“The Conjectural Body:Gender, Race, and the Philosophy of Music” excerpt WITH lyrics
My book, The Conjectural Body: Gender, Race, and the Philosophy of Music, is being released this month by Rowman & Littlefield. Due to some permissions issues, I was not allowed to print lyrics to “Swagga Like Us” in the book. While I reworked this specific part of Chapter 5 (p. 141 to be exact) so that I could make my argument without citing specific lines from the song, I do think a close reading of the lyrics makes my case stronger and more clear. To that end, here is the first full paragraph of p. 141, complete with citations:
Jay-Z’s 2009 track “DOA (Death of Autotune)” overtly takes music to be a form of bodily comportment and assesses the use of Autotune as a mode or style of bodily comportment (and not as a musical phenomenon).21 Specifically, Jay argues that Autotune is to be rejected because it is soft, easy, popular, and non-confrontational, whereas “real” hip hop is hard, violent, and masculine. Gendered language and imagery abound in DOA. Feminized terms (Autotune, melody, tight pants) are contrasted with masculinized terms (violence, male anatomy, “hardness” as bodily comportment and “hardness” as in un-melodic difficult listening). Autotune is consistently feminized throughout the track, and is set in contrast to Jay’s macho sound and stylings. Jay characterizes users of Autotune as both dressing and sounding like women, as though Autotune itself engendered feminine bodily comportment. According to Jay, users of Autotune dress and sound like women because they lack male genitals (thus, no need to tuck, and no deep voice). In a not-too-thinly veiled dig at Kanye West (who wears tight jeans and neon colors), Jay states: “You boys’ jeans too tight, your colors too bright, your voice too light.” This line calls on Jay’s opening line in his appearance on TI’s “Swagga Like Us,” where he also contrasts himself to a feminized (indeed, gonad-less), tight-jeans wearing Kanye. Unlike Kanye, Jay “can’t wear skinny jeans ’cause my knots don’t fit.”22 The use of Autotune is evidence of, as Jay argues, “your lack of aggression/ Pull your skirt down/ grow a set, man.” Jay is equating Autotune with the lack of “balls” in both the literal and metaphorical senses. To use Autotune is to be soft, easy, light, and trendy; it is the opposite of masculine aggression, toughness, difficulty, virtuosity, and expertise. Thus, sounding something like an uncanny latter-day Adorno, Jay feminizes commercially successful pop music by opposing it to “hard” masculine/macho corporeal styles. His new track “ain’t a #1 record/ It’s practically assault with a deadly weapon.” So we can infer from this claim that chart-topping popular music is “easy” in a number of senses: easy to digest, easy to listen to, easy to make, etc. As such, these #1 records aren’t properly masculine—they need to “grow a set” and become a little more difficult to make and digest. Jay’s consistent devaluation of femininity and, indeed, a feminized popular music, is thoroughly problematic. However, DOA remains interesting because it takes aesthetics as a matter of bodily comportment and evaluates musical practices as forms of gendered embodiment. It is an instance of aesthetics as “applied physiology.”
I’ve also discussed this song on in a previous blog post, where I’ve also linked to/embedded the tracks.
And, uh, here’s the link to my book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Conjectural-Body-Gender-Philosophy-Music/dp/0739139029/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1