Hip-Hop Is Dead to Him

Hypocrisy and lack of flow defeat Marsalis's attack on "safari seekers" and "thug-life coons"

Even before reading Marsalis say in JazzTimesthat "Supercapitalism" was inspired by ATM fees and hidden charges on his credit card bill, I found myself thinking someone featured in Movado watches was on shaky ground dissing anybody else for wanting to live large. But Penitentiary's drawback as social criticism isn't just its hypocrisy in omitting Marsalis's own penthouse from the alliterative equation. This is a protest album staunch Republicans could get behind, inasmuch as it preaches the gospel of personal responsibility as the only foolproof way out of poverty and degradation: "Don't turn up your nose/It's us that's stinkin'," Marsalis rants on "Where Y'All At?," "And it all can't be blamed on the party of Lincoln." "No Vietcong ever called me nigger," Muhammad Ali famously proclaimed while resisting military induction in the '60s. Marsalis's message to black youth often seems to be "No white man ever called me nigga," and while it's a message not without merit, it's simply not enough. I'm not saying go back to blaming Whitey, but don't let him wiggle off the hook, either.

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