Sunday, 5 April 2009

Homelessness does not preclude musical talent.

I have a problem with homeless people being showcased as just that, "homeless" - as though it were strange or unusual for them to have musical talent. There have been a couple of videos doing the rounds lately where the subjects are undoubtedly talented, but the "homeless angle" has really made me think about whether I wanted to just stick them up on the blog - what would the title of the post be? "Look, isn't it amazing what these homeless people can do!"

Talent is a wonderful thing and should definitely be praised, but at the end of the day music is an industry like any other, and it is not always the most talented people who make it. Often it's the most well connected, the most tenacious, the most hard working, the most intelligent, the most PR savvy, the most marketable, and occasionally - it's the lucky. I'm sure these videos have been posted and titled in the spirit of the "lucky break" - maybe if the right person sees this they'll get a record contract!

They way I see it is the people in these videos do not have any experience of, or trusted contacts within the industry and as such are extremely vulnerable. It's unlikely they have a strong support network of people to give them advice and they could easily end up signing contracts that could compromise them at best - and exploit them, their situations and issues at worst. Snoop & Warren G didn't call on the guy in the first video despite acknowledging his talent, and I suppose the question you have to ask is - would I? If the answer is no, then is this video really in the spirit of the lucky break which probably won't come and I wouldn't give?

In the video below the rapper has obviously been through a lot and it's unlikely that this video will transform his life (but we can hope). It is interesting to hear his story, his talent, and what hip hop means to him, but that seems to be where it ends. A statistic brought in to our lives in technicolour for a few minutes, our voyeurism mixed with concern, we are passive and tacit in our acknowledgment of the fact that our fleeting support does this man no good. At the very least though, we could nod to his talent regardless of his story for a moment, and let that define him, instead of his lack of address...

True Hip-Hop Stories: Homeless Emcee from D-Nice on Vimeo.


  1. A really good post, particularly with regard to the second video.

    I agree that a lot of people in these predicaments are exploited for the most trivial and selfish purposes, but I don't think that to insinuate (particularly with regard to D-Nice's video) that the subject doesn't benefit at all is realistic.

    At the very least, he's received exposure. He's been given the opportunity that everybody making music would love to have been offered - he's telling his story and airing out his work. And that's before we make any assumptions about how he was compensated monetarily for his role in the video.

    If, as ideally we all would like, this man was appreciated for his talent rather than his situation, however, can we honestly claim that our interest in his music would be the same?

    In my opinion, if you disregard his situation (not just presently, but since his childhood), there's nothing about him that stands out. If you heard any of those verses on a Myspace page or something of the sort, you probably wouldn't check him twice.

    Instead, in my opinion, we need to appreciate the fact that his talent is the ability to create what he does in the situation that he's in.

  2. Very interesting point. I think it's difficult to call what the benefits are for this guy...

    I was once loosely involved with a project that encouraged troubled teenagers to tell their true stories as part of a play. It was a very difficult and shocking piece, they were very talented young people and the audience heaped praise on them. I ran in to some of the participants some time later and asked what they were up to. One had been shot, one was in jail, one was homeless, one was in college and the rest were doing whatever they'd done before. All of them however, said they wished they'd never told their stories because there was no real support for them afterwards - their "stories" or "scenes" didn't end when the curtain went down. They just carried on and had to go on dealing with it alone, feeling exposed, and in some cases exploited and bitter, with no real opportunities to use their now recognised talents again because they were only recognised in the framework of their messed up situations.

    It's different for everyone, but what I wanted to do was just listen to this guy for a minute as a rapper and a person without all the other stuff attached, so even if for a brief moment, he and his talent could be real outside of the context of the messed up reality he wants to escape.



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