Nathaniel Friedman is a writer living in Portland. He’s a co-founder of FreeDarko and a regular contributor to GQ.
One of the first, best, and only things I read about Lou Reed on Sunday afternoon came from poet Michael Robbins. “My Lou Reed” trivialized the wave of writing about to hit us—“I know ten thousand bloggers are composing their ten thousand stories about how the Velvet Underground changed their lives, & I don’t believe rock & roll bands change people’s lives”—before sharing his story about how, when he was 16, the Velvet Underground changed his life. Reed’s legacy doesn’t need anyone to back it up with testimonials. The scope of his influence renders any single listener insignificant. Yet sharing personal stories seems a far more apt response than critical analysis.
Pusha T: Rap Game Dashiell Hammett
For over a decade, Pusha T has rapped enthusiastically, unavoidably, and unapologetically about selling cocaine. Born Terrence Thornton, the 36-year-old Virginia native never bothers with the metropolitan sheen of Jay Z nor the hardscrabble regionalism of Deep South heroes such as Scarface. In Pusha’s musical universe, drugs are peddled with the same stark intensity, the same frantic bursts of darkness and light, with which they’re used.
There’s money made, but the rewards are always relatively modest or stuck in the background. Soldiers fall, fiends struggle, and women lurk, though never in a way that knocks Pusha’s solipsism off its mark. It sounds repetitive, monotonous. In practice, Pusha has been one of hip-hop’s sharpest, mostly consistently rewarding emcees (check out Jack Hamilton’s overview at Slate). “Grindin’,” the 2002 minimalist banger made back when Pusha and his brother Malice were the Neptunes-sponsored duo Clipse, could’ve been a one-hit wonder. Instead, it’s proven a remarkably durable mission statement.