ROSE ON . . . Lupe Fiasco (“dreadfully underrated”)
YOU MENTION LUPE. PEOPLE WILL POINT TO UNDERGROUND HIP-HOP AND SAY, "THERE'S A MORE CONSCIOUS RAP." BUT THE UNDERGROUND, YOU SUGGEST, ISN'T ENOUGH. I do think we need places that are out of the commercial spotlight, but I don't want to call them the underground, because that concedes the aboveground territory to the commercial arena as we know it now.

We have the power to determine what is viable in our "commercial culture" if we take on the personal transformation and educational transformation that we need. The market — if we pursue what matters, appropriately — it will follow us. But if we don't, it will encourage the worst of us, as we allow it to.

DO YOU HAVE ANY REAL HOPE THAT PEOPLE WILL PURSUE SOMETHING MORE MEANINGFUL? Yes. That was where I started out. Because if you look at the history of R&B, the history of blues, the history of jazz, that's what black music has done for this country. So I have complete faith it'll happen. But part of that depends on really rejecting the terms of belonging that we're all being asked to participate in. It's going to be much harder now given the assault — there's so much coming at us. But human resilience is extraordinary.

I WANTED TO ASK ABOUT HIP-HOP SCHOLARSHIP ITSELF. CRITICS SAY IT'S OUT OF TOUCH, THAT IT'S AN IVORY TOWER EXCUSE FOR SOCIOLOGY, THAT IT DOESN'T FOCUS ENOUGH ON THE ART FORM ITSELF. A lot of it does focus on the art form. But I think all serious, critical, intensive analysis is going to be somewhat disengaged from what the practitioners think. I mean, look at jazz scholarship and jazz musicians — they don't sit around reading jazz scholarship. That gap is there everywhere — novelists and literary criticism. In that sense, there's a normal gap.

The problem with some hip-hop scholarship from my perspective is that even though it's been going on now for a very long time, it continues to construct itself as a defense of hip-hop's resistance capacity.

I think we're in a new moment and we need to be much more honest about where we are with it and not imagine it's 1989. Just looking for the resistive narrative and finding it like a needle in the haystack and then rushing out to point it out and never answering a question about the haystack is irresponsible. It's irresponsible to the very vulnerable people who've given us hip-hop.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at

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