This weekend, The Internet has been full of outrage – that distinctly indignant, un-self-aware outrage that The Internet specialises in.
It’s because of a post on NPR’s All Songs Considered blog, where intern Austin Cooper (described by his employers as “unimaginably young” and by himself as someone whose “experience in hip-hop is limited in scope”) reviewed Public Enemy’s 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back, as part of a series of posts where All Songs Considered interns review classic albums, or sacred cows.
Now, first off: the piece isn’t great, and Cooper will no doubt look back at it and grimace in a few years time (let’s face it – if you don’t look back and grimace at things you wrote in your very early twenties then there’s something very wrong afoot). Public Enemy were as famous for their lyrics as for the Bomb Squad’s production, and to only zone in on the latter (especially when Chuck D’s flow, and the way his vocals are recorded, both get mentioned) seems lazy. It also doesn’t seem like there’s been much, if any research of the album’s context, though there’s every chance that was part of Cooper’s instructed task – to go in blind, if you will. Either way, there are plenty of valid criticisms of the piece to be made.
But, of course, for the most part these aren’t what Cooper’s being called up on. Both in All Songs Considered’s comment section and on other websites (in fact, I just searched for “NPR” on Twitter and one of the first Tweets that comes up states that “we must find this child and kill him”, which is more than a little worrying), the outrage is directed at the sheer gall of this young adult to criticise an album that’s an accepted part of the musical canon. How dare he like Rick Ross more than Chuck D? But isn’t this the sort of blind canonisation that Public Enemy would have presumably – amongst more pressing issues – been opposed to? Arguably their most famous lyric (“most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps”) would suggest so.
If you can’t even fathom for a minute that a 21-year old might find Nation of Millions’ production inadequate by modern day standards, then you need to pull your head out.
So a kid in his early 20s finds that contemporary artists (as well as Ross, he names Clams Casino, Hudson Mohawke and Kanye West amongst his favourites) move him more than Public Enemy? Personally, I’m glad he had the balls to say it in the public arena like that, and I find it astonishing that so many people can scold a young person for liking new music more than old music with a straight face. In one comment, “lack of reverence” is actually used as a negative – it’s like punk rock, or indeed Public Enemy, never happened. Kill yr. idols? More like Classic Rock magazine. If you can’t even fathom for a minute that a 21-year old might find Nation of Millions’ production inadequate by modern day standards, then you need to pull your head out. It sounds tinny compared to albums released in ’94.
Besides, what’s the alternative? A predictable puff-piece where an intern listens to an accepted classic and finds it to be just that? Could anything be more worthless? As with musicians, the more music writers we have that are prepared to kick back against the suffocating weight of the canon the better. When I was 21, if I’d been writing for a platform as widely read as NPR I probably wouldn’t have had it in me.