Prick Up Your Ears. (Comment)
How does a fiercely anticorporate musician feel about participating in a corporate entertainment system? "Rage Against the Machine was able to deliver 15 million subversive pieces of plastic across the globe," responds former Rage guitarist Tom Morello, in the forum convened by rock critic Ann Powers that begins on page 11. The contradictions, tensions and political and artistic ferment that persist in today's popular music scene are the subject of this special issue, which observes the oft-surprising results when politics and music collide--whether in a mass of grooving Le Tigre fans, amid a tattooed throng of antiabortion Christian punks or in the gold-trimmed Manhattan suite of hip-hop-mogul-turned-reparations-activist Russell Simmons.
While these political currents may not always run in our direction, savvy left-leaning artists are busy reinventing the protest music tradition, often beneath the radar. It's easy to assume that rap, for example, has been given over to "cocaine-cooking, cartoon-watching, gold-rims-coveting and death-worshiping," as Jeff Chang writes in his essay here. Listen a little harder, though, and you'll hear artists in the conscious-rap and neosoul genres who are taking seriously the hip-hop generation's cliche of "keeping it real," being true to one's roots of struggle. While such a commitment may not always require a wholesale rejection of the corporate music world, there are those who continue in that still- righteous punk tradition, exemplified by the cultural project known as Punk Planet, profiled by Ivan Kreilkamp on page 25.
That edgy, countercultural music continues to be made is testament to the spirit of the artists (and the appetite of the fans), who are often at odds with their industry patrons. …