Back in my more listless college days, the reality show From G’s to Gents debuted on MTV. It wasn’t very good, but I (listlessly) watched a lot of MTV back then, and one particular character drew my attention: a nearly unintelligible, insane-looking white boy from Houston with a large MTV neck tattoo called Riff Raff.
Four years later, Riff Raff is a much buzzed about rapper. More than that, he’s a complete spectacle of a human being. Some of his antics include…you know what, just Google the dude. Your search will result in more headlines about his odd behavior and unhinged social media presence than his music.
Yet he is a musician, and people like him. From the outset, however, I decided that no one who got their start on a show hosted by Farnsworth Bentley or who looked as ridiculous as Riff Raff could be worth listening to. There’s a lot of good music out there and not a ton of time to listen to it, after all. As Riff Raff became a bigger and bigger deal, I maintained that I knew better than the masses.
And then, on a listless whim, I listened. First to this:
The flow matched the humor; it piqued my interest.
Then I listened to this:
“I done shook dice with Larry Bird in Barcelona.”
That made me laugh.
Then I listened to this:
In which he kind of steals the show from one of my favorite New York rappers.
And then I listened to everything else, and I had to count myself a fan.
Then I thought about how many times this had happened before. A musician—often a rapper from some region other than the elite Northeast—bubbles up to the point at which only the most self-indulgent listlessness permits me to ignore them. Such listlessness is, admittedly, born from a sense of superiority—a (let’s be honest, typically Northeastern) feeling that I don’t need to listen to understand. Until the insistence of a friend or a boredom induced Internet binge leads me to give them a chance. And immediately I become a fan.
This happened with Danny Brown, and with Waka Flocka Flame. I now listen to those two guys voraciously, and I intend to include Riff Raff in the rotation.
Why automatically erect a mental barrier between myself and mass-approved things I can love? In retrospect, it seems like a grand waste of time and ego. My instinct to condescend is a source of fear and shame.
But how to get rid of it? How to avoid that crippling state of listless self-indulgence? How to, in simple poetry, stop and smell roses?
Acknowledge that not only in life and in rumors about gay celebrities but in pop culture and art and creative output in general: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If there is a popular narrative, and you don’t know enough about the situation to craft a well-informed, nuanced counter-narrative, chances are the popular one is closer to an impartial truth than anything you’ve dreamed up. If a lot of people agree that something is interesting, it is by nature interesting. In a realm as devoid of objective good or evil as music, adhering to that creed is a pretty mild burden in the pursuit of a balanced perspective.
In other words, if a lot of people are listening to Riff Raff, it makes way more sense to try a song or two than it does to convince yourself you already understand his art and want nothing to do with it. Self-indulgence is an MTV neck tattoo; listless self-indulgence is believing that tattoo is all you need to see.
Featured image courtesy of MTV