This week’s post is entirely the product of facestalking a friend. Well, not exactly stalking, maybe appropriating – that is what web 2.0 is sold as, a more efficient platform for appropriation, right?
That’s how I saw this slice of awesome right here:
Fabian “Occasional Superstar” Williams has some beef with Fahamu Pecou and that beef is coming to a full-on boil as Fahamu Pecou (who is the shit) has responded with his own diss video. Unfortunately there is no embeddable version available yet, but the video is available on facebook and you should be able to watch it here if you login. For the time being allow me to offer some excerpts from the video, which provides some pretty epic clowning-on:
You got a lot of catchin’ up to do get with me, son. Look at this [holds a copy of art price magazine to the camera], this shit’s from Korea. What’s that? [Opens magazine and shows his picture] That’s in Korean, son! You’re supposed to be there too, huh? Yeah?
[Lady friend interrupts] Now hold-up. This is Essence magazine, Fabian ain’t in this? Who’s this? There’s Pecou.But hold-up, this is Essence magazine.
Let me tell you something, Fabian Williams: you’re in a whole other league from me now, son. This is grown-man shit. You go home and play with your crayons, while I make art. And make history. You go on and make your bed. And now you’re gonna have to make your bed ’cause you done started some shit.
Nothing more simple in the hip hop genre than the diss track and managing beef. Kool Moe Dee vs. LL Cool J, Biggie vs. Tupac, 5ocent vs. Ja Rule, and on and on. The trope is so familiar that NPR featured Marc Lynch’s piece from Foreign Policy examining Jay-Z and the Game’s beef as something like an analog to how power dynamics play-out in international relations.
In a previous article we’ve discussed hip hop as a symptom of what I’m terming spectacular economics, or spectaclism (as in capitalism). This idea is born from the last of the revolutionary avant garde, Guy Debord and the Situationist International, and particularly I am developing my thinking from Debord’s theses in Society of the Spectacle. The historical avant garde was first and foremost concerned with transforming social relations. Particularly this was an attempt to develop a livable critique of capitalism, especially as it became apparent how the Soviet-style of communism differed so little from the U.S. model of democracy, see Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take (2009), clip below:
Whether the beef between the Fahamu Pecou (who is the shit) and Fabian Williams is fictitious or not, the situation presents itself not as an opportunity to align sides, but for the audience to lose itself in the commodification of its own memory of the events. This commodification that is the sine qua non of hip hop (and of spectaclist relations overall) because, as George Markus so succinctly put it, “reconciles the individual-as-consumer with this world, offering a seeming re-assertion of his or her unique personality – by making choices among mass produced commodities the affirmation of one’s taste.” This process only occurs if a complex mimicry industry is developed – the hype machine and superstars. These exist simply as models for others to emulate. In Lil’ Wayne’s words, “We’re creating it to where that’s the artist you have to be period. To where a motherfucker just gotta like YOU. That’s a superstar. […] I believe I am here for nothing else but this, what I’m doing. Not to rap, but to do what I’m doing.”
At least as can be gleaned from the interviews and the materials that Pecou has available on the internet (I’ve not made an attempt to contact Pecou, but welcome the opportunity), a central concern in his career is understanding the distribution of hip hop culture (and it’s incumbent narratives of what it means to be a black man) as well as attempting to critique the shifting stereotypes of blackness in the U.S. after the election of Barack Obama. On a personal level I’m very receptive to Pecou’s discussion of these because of a unique opportunity I had as an undergraduate.
I took out the extra student loan money and signed on for a summer abroad in Ghana, West Africa, at the University of Cape Coast. The students were paired with host families (I am eternally grateful to my wonderful family!) which gave us an amazing opportunity to learn about Ghana. There are a million things that could be said about that time spent in that wonderful place, but most relevant to Pecou’s concern about the exporting of U.S. hip hop culture to Africa was the collection of VHS tapes my Ghanaian host family had: Jungle Fever (1991) by Spike Lee and Ice T’s straight-to-video Mean Guns (1997). More than once I was asked what kind of BMW I drove and it was really crushing, in the face of obvious poverty and under development, for me to try to explain to the teen aged boys that although I was a (white) male from the U.S. I was actually pretty poor in comparison to their ideas about life in the U.S. Pecou states he faced a similar conundrum when he was in South Africa and tried to explain that although it’s common in hip hop culture for black men to refer to each other as niggas, he really didn’t want to be called that by the South African guy he happened across one night. World trade has done something to the détournement that was once present when a young black man, versed in the ways of hip hop and pan-africanist thought, would refer to his peer as, “my nigga.”
In Chapter 9 of Capital, vol. 1 Marx makes a really interesting formula for understanding how capitalism – as exploitative as it is – can continue to get laborers to support their bourgeois oppressors. Central to capitalism is the need for surplus value, because surplus value is what can be used to create profit and this extra value that comes from production means there is something more that can be invested in the marketplace. With me so far?
Surplus value is also surplus labor time, because this surplus value can be utilized to purchase goods – that were harvested by other laborers, and sold at a profit to the owner of that labor power, e.g. the actual labor of the lumberjack and the amount paid to that laborer that went into logging that tree and this cost passed onto the purchaser that then processes the tree into paper (and so must pay their laborers, and so on.)
So the capitalist has to buy the laborer at a certain amount, and then must recoup that cost (by selling a product), and so the laborer must work a certain amount of time to pay off what the capitalist already paid. But the laborers must also be provided for beyond simply getting their energy back – the laboring class has to reproduce itself otherwise the capitalist won’t have a factory after a generation.
This is where “urban” music comes in. Just get the kids singing, as soon as possible, we do not want them missing this message, “I just wanna f*ck evry girl in the world.” It’s a problem similar to “Bling-reinforces-African slavery.” This is a vital element of the spectaclist economy. All leisure time must be filled with the thrill of leisure, the thrill of choosing between chunky Prego and cheese-flavored Prego.
I heard my parents extolling the virtue of shopping at Wal-Mart versus the other chain grocery store, “Wal-Mart just gives you so many choices…” as though this were some sort of civic duty. In fact, I think that IS why Wal-Mart is successful in the U.S. Like de Tocqueville said back in the earl 19th century: what makes the U.S. so fascinating is that anyone in the country can potentially sit on that jury that will hang a man. Choices such as these are central to the U.S.er psyche and these kinds of choices are the lynchpin of spectaclist economics.
David Graeber wrote in his pamphlet Fragments that it’s absurd that so many social scientists would seriously ask the question “why did the West develop capitalism and conquer the world and not South America” (gunning for you here, Jared Diamond)? Why is it absurd to ask this? ‘Cause no one else would have thought to annihilate and colonize all the other countries they came in contact with the way Western Europeans chose to do back then. A great example would be from the Chinese and Zheng He, who had the biggest and best navy of all human history to that time. They went exploring at the same time as da Gama et al, but they chose not to colonize the way Western Europe did – because it’s just base to do that. Basically the sentiment would be, “yeah, I could enslave your populations and pillage the land, but that would be a dick-move, why would I want to do that?” So, Graeber, puts it, there’s nothing special about Europe beyond the willingness to commit a centuries-long dick-move campaign.
How do you get the colonized to accept the exploitation? Find the music that gets them procreating, find the liquor that helps that happen, encourage certain sections of the population to sexually dominate the others (by regulating who can marry whom), and provide panem et circenses.
UPDATED: to reflect proper attribution, original top image was the photo (unknown author) from which the current image was painted; also, “ART PAPERS” image’s proper title, “Touching Souls” is now corrected.