Indeed, we feel that Williams is right in his overall assessment of the situation; the typical Broadway crowd does not have the cultural capital to understand the brilliance of Tupac, nor maybe even the patience to connect with a story such as this. Particularly, Williams- as in his interview with Power 105.1 The Breakfast Club- is on the scent when he criticizes the low audience attendance and poor reviews. He is being critical about the zeitgeist of race in America and how it haunts most forms of the entertainment that is deemed “culturally relevant” in our society. In a society desiring to divest itself from the labors of real-world problems such as youth gun violence, the “Arts and Entertainment” aspect of Broadway has lost the cerebral and introspective art, in favor of the mindless, digestable entertainment.
There is power in this assessment of the issue. And indeed, it raises the question that perhaps we are venturing into scapegoat territory when we raise the name of Azalea (and her “contemporaries” like Macklemore and Miley) as cultural appropriators, when we do not look to our own hip-hop icons as some of the chief architects of the commodifying of hip-hop music. Indeed, as much as we laud (for good reason) the talents of Pharell and Jay Z, and even Queen Beyonce, there is something to be said about how “safe” hip hop has become for the sake of corporate relationships with American Express, Anheuser-Busch, or HBO. How can we hope to keep the teeth in hip-hop and soul when we willingly de-fang it in order to move product? Do we leave room for headier discussions when we too promote the near nihilism and hedonism that has become our music today?
Of course, it is unfair to be so dichotomous in conversation- none of this is so black and white. All the same, the questions need to be raised, and more than that, some answers need to be given! There should be a reevaluation of “high culture”, where those who have successfully elevated hip-hop to stratospheric levels can translate that success to not just bodies in seats on Broadway or Tony nominations, but indeed to a point where the stories of the poor, the Black, and the Brown, the urban, and the misfit do have a place of “relevancy” in the minds of all.
There is a certain irony of Holler If You Hear Me, in that both the “musical” and “hip hop” are arguably two out of three of America’s true original art forms. It would seem that there is a place for them to coexist in meaningful ways (and no, we are not just talking about In The Heights, as fun as that was). The edginess, indeed the sometimes bleakness that discusses crime, cycles of poverty, and violence in American streets should be the discussion on the lips of every American, through every medium possible; including The Great White Way.
Saul Williams On The Scent : Capitalism and Culture– soulhead.com contributor