Wherein unreasonably free time is dedicated to proving Jonah Hill is funnier than you.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jody Rosen is DEFINITELY Stylin' on Akon

Back in my grad school days, I performed [warning: cussin!] a Foucaldian analysis of Akon and Snoop Dogg's I Wanna [fsck] You, which is to say I've thought about their music critically, and recently. I'm thus not so surprised that Slate's resident Christgau[1] would come out against Akon so vehemently. He holds that Akon's stardom arose due to the short-attention span of both modern music technology (i.e. the ringtone) and the cultural Zeitgeist (e.g. this blog). However, not only was Akon already a star, but Rosen's got the causality on ringtones and popularity completely bass ackwards.

This is, essentially, my gripe with NYTimes take on Timbaland[2], but remixed. Nobody's stepping up to defend Akon's lyrics, and one could argue Rosen didn't go far enough in hating on Akon's, let's say, retrogressive writing style. What people need to acknowledge is that just because a guy doesn't chart #1 on Billboard, doesn't mean he's not a big deal.

Hitting up the good-ol-RIAA database, we see Akon went platinum with his debut album, and he had three gold singles: "Locked Up," "Lonely," and "Bonanza." Now, this was in 2005, a year when The Game came in #16th despite going double-platinum. Akon came in 66th, above Rod Steward but below Hilary Duff. Those two slices of bread in the Akon sandwich are stars, right? So why isn't Akon?

Rosen does make a stronger argument than "Akon is star;" he's saying Akon is the preeminent superstar, that nobody else can really touch him right now. I'm going to consciously hate on Rosen twice here: Akon's not "B-List" but he's not the best-n-brightest either. He basically lucked into a hot song with "I Wanna [fsck] You," he had Eminem's blessing on "Smack That" and "Don't Matter" — while no way better than the chimpunk-Pole of "Lonely" — simply requires less self-loathing to listen to than other current Top of the Pops cohabitants like Fergie, Mims, Avril, and Timberlake.

For further proof Akon's style isn't emblematic of the e-era, look no further than the Billboard Ringtone chart, on which "Don't Matter" isn't even outselling "Locked Up," and both are buried in the 20s. Rosen's whole "Lord of the Ringtone" hook doesn't make any sense when you consider that, Buckherry, Gym Class Heroes, Henry Mancini, and 近藤 浩治 are all beating Akon. Next week that may change, but, at least when I'm writing, he was hardly dominant, and the other ringtones don't really seem like catalysts for anything. In fact, the most recent song in the Top 10 right now is "Cupid's Chokehold," which has been charting for 9 weeks, but the song is over 2 years old. Are we going to blame ringtones both for the hip-hop braggadocio's invasion of "R&B"[3] and for emo-tion couched in a rapper's cadence?

[1] I.e. How do I describe Jody Rosen? This is why all online papers should have bios.
[2] Revisiting that, arguably Sanneh was right about Timbaland not being a star, as he only shipped ≈140k units his opening week. Granted, he had the 2nd best digital-single opening
ever, but it's no coincidence that the #1 song is another Justin[ / ]Timberland-track.
[3] Pretty much code for "Black people singing." Akon ain't exactly Fats Domino.