Photo attributed to Rob Fields, boldaslove.us
“Kick in the door, wavin the four-four” – Notorious B.I.G., Kick In the Door
I am a firm believer in the concept that in introducing any new, paradigm shifting manuever to any pre-existing artifice, it’s easier to open a door to walk through than bang one’s head against the door and hope that it opens up. Even if you open the door a crack, somebody else can do, as the great Biggie Smalls, the Frank White of hip hop would say, “kick in the door.” At SXSW, I saw some truly amazing things, including the man who opened so many doors in music, the Quintessential Quincy Jones, and the man who now is rudely assaulting, berating, and violently “kicking in the door, wavin the four-four,” the one, the only, the Mercurial Mr. Kanye West.
Their methods couldn’t be any different. Quincy Jones, in his nearly three hour closed door keynote address for the conference, with great wisdom and depth, outlined and thoroughly discussed how a street hoodlum from Chicago evolved then de-evolved the standing myths of music at any and all times during his career. By contiuously shifting, and sinuously evolving as a musical tactician, the man can shift from the session musician and arranger for Frank Sinatra to the jazzy pioneer responsible for Soul Bossa Nova, to the funk pioneer of the smooth sounds of Rufus, the Brothers Johnson and masterfully with George Benson on the seminal “Give Me the Night,” to the man who redefined pop music with Michael Jackson, to a man whom, with “We are the World” proved that he, and only he, is the man responsible for the soundtrack of the entire universe. Q opened so many doors, forged so many relationships, and created music so accessible, that his sound, his vision arguably colors much of what we hear today.
The most amazing part of his keynote was that it was, to borrow from Stevie, delivered in “sounds in the key of we.” He never mentioned himself as the sole orchestrator of much of anything. In his humility, the brother opened up the answers to the historical universe of sound and life. Sound does not exist in itself, nor does anything else for that matter. We exist in union. Sounds comingle to create beautiful tracks. There’s something endemic in the makeup of this man that gives him, as we all found, ALL the right answers. He knows ALL of the people of the world because he is a citizen within in, and not without it. There’s a beauty there, that speaks to the history of black people, that speaks to the history of music, that speaks to the history of the universe. Quincy showed himself as an open door to the universe, a man who is quintessential because he recieves everything, forgets nothing, and is willing to share of himself, divesting himself in the music fully, sound without image.
However, the paradigm has shifted in full. The closest thing we have now to Q’s musical omnipresence is fellow Chicago native Kanye West. There’s something about Chicago in it’s perpetual history that makes it so elemental to music and ablie to shoulder these musical giants. Ever since the era of Robert Johnson’s devil blues, to Frankie Knuckles’ electrified and funky house, Chicago has always been a musical port of call, always open to fresh, new and vital sounding music. Furthermore, Mr. West, with his city of birth’s musical pedigree, also adds being a child of the media generation, a son of the “me” generation, the progeny of MTV, and the brother of Obama, a symbol that blacks don’t have to go along to get along, that we don’t have to be quiet, that we don’t have to fit into boxes, that we are free to just be, a scary power not available in the era of Q, where he opened doors through his excellence and quiet unpretentiousness.
When Kanye and his G.O.O.D. Music friends showed up in Austin, what had otherwise been a raucous gathering of musical outsiders and weird people at the forefront of popular culture became a party for those who were the moved and not the movers, an odd melange of real recognizing “real.” The man was here. Not so much his sound, or his songs, or his ability, but it was him. It. What. That. The. Those of us who feel ourselves to be setting trends were unmoved. He’s a fellow musician, and dammit, if Little Boots, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head or hell, Bun B can play the Fader Fort on time, no questions, then, well, so can Mr. West. To many, he wasn’t BIGGER than this, if he deigned to play where those without his multimillions of albums and international acclaim played, then, well, he should follow the same rules. But, he didn’t. He can’t. He’s important, he IS music. For better, for worse, richer, definitely poorer, whatever, he is at the height of the craft. And he knows this, revels in it, enjoys the comfort of the spotlight. No sharing, no caring.
Quincy came on time. Sure, he went long, but he invited us into the world of music. Sure, it was his view, but, you shared it as a fellow. He consistently cared that we cared, wanted us to appreciate what he had done for us. Kanye invites you in, but almost like he’s some sort of hellbent Emperor Zod, causing we mere peons who buy the music, and all other musical Supermen and women in his universe to kneel before his mastery. He challenges you to deny the greatness of himself and his music, constantly. I am enamored with this behavior because of it’s sheer audacity. Kanye, perplexed and perturbed it seems if he doesn’t acquire new sounds upon which to place his “magical” voice, HAD to be at SXSW. HIS artist had to hear Little Boots cover him. HE had to see what he was missing, and what could accentuate HIM. Not what could accentuate music beautifully, but what could make HIM bigger than IT.
And that’s ultimately the difference. Life, as we know it, the shared togetherness and beauty, what a man like Quincy Jones represented is gone. It’s all about the doors Q opened being kicked open rudely and widely, the individual as full celebrity, morphing “that” which you do into being “that” which you are into totally becoming “that.” In a megalomaniacal attempt to become the entire definition of the musical industry, he has polarized, yet, in the same attempt, become unquestioned greatness, 100% hubris, to quote Diddy, who tried as well, with not nearly the same angered hustle, Kanye “cant stop, won’t stop.”
I sit back now and remember that jam packed room, and Q, like the utter and definable genius auteur he has become, making us stand, hold hands, and pledge to do better, to live better, to achieve more, in tandem. It was beautiful because at that very moment, in that very room, we forged a together forever partnership based on a remembrance of things lost. We left that room, and entered a universe, mere days later, fighting a future that we cannot win against. Mr. West is a bemusing figure if you really think about it. Classic only child syndrome, now desperately in need of love and affection. And if we don’t give it to him, he’ll record music and canvass every corner of the world, until WE. ALL. LOVE. HIM. Imagine if he spread that love to everyone, and we all loved all music again. Not one, not some, but all. Like Quincy quintessentially did.
In music, war is effectively over. I hope HE at the forefront can attempt to bring peace. SXSW, Mr. West, by nature of who and what you attempt to be, it was not a good look. There’s a world of music that, by attempting to co-opt and corrupt, you are not allowing to shine. I find that highly problematic. Let others open doors, or help them ALL to do the same. I love Quincy. I like Kanye. There’s a lot at play in that difference, and a question that needs to be answered for the burgeoning future of music.
ed. note: The author, Marcus Dowling’s other work can be found at his site, TGRIOnline.com, True Genius Requires Insanity. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter(dot)com/marcuskdowling.