Peter Rosenberg’s “Disco Sucks” Moment

There’s something about a public dustup in which everyone appears in the wrong that leads to a sense of morbid hilarity, even if the issues involved are ultimately more important than they appear. That’s the feeling I got from the Hot 97/Nicki Minaj/Lil Wayne feud, in which everybody did the wrong thing, and generally for the most egotistical and misguided of reasons. So far, only Funkmaster Flex has admitted that what he said was wrong, and even that came as part of a declaration that everybody involved had messed up, not as an actual apology. Peter Rosenberg made himself look old and out of the loop; Funkmaster Flex exhibited kneejerk defensiveness; Nicki Minaj came across as a tool of Lil Wayne (it would have been far better if she’d performed and told Rosenberg, on stage, exactly where to put it); and Lil Wayne himself is demonstrating symptoms of entitlement and petulance that could someday rival Donald Trump.

But as Maura Johnston points out in the Village Voice, the one most in the wrong was Rosenberg, who started this mess not just by insulting “Starships”, but also dissed Minaj’s fan base by referring to them as “chicks”. The implication would seem to be that only men listen to what Rosenberg calls “real hip-hop” (cough), and that teenage girls, whom I presume are who he means by “chicks”, are ruining it for the boys, who are more mature and more street.

The interesting thing is, that as far as his own tastes in hip-hop and the commercial territory he’s carved out for himself are concerned, Rosenberg is absolutely right. These “chicks” are going to ruin it for his type of hip-hop fan and for himself, because they are the dominant pop audience now, and will continue to be for a long time to come. The pop era in which the sort of hip-hop Rosenberg champions dominated ended almost four years ago (by my estimate it was the summer of 2008). A fan base raised near the end of the LP era, when radio programmers had a major hand in determining what became a hit and what didn’t, has been replaced by a mob of teenagers who learned about music not over the radio or on Yo! MTV Raps, but on MySpace and YouTube. They’re young, energetic, know what they like, and don’t need a lot of money to sway the charts. Terrestrial radio has been fighting a holding action since the mid-oughts to maintain their influence over the popular audience, and Sunday’s mess demonstrated just how much of that influence they’ve lost.

So Rosenberg’s irritation and defensiveness are understandable, though still not excusable. This was his “disco sucks” moment, and we’re just lucky that it’s impossible to build a bonfire of MP3s. Or maybe it’s Rosenberg who’s the lucky one; that fact may well have prevented him from completely marginalizing his career, at least for now.