Between the Lines: AutoWeek on Hip-Hop Car Culture

Once upon a Time, millions of Americans digested the Newsweek with one of two general interest magazines. When it came to pop culture, Time and Newsweek spoke with one voice. And earned a reputation for being cursed; the moment an artist appeared on their cover(s), their cultural relevance was over. It s the same deal with AutoWeek. As soon as the car mag describes an automotive trend as being in the zeitgeist, it s already gone Beanie Baby. Victims include retro-muscle cars, rice rockets and now... hip hop car culture.

In 1986 RUN DMC teamed up with Aerosmith on Walk This Way, a song that in many ways marked the changing of the guard for the rock world and the beginning of a new era in pop culture. Hip-hop had become mainstream.

AutoWeek charged scribe Tamara Warren with the task of writing hip-hop car culture's epitaph — in the guise of a celebratory review. Warren s lead signals that she s not entirely comfortable with the gig: the in many ways qualifier hints at doubts about Mr. Steven Tyler s role in hip-hop s ascendancy. And I reckon she knows that the rock world would have a more careful and detailed analysis of this whole changing of the guard thing.

Like a foreign anthropologist narrating a slide show, Ms. Warren presses on through the thicket of her own passive prose, startling God-knows-who with the news flash that hip-hop has become a major playa in the automotive arena.

Sporting Adidas sneakers, the rappers from Queens set the stage for a culture rooted in branding and a conspicuous display of it. Now, 20 years later, a generation raised on rap music is a leading force in the marketplace. Hip-hop stars like Russell Simmons, Diddy and Jay-Z, clad in expensive-looking suits one day and tracksuits the next, are both tastemakers and household names. Hip-hop has not only grown up, it has taken over the driver s seat. Literally.

While you can t fault Tamara s courage — selecting relevant rap/hip-hop artists without seeming completely clueless is a daunting task — her second graph displays a textbook case of over-reaching editorial justification. Sure, you want to set-up your basic premise, but screaming THIS IS IMPORTANT! doesn t make it so. In fact, the louder you shout, the more heavy lifting needs doing (i.e., PROVE IT!). So...

That s because cars play as big a role in the hip-hop world as the music itself. It s not difficult to understand: A car (the flashier, the better) is the ultimate shout-out to the world that you ve made it from the ghetto, the Bayou, grandma s farm, wherever. Think of it as the ultimate bling.

When Cadillac Escalade fever hit following the SUV s 1999 redesign, it dawned on carmakers that catering to what the hip-hop generation wants was crucial to future sales. But keeping up with passing trends can prove daunting.

Warren, hyperbole is thy name. To claim that cars are as important to rap music as music is like claiming that hot dogs and beer are as important to baseball as the ball. The assertion that cars are the ultimate bling is slightly less absurd, but still dubious. What s worse, by ending her bad places to overcome for street cred list with wherever, Warren's potted history strays dangerously close to condescension — or worse.

At least Warren employs the correct urban slang expression to indicate the importance of one-upmanship within the genre. That said, it s ironic that the term shout out can also mean An inane activity chowing up airwaves, electricity, and bandwidth [www.urbandictionary.com]. OK, it s a cheap shot, but Warren s decision to trot out the Sclade to bolster her arguement about hip-hop's impact on the car world has got me a bit cranky. It's like relying on the pet rock to talk about today's stupid fads.

Anyway, now that automakers have been daunted, Tamara is free to insert a nice big plug for Scion into the heart of her thesis. Scion s sales and promotion manager Jeri Yoshizu does the honors, revealing that Hip-hop culture is not just music. See? She told you! [Quick aside: Did AutoWeek lose its New York Times Style Book?]

From there, Warren backtracks a bit, telling us that it s easy to write off hip-hop s influence — which is fair enough, given that AutoWeek has done so for the last twenty years. She provides an excellent description of hip-hop car culture s pervasiveness — and backtracks again.

While hip-hop has not influenced the creation of these brands, hip-hop s tastes are most prominent in the multi-billion-dollar aftermarket industry with chrome wheels, candy paint and car kits among today s trends.

Methinks Warren s displaying more than a little ambivalence between these lines. The writer soon loses her way entirely, abandonning her central premise to share a couple of Funkmaster Flex and Will Castro quotes on The Next Big Thing. In between, we re treated to some politically correct ethnic ass-kissing from Chrysler.

Before you know it (wakey wakey!), it s t-minus zero. Warren saves the best for last, and it comes from a surprising source: Slum Village band member T3 (personally, I thought T2 was da bomb).

Basically, what we bring to the table is the authenticity within the hip-hop community, says Slum Village s T3. It gets them a different demographic that they didn t touch.

As in so many of these features, the end should have been the beginning. Never mind. In this case, the whole article signals the beginning of the end. The only remaining questions is, what trend will Autoweek curse next?

RF

Hip-Hop is a Hit [AutoWeek]

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

Related:
Between the Lines: AutoWeek on the Cadillac STS-V [internal]