Electro-pop star Ke$ha currently has a number one hit on iTunes, with her Asher Roth meets Miley Cyrus meets Rapture-era Blondie meets Basement Jaxx sound. So why does the NY Times think she symbolizes the new rise of white rappers?
Jon Caramanica's piece (titled "Changing the Face (and Sound) of Rap") perplexed me on multiple levels, starting with this admission in the intro:
It would be tough to surmise from looking at Ke$ha - 22 and rangy, with a model's figure and a Sunset Strip attitude - but "TiK ToK" is something of a milestone in contemporary pop: the complete and painless assimilation of the white female rapper into pop music.
If she's rapping at all, that is. "I never thought of her as rapping," said Barry Weiss, chairman and chief executive of RCA/Jive Label Group, who signed Ke$ha. "I just thought of it as her particular vocal phrasing on certain songs."
Does anyone think she's a rapper? Her single is categorized as pop by iTunes, and the six or seven songs I've listened to sound like standard Disney channel ready fare (if you remove the alcohol references). And the comparisons that jump to mind when listening to Ke$ha are generally current and former teen queens (like Avril Lavigne, Hillary Duff, Miley Cyrus) or other house/techno acts.
Ke$ha does have some links to hip-hop: she sang the hook on Flo Rida's "Right Round." But even Ke$ha herself denies that she's a rapper in the article:
"I love the Beastie Boys - that's probably why ‘TiK ToK' happened," Ke$ha said. "Rap in general has never been my steez, but I like it."
So why the rush to lump Ke$ha in with the less-than-luminous ranks of rappers whose main selling point was their skin color and a gimmicky hook?
I'm not a hip-hop purist, by any means. If someone has a great flow, I say let them in. But I think the intentional mis-labeling of Ke$ha reflects a larger trend - the fear of cross pollination. For so long, music was defined in very strict dynamics. In the US, the divide was once racial - the old white and black designations changed to terms like "urban" fairly recently. And, as the industry grew into a juggernaut of marketing savvy and corporate control, it made sense to start segmenting everything into strict genres, with their own marketing schemes and "proven" paths to success.
One of the most interesting developments of the 00s is seeing how quickly that paradigm is being subverted. This isn't a new trend by any means - musicians have been reaching out to each other across genres since the concept was invented, and hip-hop in particular has sampled everything from soul to rock - but the increasing onslaught of media, music videos, and globalization has led to more and more artists redefining their own creative boundaries publicly. It is this environment that allows for Lil' Wayne to cut a rock track like "Prom Queen," that gives space to hip-hop violinists like Miri-Ben Ari, Sarina, and Nuttin But Stringz, to allow neo-soul crooners like Van Hunt to sing ballads and then thrash on guitars, and have one of the most downloaded albums of the decade be a mash-up between Jay-Z and the Beatles. We are in a world where the K-pop sensation The Wonder Girls can open for the All-American Jonas Brothers, and where traveling DJs take Baltimore House and Baile Funk all over the globe, while artists like M.I.A, Esthero and Nelly Furtado dabble in any and every genre they please.
In short, we are in the era of boundary blurring.
Ke$ha's one pop hit may be a flash in the pan, or it may be the launch pad to an illustrious career. She may continue down this road, or she may - as she jokes in the Times piece — cut a polka record. But she is not redefining the hip-hop space. She's doing something else entirely.
Changing the Face (and Sound) of Rap [NY Times]