Akshat Shekhar | Straight Outta Compton

'Shat's Shots | What the past weeks in pop culture and sports teach us about how we judge celebrities who don't fit a narrative

· February 5, 2014, 5:34 pm   ·  Updated February 5, 2014, 9:15 pm

Share This

Akshat Shekhar | DP

Akshat Shekhar 

'Shat's' Shots


First things first. Kendrick Lamar didn’t lose the Best Rap Album award at the Grammys to Macklemore because of racism. He did not lose because he is black and Macklemore is white.

He also couldn’t have lost because he was too mainstream — in that case, Kanye West’s weird-sounding, genius “Yeezus” would have taken the cake. He couldn’t have lost because of a lack of lyricism — his skills have earned him a level of universal acclaim practically unheard of in hip-hop.

No, the Compton rapper lost because his minimalist rap album, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,” didn’t stand a real shot against Macklemore’s “The Heist,” what with its two bubble-gum number-one hits and its pro-gay rights anthem “Same Love.” Kendrick Lamar lost the Best Rap Album award because of the failure of his narrative to conform to certain standards.

Kendrick’s loss itself doesn’t actually mean a lot — the results of the Grammys don’t particularly matter. Although the circuit of nationally televised awards shows takes pride in its celebration of quality and modernity, it often lacks both — we’re only two years removed from an Oscars ceremony, hosted by Billy Crystal for the ninth (!) time, that religiously celebrated a silent French film almost no one saw. Add to that the Grammys’ checkered past with recognizing rap talent, and Kendrick’s snub is nominally no big deal.

But the reasoning behind this particular oversight is so egregious, the typecasting of the album so laughable, that one has to wonder whether the Grammy voters even listened to GKMC at all. The album contains no Biggie/Tupac-style turf war talk and shies away from dwelling on plight with any Boyz n the Hood-esque literal realism. So characterizing it as a typical “urban” album, which many have done, is ridiculous. Kendrick even admits in his poetry that he doesn’t fit in with any of the surrounding gang culture — he’s very much a “good kid” throughout the album. “Straight Outta Compton” this is not.

On the flip side, to dock an album for not being poppy enough when it contains three top-40 hits — are you sick of hearing “Swimming Pools (Drank)” yet? — is laughable.

To stereotype GKMC because of its creator’s hometown and its Wikipedia page is to fail to understand it. To fail to reward GKMC is to prove your complete ignorance of it.

Another man from Compton, cornerback and noted trash-talker Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, introduced himself to America with a boastful, coarse-voiced, adrenaline-fueled rant seconds after winning the NFC Championship Game. What followed was one of the lesser quality conversations in American history. Some bad actors railed against Sherman as a selfish thug based on his reputation, background and, yes, his appearance. The backlash to the backlash was less gauche, although it strained to call Sherman “articulate” or “well-spoken” as many times as possible and deem him an academic prodigy destined for success based on his performance at a struggling public high school and his Stanford degree.

The reality of Richard Sherman lies between these two familiar narratives — that of the rough-and-tumble outspoken jock and the humble feel-good comeback kid. As a long-time Sherman fan, I’ve long appreciated his excellence at his craft and been delighted by his insightful approach to the game. On the other hand, Sherman has an inescapable history of slip-ups when it comes to self-assessment. Forcefully describing him in terms of one well-worn narrative or another detracts from that complex mixture and distracts from analysis of his on-field performance. Just as with Kendrick, the story takes away from the product.

At the end of the day, both Compton men’s products will overshadow their accompanying narratives: Kendrick’s Grammys performance was the most memorable in an otherwise blah show, and Sherman just earned a Super Bowl ring, the ultimate sign of football immortality. What’s left for us to do is to judge future celebrities more perspicaciously and prioritize their work over our sensationalism.

__Akshat Shekhar is a Wharton sophomore from Boston. Email him at ashek@wharton.upenn.edu._

Comments powered by Disqus