch hate because he has one of the best jobs in the world (for someone who loves hip hop and the internet). Every single “head” who reads his blog thinks they can write better than him and they should have that job. What are they gonna do send him bundt cakes?

    Also, its funny how these messageboard fools think like he’s 17, started listening to rap when Madvillain came out or something, and listens mostly to fucking Xiu Xiu or whatever. I mean the man loves Petey Pablo and thinks Rancid and Celtic Frost are the ill rock bands. This is not your run of the mill hipster, or even a hipster at all. Plus he’s 6′ 11, which allows him unobstructed views at concerts. Also funny how the Voice is perceived by all these “heads” as an inveterate pasty hipster rag, like Mailer et al, weren’t mostly just obsessed with Milton’s Playhouse when it was OG.

    I have my problems with Status, mostly his unwavering abuse of adjectives and refusal to consider anything marginal or outre or whatever. But when I saw his former co-hort Riffraff aka Nick Sylvester aka Stephen Glass of Music Crit get at him in his comments (in typical opaque “I learned this shit at the Harvard fucking Lampoon” manner) about his Clipse column, I just felt bad for the guy. Then again, he’s got the best gig in the world.

    Speaking of the Voice and music crit beef I hope Stanley Crouch gets into this. That guy throws hands over Jazz, no tellin what’ll happen with the Boom Bap.

  12. The Dallas

    In a nutshell, NO ONE has a problem with T.B.’s whiteness, what we have a problem with is T.B.’s insistence on dealing with Hip-Hop using his ‘urban’ voice. I quoth…

    “Tom Breihan has the burden of codifying cRap music for thousands and thousands (maybe millions, maybe not) of viewers of his work. When his reviews of Hip-Hop lack the scholarship and examination that his work on other genres contains he gives the appearance of treating rap music like it is simply jig nonsense. As a writer who will admit a certain disconnect to Hip-Hop prior to a certain point he displays a disdain for artists that precede his watershed point of view. Breihan should acknowledge that those artists have been given their places on the mantle of Hip-Hop for the artistry they have created, whether or not they have a current album at Best Buy is irrelevent.

    I will submit to you that there is very little difference in the mindsets of a thirteen year old from Towson that digs on SuperChunk and a 13 yr old from Teaneck that was spellbound by Raekwon. Seeing either of those acts now can rekindle comfortable memories of youth and owning Walkman cassette players. Nostalgia can be a good thing to Breihan, but only for rock bands in his perspective’s wheelhouse.

    We here at DP Dot Com are all for giving the current zeitgeist a smackdown, but in order to tumble the dystopia you have to regard everyone as equals. Tell your boy Breihan to give Hi-Tek the same scholarship as 120 Days and maybe we can all get along.”

    For those of you that can’t see past the ‘Race Card’ just let me keep it simple for you. Tell Tom to talk all that existentialist shiite when he reviews Raekwon’s new CD and then he will have his unrevokable ‘Hood status.

  13. Dan Gibson

    You know, I can’t see past the “race card” because it seems entirely insane. Do you have to provide copies of your parents’ 1980′s tax returns? Is there a special category for blog writers? Is the application process like getting a doctorate? Do you have to make a oral defense of a advisement board-selected Big Daddy Kane record? Seriously, the whole business is indefensible.

    There are black hip hop writers who suck on paper and on the ‘net, and obvs, there are a bunch of white ones as well. There are two questions here, and neither is particularly affected by race: Is Status Ain’t Hood worth reading, and does his blog have any rippling effect in the rap world in general?

  14. The Dallas

    Dan are you be3ing facetious again like your earlier comment? Status ‘Aint Hood is one of the most popular and important music blogs that deals with Hip-Hop. Mostly because their audience is composed of people that actually buy Soundscan trackable albums, and not the download crowd (Nah’Right dot com), or the bootlegg crowd (Dallas Penn dot com).

    With this power and influence also comes the responsibility of using jurisprudence when criticizing someone’s art because people are going to hang on your words. When T.B. doesn’t exhibit the care or effort to thoroughly assess a Hip-Hop CD his lassez-faire(sp) attitude is transferred to his audience. None of this has anything to do with his ability to do a good job because of his race(a make believe construct that people submit to as much as the rented homes on MTV’s Cribs). If T.B. is using his privilege as a way to demean Hip-Hop then we have a problem. Up until this point T.B. hasn’t said anything one way or the other.

    I used to assume Michael Richards was cool guy because he portrayed a lovable character on television that never had a job and lived his life mooching off his next door neighbor. I recently found out that Michael Richards wasn’t such a cool guy and despite all of that Seinfeld season 7 DVD’s are so far the best sellers in the series.

    The folks at DP dot com aren’t going to support T.B. if we find out that he is another Michael Richards.

  15. IamnotStarJones

    Tom and his blog wouldn’t be a problem if black hip hop/urban culture writers had equal access to mainstream media opportunities.

    You see, when you are a black music writer — the chances that a mainstream media outlet will assign you to cover a diverse range of music is rare. (Besides Toure, Sasha and Kelefah — who else is on the list?)

    But when you are a white music writer there are no restrictions. You write for the world, get a few book deals, start appearing on Charlie Rose, buy a sweet condo in DUMBO, get a consulting producing job at MTV, VH-1 or Fuse, find a charming cool A&R chick to marry, sell your show idea to a network, start hanging out with all the cool kids and live happily ever aftah!


    For some black music hip hop writers, the best to hope for is a two bedroom shared with a chronically unemployed roommate, an invite to random record release parties, fighting with some random accounting department person for a check and wondering why some editors never deign to return your phone calls.

    It’s kinda infuriating but as EWF would say
    ‘That’s The Way of the World.’

  16. Dan Gibson

    So, Dallas, we’re talking about all this because Breihan hasn’t officially made some stand about how he intends to treat hip hop, and if he turns out to be a racist, you and your blog readers can say you knew all along?

    My contention, and I stand by this, is that the idea that Breihan is “Hip-Hop’s Most Dangerous Blog Critic” is laughable–not due to whether it’s true or not, but that the very idea that a hip hop blog critic amounts to a hill of beans to anyone who doesn’t have a blog him(or her) self is something crazy people believe.

  17. Dan Gibson

    Dallas,

    I can only hope that this drama was intended as some wacky internet-meta-bloggo-joke, because if it isn’t, somewhere it ended up that way.

  18. The Dallas

    Dan,
    It’s so much bigger now than simply Tom Breihan and his blog and whether or not he uses the ninja word and if he owns a brown pair of corduroy pants.

    First off, Tom, although privileged will never be a racist in my book. Possibly a bigot, but not a racist. To be a racist you have to practice racism in the proactive sense. You have to pass legislation and render decisions that prohibit a particular race from advancement. Most folks are just bigots. Just like a venture capitalist practices capitalism while the rest of us are simply consumers. Anyhoo…

    The issue from the beginning was focused on Tom, but it points to a broader spectrum of who is acceptable as a critic not because of their color, but because of the content of their criticism. Martin Luther King said that I think.

  19. maxreax

    But Dallas… what if Tom honestly doesn’t like Nas, or Raekwon, or any of those guys you want him so desparately to review? This is what I don’t get about your argument: you’re assuming that Pitbull is somehow objectively worse than Nas, and that this is subject to some kind of verification, and that Tom is being actively incorrect by asserting the opposite.

    But… that’s totally unfair! People–especially critics–are entitled to their opinions. Tom like Pitbull’s new album (and I do, too). He also likes Ghostface’s new album. And he dislikes Jay’s new album. Why does he need to conform to your standard? It seems like you’re assuming that he’s saying he likes/dislikes CDs based entirely on how cool it makes him seem or how much of a reaction he can get. Surely that’s a small part of it, but why can’t we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he honestly likes Pitbull more than Nas?

    There’s a serious and important conversation that needs to be had about the responsibilities of white rap critics, but this isn’t it. To be angry at Tom because he dislikes old rap idols is weird and petty; the job of the critic is to have opinions, and if you only ever agree with the status quo than you’re a boring critic.

    From where I’m standing, dude deserves a certain amount of criticism for what seem to be knee-jerk anti-”conscious” rap opinions (and I don’t blame him, any white music fan who went to college will tell you how much they had the bros who love Black Star and Aesop Rock and not much else) and for his rare mentions of race on his blog. But frankly, he’s getting better–he reviewed the Coup album!–and he does know a lot more about rap than everyone claims.

  20. maxreax

    Dallas, I don’t get it. It seems like you’re jumping on Tom for… his opinions? That doesn’t make any sense. He’s a critic. He’s entitled to his opinions, for God’s sake. Just because he doesn’t like Rae or Nas doesn’t make him a wigster.

    Tom deserves some criticism, from where I’m standing, because he tends to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to “conscious” rap (like oh-so-many white college-educated crits who hate the hackey-sack-playing bros who only listen to Black Star and Aesop Rock and not much else), but he’s actually quite well-informed, and willing to talk about race and politics on his blog (although obviously he could stand to do it more). But look: to fault him for saying Pitbull is better than Nas is to a) miss the joke of the title, which was intended to piss off would-be canon-builders and b) to assert that your view of rap is “correct” and all others “incorrect,” which is patently ridiculous.

  21. maxreax

    oops. that’s embarrassing.

  22. FunkyJ

    This is all bullshit.

    Only Americans would be so lame as to bring race into hiphop music criticism.

    Anyone can make hiphop, and anyone can comment on it.

    If you ask me Australia and the UK are doing hiphop better than America at the moment, anyway.

    And fuck it, if they say the N-Word in a song, I’m gonna say it in my review. If you don’t want to be called it, don’t fucking use it…

  23. GeddyLee

    Oh, dude, I’ve read bullshit in my life but that was like total bullshit. like nothing else in there. just bullshit. 100% shit from a bull.

    there’s no appropriation here. tom may have questionable taste but how dare anyone question his knowledge of hip-hop? thats the dumbest thing EVER. questioning someone’s knowledge? why don’t we try to guess how many pubic hairs he has on his balls? maybe that would be a better waste of time.

    dumb, dude. there’s racism, there’s p.c. and then there’s reverse racism. i’m not even sure where we are right now.

    fuck. i cant’ believe i read that bullshit. my eyes want their money back.

    wait…did i say that post was all bullshit?

  24. Jeff Weiss

    When someone refers to the horns used on Jay-Z’s “Show Em What You Got” as the Rumpshaker horns like Breihan has, you better believe you can question someone’s knowledge of hip-hop. Anyone with a shred of hip-hop knowledge would recognize them as a Public Enemy sample, (or maybe N2 Deep if you liked “Back to the Hotel.”) Being a white boy that writes about hip hop a great deal, I think there is a certain respect that you have to have for hip hop culture. Hip Hop is not white culture it is black culture. Period. Not to say that white people can’t participate in the culture. They can. Which I think is wonderful that hip hop music is one of the few shared experiences that people of all races seem to enjoy these days. But it remains s disrespectful and ignorant to go jump into a genre without encyclopedic knowledge and try to dictate things and re-write the canon of another culture. This is why you can’t responsibly say Pitbull is better than Nas. Nas has meant a lot of things to a lot of people and issued some of the most important albums in rap history. Personally, I don’t even like Nas, but I respect what he’s down and enjoy his early stuff. The bottom line is people are offended by his callous disregard to a rich history and culture that he seems ignorant and dismissive of. It doesn’t neccessarily have to do with race, it has to do more with respect and proper appreciation of an art form and it’s history (which he seems ignorant of prior to 2000)

    And by the way, Pitbull is garbage, if you can’t see that, I’m really sorry. That’s just the truth.

  25. GeddyLee

    “But it remains s disrespectful and ignorant to go jump into a genre without encyclopedic knowledge and try to dictate things and re-write the canon of another culture.”

    WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?
    Really?
    This sentence is “whack” on so many levels…but wait, can I use the word “whack,” or as a white man, am I being disrespectful to the hip-hop community?

    I’ll tell you why this is all bullshit because music isn’t supposed to be about walls, categorizations, and/or prejudices (unless of course you’re Prussian Blue). Fuck that self-righteous bullshit of Combat Whack name-checking all the peeps he knows because, well all know, THAT’s what makes someone hip-hop.
    Whatevs.

    And for the record, the “Jew” in “Jew cats” is capitalized, not lowercased. And also, btw, I’m sure all the “Jew cats” appreciate your love for their “honesty.” Great to hear that “That’s why [you] respect ya’ll.” But are you sure it’s not because they make great accountants?

    And finally, I don’t read Tom’s blog often enough to be an expert, nor do I know the guy but this elitist bullshit makes me puke twice. Ninja, please.

  26. FunkyJ

    Passion of the Weiss says:

    Anyone with a shred of hip-hop knowledge would recognize them as a Public Enemy sample

    So what’s your point?

    And anyone with a shred of hiphop knowledge would know that they’re both sampled them from Lafayette Afro Rock Band…

    And I’m a white suburbanite form the arse end of the world!

    Therefore what does this mean? I have better music knowledge, a better record collection, a god damn better dick???

    This whole thing is just chest beating by a bunch of wannabes who are too crap to make their own music so they complain about others.

    It’s USELESS to argue about this kind of shit!

    Anyone who does is just jealous of someone else’s fame, and probably not confident in their own ability as a critic.

  27. The Dallas

    I think that everyone that doesn’t read Tom needs to wear a ‘Ho Sit Down’ on their forehead. Look that phrase up in the search bar on my site. And yes, white and Jew may use that term.

    Fall back on the internets thuggery GeddyLee. I see that Michael Richards has been an empowering influence in your life, but imagine that these discussions were taking place in real time in real person form. Show some mother effing respect.

    Combat Jack’s post was dropped on my site because we are actually readers and fans, dare I say, of Breihan’s work. To our dismay Tom doesn’t bring his ‘A’ game to the table when he discusses Hip-Hop. Could that be because he doesn’t have the background to fully understand the context and the canon which is before him. His background has NOTHING to do with race. Race is some make believe shiite like the people on MTV Cribs actually owning those houses.

    Your background is what makes you a great music critic not your privilege or your vocabulary, although if Tom were to step up his polysyllabic game when discussing Hip-Hop it might make up for the fact that he comes to it so blissfully incomplete.

    Because I can see the forest for the trees I personally don’t begrudge anyone for their use of the ‘N’ word. There’s a reason the Seinfeld Season 7 DVD is selling out. If more white could say the word ‘nigger’ in public maybe we wouldn’t even be having this conversation because I’d be hanging from a tree by now.

    The long and the short of that post on my site is this… “Come correct or don’t come at all”.

    Would Pitchfork let me write a review saying that John Mayer was better than John Lennon just for the sake of being a smartazz? Would I be able to submit that review without substance?

    See the bigger picture and stop letting faux constructs like race and religion cloud your opinion.

    Also, if you don’t even read Breihan SHUT THE EFF UP!

  28. GeddyLee

    oh my god. oh no you dinnit.
    did you just bring up michael richards? didja? i think ya did. whoa, that’s riDONK.
    is that the tactic? disregard any disagreements by dismissing them as racist?

    and bud, ya cant read. i said, i dont read Tom’s blog often enough–not that I don’t read it, period. why? because well, frankly, i dislike the voice’s journalism in general. So there.

    And now youre backtracking by claiming that all the while you’ve merely been seeking out Tom’s A-game, like you’re on a quest to inspire the writer? Pray tell, can you tell me how to spot Tom’s A-game when we see it? Btw, so noble of you.

    Personally, I don’t see the point in continuing this comments-back-and-forth because, Dallas, you need to stop running around with the “R” stamp (for racist) and read what people are writing. Not all of us are focused on division and hate. some of like to hug and high-five all races and religions. high five?

    All I’m sayin is that article you posted was baseless and pointless. Essentially, as one of your commentators Jordan pointed out the “problems” are:

    1) That he uses the word “ninja”.
    2) That he fails to exhibit sufficient respect for certain eminent rap artists, especially when he compares them unfavorably to more recent artists; it is suggested that this tendency is an exercise of white privilege.
    3) The Village Voice blog comments system is slow and cumbersome, and Breihan or his editors might be conspiring to prevent your posts from appearing in a timely fashion.

    Whatev, dude. I’m sure Tom is getting a kick out of being taken so seriously. So high five on that. Not only have you hosted a meaningless controversy, you’re indirectly driven traffic to Tom’s blog.

    And is the 7th Season of Seinfeld really selling out? Because I saw a stack of them at Best Buy.

  29. The Dallas

    I ethered you GeddyLee.

    Deal with it, and keep it moving.

    High fives.

  30. noz

    As high profile, openly white hip hop blogger of nearly four years, I can honestly say that only other white people have ever excplicitly discriminated against my whiteness.

  31. Jeff Weiss

    All hail the Penn…and look Funky J…I don’t know that much about funk or soul music. So yeah…my knowledge of what hip hoppers are indeed sampling is not as good as it should be. But guess what? I don’t write about funk and soul often and if I do I don’t pretend to know anything about it other than what I like. But I would’t say that Ne-Yo is better than Marvin Gaye which is essentially what Breihan did when he wrote headlines like Pitbull: Better than Nas.

    And yes, you’re right it is useless to ARGUE over this shit, but it isn’t useless to have a discussion about music. If you don’t like discussing music than why bother signing up for an Idolator commentor account? And for the record, yeah I think someone’s musical knowledge is pretty crucial to be MUSIC CRITIC. RE: Public Enemy. It’s like not listening to Dylan, Led Zepp, The Velvet Underground. These are touchstones. Not obscure music crit wankery. You don’t have to like a canonical band. However, you should be familiar with their catalogue.

    And regarding being a musician? Are you kidding? Isn’t that a bit of a ridiculous generalization. I’ve never played an instrument,nor do I have any interest in doing so. I’m a writer. I write about what interests me. I’m interested in music. It’s not that complicated.

  32. Furman P. Slothra

    Dallas, I always had a sense from the nuances of your style that you were half baby half ram. Now I can be sure.

  33. The Dallas

    Mostly baby FPS, mostly baby

  34. DrewRicketts

    I don’t think it boils down to simply race. My race disclaimer is that I am black and hip hop is fundamentally a black art (according to us mostly) so we feel we can claim it (rightly or wrongly). I wrote this blog decrying Breihan’s blog around when this issue started to swell up. T’ain’t all about the skin though…

    Read more here…and lend your thoughts.

    myspace.com/biggestthingsince

  35. DrewRicketts

    Black music writer here to concur with StarJones’ post. Yeah, that’s right, I’m a critical, discerning, East Coast-raised hip hop fan BUT, more importantly, my P.O.V. will hardly get the tread that Breihan’s does. Although I do not think it only boils down to race or who can appropriate whom’s culture, that is certainly why his writing hits a soft spot for many. He need not signify for me, in other words.
    If he keeps to his indie rock reviews, he’ll be better served. Anything he spits from now on will be viewed as either pandering/kowtowing or plain ol’ inaccurate.

    Uncle Tom’s Breihan strikes with fury.

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