John McWhorter as Cosby’s Hype Man.

If you haven’t heard, Bill Cosby has assembled an outfit called the Cosnarati (no, seriously) to spit “positive” rhymes about working hard and being responsible. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it’s probably a bad idea coming from a dude on record as not being a fan of the genre, and who would necessarily not have the most discerning ear for what makes good hip-hop good.

Nonetheless, over at The New Republic, John McWhorter is stumping for  Cosby’s hip-hop effort, State of Emergency. McWhorters writing on hip-hop leaves a lot to be desired, and if you come to his writing with any kind of grounding in the genre, you’re likely to be unpersuaded. (In a flaccid criticism of “conscious” rappers over at The Root, he criticized, er, The Roots and acts like them for their perceived nihilism. But the only way The Roots qualify as “conscious” is if every rapper who ever glancingly ventured into topicality or touched upon the transcendent, undeniable shittiness of the Bush presidency does as well. Black Thought mostly talks a lot of shit very, very well.)

Here’s McWhorter:

Cosby spares us his own delivery on the CD, State of Emergency, which would likely not strike modern hip hop fans as having the requisite “flow.” Instead, State of Emergency filters Cos’ ideas through “The Cosnarati,” a rapper crew who have fashioned the notions into rhymes and produced them with a fine sheen. No one would mistake the CD as a product of Timbaland or Kanye West, but there’s nothing hokey or fake about it.

And the songlist includes things like “Why?” questioning the injustice of things in a vein similar to Jadakiss’ rant of a similar cast some years back, “Runnin’” about how ghetto black men are too busy escaping to be able to sit still and tend to much of anything, and “Perfect World” about an America with bodegas full of fresh food, everyone dying a centenarian of old age rather than murder, empty hospitals and all movies getting good reviews (I’m not sure I get that last one, but still). Cosby gets it – his point is not that no one has anything to complain about. …

Cosby and the Cosnarati are looking for some real action. “Please listen to the words. We worked hard, very hard, to tell you about the State of the Emergency,” Cosby tells us in the liner notes. The idea is that groups will have LISTENing parties and then Discuss in a constructive fashion. …

Black people with A Dream need to get the Cosnarati’s CD (and the copy of Come On People that comes with it) and let a 72-year-old man and his crew point us to the future. Or – remind us that we are already in it.

This is a lot of pressure to put on a hip-hop CD, and it suggests that Cosby and McWhorter have some really goofy ideas about the way people actually consume and share music. (“LISTENing parties”?) It’s also another example of the tone-deaf didacticism of the Civil Rights set, of which Cosby is a part, when it comes to how it engages young people.

But the biggest problem with this effort may be…well, just listen:

So McWhorter’s wrong. The most important lesson we should take away from this CD is that execution matters.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Justin Charity

    Funkadelic meets Kirk Franklin meets MCA meets a lame-ass house band.

  • keke

    I’m concerned. Is that really one of the groups from the Cosby cd? For real For real? They all look really weird on stage. They don’t even look like they are a part of the same group. Maybe this is one of those biggest wish campaigns and Cosby fulfilled their dreams to become “real” rap artists with “real” contracts and “real” studio time???

    As for McWhorter, yes it is difficult to seriously view his arguments about hip hop because I have never felt that he knew what he was talking about.

    As you mentioned, the whole thing about having listening parties is way off base. Aside from musicians, who else has listening parties? I could be wrong but I don’t know of consumers of any music genre who conduct listening parties! And most youngsters don’t want their grandpa dictating to them what kind of hip hop music is acceptable and what albums to purchase. It’s just funny that they would use hip hop as their medium to reach the youth when they have spent so much time knocking the entire genre.

    I am not saying that hip hop is perfect, no art form is. But how can you knock the hip hop genre and its fan base for years, then decide to put out a “hip hop album” and expect that fan base to listen to you and take you seriously? This will not reach the youth. It will however reach the Cosby crowd, the old guard, conservatives, etc…

  • Justin Charity

    It won’t reach anyone because these guys aren’t talented, nor are they original. If anything, they’re cribbing messages from a lot of the rappers that Cosby has lumped into his rants for years. Yeah, the best rappers are often irresponsible, but they’re also often poignant. Cosby’s convinced that Sesame Street rappers are the only ones capable of being meaningfully conscious.

  • MikeCee

    Is McWhorter ever right? The sum of his writing on hip-hop is exactly why Cosby’s CD is a miss. Cosby and McWhorter both lack the proper perspective and respect for the art form. While they look down their noses at inner city youth as a collection of foul mouths and droopy drawers they completly miss the point of the art form as an outlet for social expression and realism. Instead, the Cosbys and McWhorters of the world think they can succeed by lowering themselves and dumbing down their message to the level of hip-hop listeners, because they do in fact think themselves so much better, smarter, more intelligent, than those who buy and create hip-hop. The insincerity is criminal.

  • Describing that McWhorter piece as “flaccid” is actually charitable.

    And these rapping bammas are horrible.

    Maybe Cos could get back together with Quincy and give us some more stuff to sample.