“Sampling has turned Hiphop into the deformed child of a mother who’s been fucked by her own son.” Not what you’d expect to read in a modern music-review thinkpiece, but with Nicholas Payton it’s more or less par for the course. Payton, who along with Roy Hargrove was promoted as a “young lion” of a revitalized traditional jazz thirty years ago, has long since gone his own way, and chosen his own opinion, about everything from his record label (he’s self-published now, because he doesn’t want to hear other opinions) to his take on the “N-word” (it is related somehow to the Sanskrit naga, which means snake, so if you are Black then saying the word is a sort of prayer, or spiritual self-activation).
Some of Payton’s written work proved even too hot for a self-employed musician to handle, but you can still find it on archive.org, most of it related to Robin Thicke and the “Blurred Lines” lawsuits with Marvin Gaye’s estate. I assume that at some point some attorney told him that repeatedly offering an opinion that differed from the one published by the trial court, and being rather personally offensive with it, was going to get him sued next.
Nicholas Payton hates me — not me personally mind you, but me as a generic idea, a German-American human being and jazz fan. He doesn’t think “jazz” exists, preferring to include it in his umbrella of #BAM (Black American Music). And he doesn’t think whites have any business listening to or playing it. In fact, he’s kind of down on the whole idea of white people. I can only imagine what he would think if he walked in on my and my son practicing the Metheny and Pastorius parts of “Bright Size Life”. Something along the lines of “two crackers stealing the music of two other crackers who stole the music,” most likely. And yet I have no trouble buying his music, reading what he writes, and supporting his efforts in general. I’m not going to apply a litmus test of political and personal conformity to everyone with whom I do business. That would be insane.
Not everyone feels that way, of course.
Back in August, when my son and I drove across the country on our two-week cycling adventure, we stopped in Northern California to pick up a new bike for him. This was a Norco Rampage 24-1, a so-called “dirt jumper”, which means it’s basically a single-speed mountain bike with BMX-ish geometry. At the time there was literally one of them in the whole country, and this place had it. They took my money, held the bike for a month, then set it up for John in their parking lot when we got there just a few minutes before closing time. The next day, one of their techs swapped the tubeless tires on my Guerilla Gravity. In both cases, the price was more than fair, the service was first-rate, and the shop itself was very nice — an upscale-ish place in an area where gas was four bucks a gallon and there was just one fast-food restaurant in ten square miles because everyone was too rich to eat that stuff. Not “the real world” in any way, shape, or form, however. Nice place, nice people.
Yesterday, the shop owner went on a TRUMP FOR PRISON rant on the shop’s Instagram page. Which is his right, of course. He then doubled down with a tirade about “rural whites” who were “naturally ignorant” and were genetically disposed to believe lies. As is commonly the case in these situations, the things he wrote would have caused him real and unavoidable trouble had he written, say, “urban blacks” or “illegal aliens” instead of “rural whites”. I responded to his post, asking if he had any personal acquaintances with rural whites. He explained to me that these people were trash and they all had guns and they had to be “dealt with” by the government immediately. When a few other customers argued with him in stronger terms, he simply deleted their critical comments along with my question and his response.
I’ve met this guy, albeit briefly, and I assure you that were you to strip him of his protective coloration (Patagonia vest, $8,000 Chinese mountain bike, Subaru Forester) and drop him in a trailer park, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish him from a “rural white”. There’s something about his little rant that really pisses me off. Maybe it’s because he makes a six-figure living selling Chinese stuff to rich people in an area that is about as disconnected from reality as one could imagine. Maybe it’s because he so clearly hates a group of people with whom he has little to no experience — I’d have the same reflexive distaste for an actual “rural white” who repeated hateful and unsupported statements about Bolivians.
In the end, I unfollowed him, I pulled the bike shop sticker off my son’s Norco, and I decided that we will simply never deal with him again. If we’re on a mountain near him and we need a part, we will drive an extra hundred miles to deal with someone else. He can stew in his hatred without my substantial assistance in the future.
Keep in mind that this fellow and Nicholas Payton have almost exactly the same opinion about “rural whites”, even if Payton expresses it with more style and humor. So why am I content to deal with Payton but not Mr. Bike Shop Owner? This has bothered me for the better part of a day and at the end I’ve decided on this answer: I don’t think Payton himself has much of a legitimate beef with whites. They’re the majority of his customers, and always have been. They support him at full price in everything he does. If he really had to survive on the custom of African-American buyers, he’d be flat broke. And yet… he’s a Black man in America, which means his experience isn’t mine and I’m not qualified to pass judgment on how and why he feels the way he does.
Bike Shop Dude, on the other hand, was born in Jersey, like my brother. He made some money in finance, then he went to NorCal and opened a bike shop selling Chinese stuff to rich people. I don’t think there’s anything tremendously profound about his life experience that should give him leave to dismiss 40% of the United States as beneath contempt or worthy of forcible elimination by the government. If he’s ever actually suffered at the hands of “rural whites”, or if anyone in his family has, he certainly hasn’t bothered to mention it in the course of perhaps 5,000 words about the pure evil of TRUMPTARDS.
Alternately, maybe this is a SlateStarCodex type of situation where I actually feel closer to Nicholas Payton than I do to Bike Shop Dude. I guarantee you that Payton and I could probably talk about music and New Orleans and whatnot for hours on end, and that we would often have the same opinions about things. Much of what he has written about hiphop and sampling directly mirrors how I feel on the subject. So Payton is my “ingroup”, even though he hates me, and Bike Shop is my “outgroup”, even though we were born twenty miles apart and probably have quite a few similarities in our lives. For Payton, both Bike Shop and I are outgroup. For Bike Shop, Payton is ingroup because he is a Democrat-leaning minority, and I’m outgroup because I’m a populist who doesn’t feel superior to other white people just because of where they live.
If there is anything that will preserve this country from bloodshed in the years to come, it might just be that our ingroup/outgroup relationships are too complicated to perfectly resolve into a binary civil war. If I ever run into Nicholas Payton, I hope he will forgive me for what I am as Johnson eventually forgave Boswell, despite their rocky beginning:
[Boswell:] “Mr Johnson, I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.”
[Johnson:] “That, Sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.”