Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Great Cham and Gravitas

Sometimes I'm not sure that I'm hip. Then I find a reference to one of my heroes in an article about MTV in the slick New York Times Magazine:

Rosanna Herrick, a freelance producer for MTV, was talking to Calloway, a large man, and to an even larger man who calls himself E-40, a Vallejo, Calif., hip-hop pioneer considered a kind of rapper's rapper, withou the name recognition of a Nelly or a 50 Cent but with a reputation as an innovator and Samuel Johnson of street slang. -May 28, 2006; Page 46

I have heard of 50 Cent and I know nothing about Nelly or this fellow E-40. I do know a thing or two about Dr. Johnson, though. And given what I know about contemporary rap (admittedly not much) and Johnsonian sentiment, I am doubtful about the comparison's aptness. I'm even more doubtful that those who are actually familiar with E-40 and his oeuvre (N.B. I will use another French word in the next sentence, too.) are struck by his remarkable likeness to the 18th century man of letters.

No, I think we have a bit of pastiche here, people, or a bit of literary name dropping. Whatever you want to call it, it is allusion without substance meant to impress rather than inform. Johnson, I think, would denounce it as contemptible. For that (and other reasons) I include him in my pantheon of heroes. Sorry E-40.

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