Paper Route Gangstaz
Diplo & Benzi Present: Fear & Loathing in Hunts Vegas Mixtape
(Paper Route/Mad Decent; 2008)
By Clayton Purdom | 21 January 2009
I keep seeing this word “hipster” scattered about like so much mucus (it’s flu season). If derisive friends both old and new are to be believed, I live in one of the great hipster nexuses of the megaverse, or at least of the Midwest. I buy vinyl near the Pitchfork offices. I see Flosstradamus on the train sometimes. A guy that lives across the street from me takes photographs of Joanna Newsom. You are already pissed off: “He must be a hipster.” But I don’t think I am. No hipster does, I realize. But for real! If I am, someone let me know. I see these hipsters clicking about my hood, or at least the people who technically would be considered hipsters and are actually just taller and skinnier and have better facial hair than me (meaning any). They seem to be having fun, looking like pirates as they do.
But there is this concern and correlating antipathy toward hipsters and hipsterdom, or where hipsters hang out or what the hipsters like and how that all totally fucking sucks man. This is displeasing unto me. Why give a fuck? Hating groups of people doesn’t really work unless the group adheres to a strict definition—like Cincinnatians, Juggalos or bike mechanics, my three least favorite. Hating groups of people is cool, within reason; it shows that one draws lines in the sand. (It becomes uncool when that line is around, like, Haitians or whatever, but still.) In absence of a definition, though, being a group-hater just makes you a douchebag. Hipsters like lots of things and dress like lots of different types of pirates and vampires. But I can’t just call everyone who’s skinny and has better facial hair than me a hipster and then hate them, because then I’d have to hate my friend Jon. He’s very skinny and has phenomenal facial hair. And he’d hate being called a hipster, even though he wears tight jeans.
I’m treading water here. But there’s a part of me that listens to Fear & Loathing in Hunts Vegas and sits utterly enthralled at the encyclopedic hotness on display and then hears a sniveling catcall from the peanut gallery: “Hipster rap!” What could this criticism mean? I know to whom it applies: the kingly Cool Kids, Diplo (present), Kidz in the Hall, maybe Wale (present), maybe Charles Hamilton, maybe Lil Wayne if he hadn’t up and sold a record to everyone in America. Still, the name doesn’t make any sense. If hipster rap is intelligent, fashion-conscious, and proudly underrepresented I don’t know what differentiates it culturally or critically from golden era Native Tongues or backpack rap from the late ’90s or Def Jux from the early aughts—and all these epochs of rap are cool to still like, I think, and were generally just considered “good” in their time. I have problems with the delineation hipster in the first place, since the group doesn’t seem to actually exist outside of the editorial mission statement of Vice magazine, and I have bigger problems still with those who would rail against this Jabberwocky. This notion of “hipster rap,” or even rap that only hipsters like, is the utmost extension of this nonsense. Which party did the Cool Kids not sound good at, again?
Well, okay: you may not feel the Cool Kids. You’re wrong, but this mixtape, cobbling unknown Georgian emcees with baleful fire via the Block Beataz and a couple better-known hipster rap DJs, is different. Indeed, if this mixtape, the production of which often makes me feel like a T-1000, superficially resembles anything, it’s that oft-flagellated emblem of hipsterdom, ye olde gacking Girl Talk. I have come out against Greg Gillis since I knew Greg Gillis existed; at Lollapalooza, which sucked anyway, I openly jeered him; when he comes up in even casual and friendly conversation, I ready my gauntlet of criticisms. But Girl Talk doesn’t suck because of whom Girl Talk appeals to (“hipsters”), because that group even includes my one friend Jason who wears Zoo York hats. Girl Talk sucks because Girl Talk sucks, lacking any ear for flow or tonal complexity and snickering malevolently at the juxtaposition of familiar white indie rock against brutally decontextualized rap lines.
There is some of that in this. Here, too, we find Sam Cooke chipmunked, Weezer twirling out familiarly beneath coke raps, Trainspotting synthesizer melancholia, Prince chintz and so on. We find again an insistence upon partying. But the difference between Girl Talk and this mixtape is that when Girl Talk references a party or partying it is exactly one thing—a euphemism for blow—whereas the undercurrent of melancholy sustained here implies a more nebulous party as a corollary to a more nebulous desperation. The frequently misogynist braggadocio of these raps draws no chuckles; rather, presented in their entirety and not as catchphrases bleated ad infinitum, the words sting with the profound ugliness such sentiments merit. The semi-screwed hook “Rollin rollin rollin / We ain’t slept in weeks” doesn’t leave the listener yearning to join the caravan but instead wondering from what desperate blankness these emcees have fled.
Instead of whatever base fashionista subjugation of hip-hop may be implied by the term “hipster rap,” this Paper Route Gangstaz’ mixtape sounds like an exploration of a solitary type of melancholy, that sort of sad way of being fly that the best of this decade’s mainstream hip-hop has rendered as code. The anger that defined this form fifteen years ago has subsided in popular thought to a constant weariness evinced by T.I., by Jeezy, by Kanye and Hova, and so many more. Only recently has that cocksure worldliness filtered into the underground and unsigned, and it’s this exact phenomenon that’s been iced as “hipster rap.” If this is hipster rap, then fine: these blankfaced hipsters are on point, where/what/whoever they are. People’s problem is not with the hipsters or with Girl Talk, it’s with reductionist logic and token appropriation. Call it like it is. The way Girl Talk subjugates hip hop’s long history into a squirrelly sequence of punchlines: backlash there. The way those skinny dudes with good facial hair lavish praise upon the Cool Kids or Weezy alone, ignoring (say) Freeway: backlash there. But where is that reductionism or tokenism here? Eviscerated by the friction blaze of hi-hats ticking against sublime rhymes, Weezer sample dancing solo nearby. Call it like it is. It’s a rap album.