Long Form

Really?: Authenticity and the Modern Musician

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Hey, I’m a hip-hop artist. What else would I be writing about for my first piece up on The Wknd, right?

Of course, that’s not to say that the issue of authenticity – “keeping it real”, as we say in the streets we rap people claim to represent – is one that pertains only to those of a baggy-jeaned inclination. To one extent or another, musicians hav­­­­­­­­­e had to deal with the judgment of others based on the genres to which they have chosen to dedicate their talents and craftwork; subcultures have norms just like any other communal set of approved practices. As beneficiaries of hand-me-down societal rules, we are constantly faced with the dilemma of living up to the hype. Whether within our own little pockets of relevance, or in the more glaring mainstream line of sight, certain things are expected of us, for whatever they are worth.

One of the cardinal temptations of any creative individual subsisting on the approval and appreciation of others is to believe one’s own hype, and those who would attempt to live up to the expectations attached to their musical preferences at the risk of life and limb would safely be considered zealots. Look, ordering a pair of limited edition Chucks is fine, as long as you’re not using a stolen credit card to do it. So is playing basketball just because it’s what you think you have to do to be down with the hip-hop diaspora. Shoes are nice to have, and sports are healthy.  But to think that not engaging in the peripheral practices of one’s musical culture delegitimizes one’s status in society is probably not healthy, and definitely not a nice thought to have. This is especially so when one doesn’t know enough to dictate terms to oneself and to others: I mean, go ahead and surround yourself with ironic articles of clothing, home furnishing and DVDs, but it’s not that ironic when you don’t even know why or how those things got to be cultural signifiers in the first place. (Actually, that does sound pretty ironic, so whatever.)  And double especially when you take it upon yourself to impose these standards on others. Think snorting lines of pure Bolivian white makes you a better musician? That’s on you. Think I’m a lesser musician because I don’t snort lines of pure Bolivian white? That’s on me. And that’s not cool.

I keep half-expecting my friends in the black metal community to burn down a house of worship or two; my peoples in reggae and ska just exude a vibe of i-don’t-give-a-good-goddamn-about-anything and effortless camaraderie; and I can’t shake the feeling that practitioners of trance music have on their persons more prescription medicine than a pharmaceutical plant. And I suppose people expect me to have a Glock semi-automatic and a massive platinum chain lurking under my shirt at all times. But we know none of the above are universally true … at least in the local context. As we adopt a culture not originally our own, we don’t fully abandon the instincts we grew up with. Malaysia is to all intents and purposes a country governed by a democratic system, and yet for better or for worse many feudal practices still remain. There are Muslims who imbibe and do not pay their zakaat and have posters of Obituary on their walls; and there are straightedge practitioners who still wear Nike SBs and eat Triple Cheeseburgers. We not only adopt, we adapt. Musical culture, like any other, is like a wardrobe: I’ve read enough copies of Cosmopolitan to know that it’s always better for one’s general day-to-day convenience if you know how to mix and match.

I’m not here to rail against acts of vanity and ostentation; we all like to feel good about ourselves. But when we subvert the distinguishing features of our culture into cast-iron rules of engagement we run the risk of choking our fields of creative endeavour to obsolescence. Preference is what got us here in the first place, but imposing preferences on not only ourselves but onto others will drive the young and the curious away. What we publicly attach to our musical experiences should be a source of pride and achievement rather than a set of subliminal subscriptions to what we think we should do to count as a member of the scene. As people who try to make pretty sounds while playing pretend, we need to be wary of playing to pretense. Let others get caught up in walking the talk and talking the walk – the world is always made better with a healthy dose of drama and theatrics. It’s what some people are all about, and are really good at.

But we are the band. We provide the soundtrack. We should probably just stick to making music.

Written by WordsManifest