Midnight at the oasis….we are now in the era of nothing.

by Marcus K. Dowling

Midnight at the oasis / Send your camel to bed
– Maria Muldaur, “Midnight at the Oasis”

Welcome to the era of irony, the era of the void, the era of bad feelings. Welcome to the era of being with being broke, welcome to the era of nothing. In the absence of near everything, music has become an oasis for those who succeed at it. Who can seriously rap about money when unemployment nears 10 percent nationwide. Who can seriously rap about murdering someone when the urban poor are slowly starting to see violent acts perpetrated against themselves in larger numbers. Who can seriously rap about anything of worth? We’re the bastard sons of that era, we’re the bastard sons and daughters of Run-DMCs adidas. We’re the bastard children at the end of NWA’s sawed off shotguns. We’re even the forgotten children at the bottom of Diddy’s never ending bottle of Cristal. We’re not even worthy enough to be sprayings off of Dame Dash’s bottle as well, we’re not even good enough to be the dollar bill on Melyssa Ford’s backside as some gangsta rapper put it there at a strip club. We can’t travel with Speech to Tennessee. We can’t even tell Tasha she’s got a “Big Ole Butt.” It’s inappropriate. And Tasha would probably prefer if we helped her get an economic stimulus check. She works at Red Lobster. It’s probably not enough to support herself these days. We’re nothing. We’re tilting at windmills like Don Quixote, we’re celebrating “Midnight at the Oasis.” That life is but a dream. Sh-boom. Sh-boom.

Hell, we’re not even good fans anymore. We profess our undying love for an artist, we profess an undying love for his craftsmanship, we profess this man is the “next big thing,” and if you’re say, R & B crooner Ryan Leslie, you push 23,000 CDs your first week out. If you really think about it after the breakdown, this isn’t affording him a lifestyle of opulence and wealth, which, if not the goal of seeking the adoration of human beings for your ultimately supreme talent as an auteur, makes me question why you call yourself an MC, and not a cab driver, lawyer, doctor or plumber who moonlights. There’s nothing wrong with that, as there’s far more nobility in honesty than in supposing yourself to ever be one day be larger than what you are.

Our new stars in this ridiculous time? They tell us how to dance. They advise us to revel in the minutiae of life. their hearts are broken. These are not stars aspiring to superstar levels, these aren’t even “real n***as who do real things” like kill and rob people. These are “real n***as who do real things” like mow the lawn, walk the dog and eat Chipotle for lunch and dinner. There are no more grand cultural goals. There’s no deep exposition. There’s just you, and me, and we’re together trying to survive. Diddy’s gone from a guy who lambasted people about how they could never reach his level, to being a guy who updates his Twitter and wants a Frederick K. Price type religious following. “Get on my level by clicking follow.” “Midnight at the oasis, send your camel to bed….”

The Internet has caused our culture of nothing as well. How do we create “stars” in a universe where TV outlets, formerly the home of star making vehicles such as everything from American Bandstand to Soul Train to Club MTV to Yo! MTV Raps to Rap City to TRL, are now the home of melodramatic post-teen docudramas couched and packaged with interesting sounding music not necessarily made by million selling popular artists? The Internet. Artists now put out mixtapes, which in Drake’s case like his “So Far Gone” effort, that sound like they’ve been mastered at Electric Ladyland and deserve to be on the shelf at FYE, and, instead, you’re downloading them in tandem with two Belladonna films, and ordering a chicken, bacon ranch and tomato from Papa John’s, not exactly the goal, but, if it works, it works.

And that’s the biggest problem. It works, but for a day. You can put out 18 hot tracks, but then, tomorrow, another artist, well, literally ANY ARTIST IN THE UNIVERSE can put out something as well, hotter, better, maybe remixing something you did, maybe sampling your voice, and, you’ve become insignificant before you’re even a star. You had nothing, you are nothing. Everything ventured, nothing gained. Yes, it’s terrible, but it’s also the condition our condition is in. So what then do you do in an ultimately disposable culture that has no worth? You can’t sell records, but you can make unlimited records, and the entirety of the musical world is your oyster. Well, when there literally is nothing, and there are no rules, and there are no ultimate goals, and celebrity is fleeting, and being a new artist is a virtual crap shoot of who, what, when, where, why and how, now more than ever, as literally anybody can make music, you just make noise. it doesn’t even have to be good noise, just noise. For your supposed “fans,” the beats and rhymes are a faucet, washing over them for 3:30 seconds and being rinsed down the drain.

Everything is disposable. The only thing of worth is the personal, as, we always have ourselves. The era of blunts and bitches, braggadocio, and the expected is gone. Hip hop has to be willing to expand it’s collective mind and in some individuals’ cases unwillingly expect the unexpected. It used to be that music was made for the consumer. If the consumer can no longer consume, then what of the music? It still must exist, and now, without the encumbrance of being overwhelmed with concern about record sales, amazing, frightening, good and possible terrible (depending on your take) can certainly occur.

With this exposition completed, it’s officially midnight at the oasis. The camel of rap songs that don’t apply, can definitely be put to bed. What is real, what is fake, what is good, what is bad? Really, our new question is, what is nothing? It can’t be defined. Our music has no meaning. Our culture has no goal. And on we exist. Just following the sounds of drums, some of them old and familiar, some new and potentially frightening, but, we’re all just hoping to see an exit.

  • illtek

    Fuck that is morbid! Seems to be the state we are in though. I was telling my girlfriend for once our music is reflecting the state of the nation. It’s stock has plummeted as a result of too many bad investments. It has been exploited to the point of worthlessness. And no body wants to buy! Good writing bruh.

  • Thaddeus Clark

    With the possibility of this scenario being true it’s the responsibilty of artists to restart the artform. “Returning to the essence” to most means covering old songs with the tools of yesterday. While the approach is valid, it is not necessarily conducive to forward progress in this era of “nothingness.” And it’s that forward movement that so many of want, but can’t prescribe.

    You provide a great primer for assessing where we are. In a very parallel manner I’ve been thinking the same and also trying to take action with this mindset. In a nutshell it comes down to stories and producing a compelling narrative. If “nothing” is our story, then we need to hear it in music form along with all of its consequences. But if we are to move beyond “nothing” while creating something of lasting value then I think it requires identifying those experiences that make us feel human and a part of something bigger than ourselves; be it a neighborhood or the experience of our first love. I hope that you can one day write another fantastic post detailing this shift as well.

  • modi

    jeez louise. now i see why you linked me to this. we are now indeed in the era of nothing.

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