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Sunday, August 05, 2007

You Know You're Big Time When John Mayer Covers You!

I think at this point no one can deny the infectious groove of Tay Zonday's Youtube hit, "Chocolate Rain," but this young grad student from Minneapolis actually is a lot deeper than one would expect. I just so happened to come across an interview with Zonday while perusing the hallways of one my favorite alternative hip hop sites, OkayPlayer. Check out this snippet of the Zonday interview:

HHNLive: I've read that some people say you look like a member of the Jackson family Agree or disagree?

TZ: I get lots of Janet and Michael comparisons. I take them as compliments. But I also think there’s a deeper cultural reason behind them.

Any young black man in pop culture who isn’t hypermasculine is held to a racist double-standard. Because Aaron Carter is not hypermasculine. Clay Aiken is not hypermasculine. None of the boy-bands were hypermasculine. But there’s this idea that because I’m a young black male, I’ve got to look hypermasculine. I’ve got to look “urban.” I can’t just be the wholesome, ordinary, bleach-blonde boy-band singer.

Comparisons to Janet and Michael partly happen because people have a limited vocabulary of what young black men can be. So they think “Hmm . . . who’s a young black man who was not hypermasculine? Michael!” People need to ask themselves why young black men don’t have the same freedom to present themselves that young white men do. Because many young white men choose to be hypermasculine. But as soon as a young black man chooses the ordinary suburban-kid look, all of a sudden he violates the prejudice of pop culture.

But you can’t blame this prejudice on everyday people. Because the fantasy that all young black males must be hypermasculine, whereas young white males can be wholesome boy-band members, is promoted by business interests that need categories in which people will be predictable consumers. People are sick of these categories. They see themselves in the eyes of pop music marketers and know it’s not who they are.

This is why corporate sales are down across the entire industry. It’s not because everyone is stealing music. It’s because they woke up to the fact that musical categories, racial categories, and all these other things that are sold to them as their identity, are contrived. They are just the most reliable way to grow the next economic quarter.

The comparisons to Michael and Janet are flattering. But I think they come from people who are trying to hold onto a sense of category in a world where everyone is making their own categories. I defy category. I’m the new route to the next economic quarter. My demographic isn’t black, white, brown, young, old, straight, gay, or any of the above. It’s real people. People who don’t need labels as shortcuts to who they are.

For more of the Zonday interview, click on the link below:

Make It Rain: Tay Zonday

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