With the release of John Ridley’s Hendrix biopic All Is By My Side, it seems like everybody has something to say about the guitar god and Andre 3000, the rapper and actor who portrays him on the silver screen. Writing for Grantland, Alex Pappademus juxtaposes the two artist’s careers and, particularly, the way they stand up to audience perception. He also digs into Hendrix’s many afterlives, noting how the musician’s bio has been transmuted by appropriation and the fog of collective memory:
When you strip them of historical context, trim their legacies to three or four hit songs in a Jack-FM playlist, and slap their images on T-shirts to be sold to generations of collegiate stoners, is there really that much of a difference between Marley and Hendrix anymore? Between Hendrix and Jim Morrison? Between Morrison and Tupac? The more tragic the public figure, the more easily they lend themselves to souvenir-ification and commercialized mourning.
Meanwhile, Andre 3000 has outlived his rap group, Outkast. He is living the kind of adulthood that Hendrix might even have experienced himself: High expectations, and the possibility that he has already produced his greatest work.
In 1994, Nas put out his debut album, Illmatic. There’s been a lot of fanfare for the 20th anniversary, and for good reason.
“Illmatic is, in my opinion, and a lot of people’s opinion, the finest hip hop album ever been created,” says Jay Kang, science and technology editor for newyorker.com. He was a gigantic hip hop fan throughout the 1990’s. “It’s the sort of cinematic quality of Illmatic, the storytelling in Illmatic, the writing, even of hooks in Illmatic.”
But even though Kang thinks that Illmatic is one of the best rap albums of all time, he says that Nas was never really able to meet those heights again.
“It’s been 20 years. Really, 20 years of a lot of people watching him slowly get worse and worse.”
Kang doesn’t really listen to Nas or even very much rap nowadays. He says that he basically just aged out of finding new music. And who would want to follow the musical decline of a cherished figure? But one day he saw an email in his inbox from a friend. It had a link to a Youtube video called Nas = Your Old Droog?
“There’s something weird going on here,” his friend wrote.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. The album was hugely popular in its time, setting the record for most Top 10 singles within a single album (and breaking her brother Michael’s previous record). But, like much of Jackson’s career, the album seems to have faded out of cultural consciousness.
Rhythm Nation was a transformative work that arrived at a transformative moment. Released in 1989 — the year of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, protests at Tiananmen Square, and the fall of the Berlin Wall — its sounds, visuals, and messaging spoke to a generation in transition, at once empowered and restless. The Reagan Era was over. But the cultural anxiety about what was next was palpable.
Writing for the Atlantic, Joe Vogel reminds us what made Rhythm Nation so good, and why we should care. Read the whole thing here.