Friday, December 18, 2009

Anatomy of an Internet Argument: Who Invented Rap?

Posted by on Fri, Dec 18, 2009 at 12:33 PM

The inventor of rap
So, there was a small controversy here in our little corner of the Internet, yesterday, revolving around this post: Italian Pop Star Invents Rap in 1973, Anticipates Paul's Boutique. A gentleman named K. Matthew Dames took umbrage at our claim about the one true origin of rap, and posted the following in the comments:

The claims made in this post are a dubious, unacceptable, and tortiously false attempt to revise and rewrite the history of rap, hip hop, and American popular music.

Without casting aspersions on Mr. Celentano, it is irrefutable that rap as a tradition and musical genre derives from elements based upon toasting from the island of Jamaica in the sixties, and before that, griot storytelling in Africa (a practice that spans millennia). In between these two points of reference, doo wop music in America also played a role in melding rhythmically-based spoken word with music, rhythm, and melody.

There are several published works that have articulated the history of rap and hip hop, both musically and stylistically, including those by David Toop, Nelson George, Tricia Rose, and the editors from the late magazine Ego Trip. Any hint, suggestion, or statement to the contrary — like the one in this post that attributes rap's invention to an Italian actor in the 1970s — is absolutely and completely false, and requires this publication's editors to issue a retraction and a formal, published, and conclusive correction.

K. Matthew Dames
Executive Editor

Rather than argue with him in the comments, I decided to email Mr. Dames. Go beyond the jump for our delightful correspondence...

Dear Mr. Dames,
Anyone who for a moment takes seriously the claim that an Italian pop star/actor invented hip-hop in 1973 is absolutely and completely misguided (and is obviously not a regular reader of this magazine). I respect the work you're doing, but I really feel your time would be better spent on more serious issues. (Unless you're an intellectual property ambulance chaser clogging up the courts with tortious grievances; if this is the case, I await your hardcopy letter, at which I point I will happily make an official retraction, and all of this will make for a good story.)
yours truly
Jonny Diamond

his response:

Mr. Diamond:
Thank you for your prompt reply to most comment post on the story "Italian Pop Star Invents Rap In 1973, Anticipates Paul's Boutique" published online today in The L Magazine [].

I do not read your publication regularly. As a regular follower of several hundred publications weekly (both in print and online), a former print journalist for several years, a managing editor of two online publications, and a author published both in print and electronic media, my presumption as I read any publication — regardless of source or progeny — is to read its work as an attributed, professional presentation of fact or opinion. Unless there are obvious clues within or surrounding a work that indicate it is presented as parody or humor, such as is the case with The Onion, I presume that people are presenting information professionally, whether it be fact or opinion.

I read this post three times and watched the video before deciding to write. I did so after concluding the information was being presented as factual, and that reasonable people alighting on the site randomly also could understand the information being presented as based in fact, as I did. As there are no clear or obvious indicia in or around this post that suggest or state clearly that the work contained within is, or may be, of a parodist nature, I wrote my comment.

As a writer, editor and publishing executive, I appreciate and respect it is your prerogative to present information on your publication as you see fit. Similarly, as a writer, editor, and publisher, I am sure you can appreciate and respect when an audience member objects to work your publication has presented as fact and presents information to rebut such an apparently factual and historical presentation.

K. Matthew Dames
Executive Editor

my response to that:

Dear Mr. Dames,
I understand and respect what you're saying; I was only reacting (somewhat testily, I admit) to the notion that a claim as grand and arbitrary as "the invention of rap" would fall under the realm of a tortious grievance. It's difficult for me to imagine any individual claiming (or making the claim, in earnest) that such a rich and diverse art form could have been "invented" by a single entity. (And if they did, wouldn't it necessarily exist as a statement of opinion, rather than fact? The origin of a multifaceted art form seems far more complicated—and contentious—than the invention of something like the zipper.)
Jonny Diamond

So, the moral of the story? Rap was not invented by an Italian pop star/actor in 1973.

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