March 26, 2013

ROSEN: Catch a Rising Star

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During my tenure at Cornell, which will end this May, I have had the good fortune of being able to attend numerous talks and concerts that have both enlightened and entertained me. Music acts like the Flaming Lips, Phoenix and Nas and speakers like Elie Wiesel, Jon Stewart and Louis C.K. are among many high-caliber events that have enriched my Cornell experience. They embody some of the perks we all get for attending (and shelling out for) an Ivy League education. This semester, with the announcement of Kendrick Lamar as our Slope Day performer and Cory Booker as the convocation speaker, I was particularly surprised and impressed by these forward thinking and somewhat unconventional choices.

However, in the days following both announcements it seemed that many were unhappy with these choices and were particularly vocal about it, whether around campus, on Facebook or in this paper. “Who even is Kendrick Lamar?” “Ugh another politician? And who cares about Newark?” Cries like these seemed to be fairly common, and I began to wonder if there was even a choice for Slope Day or convocation that wouldn’t attract constant complaints and cynicism. In all likelihood, there isn’t, but I still feel it necessary to make the case for both of these choices and to combat some of the attitudes that I view as unfounded and uninformed.

One of the main complaints leveled against Kendrick Lamar as a Slope Day pick was that, unlike the previous Slope Day performers, he was unheard of and not a “star.” This is of course patently false. Anybody who is at all cognizant of current rap knows who Kendrick Lamar is and how he is one of the most prominent and up and coming rappers in the game. In 2012, his album, Good Kid M.A.A.D City, was placed at the top of Album of the Year lists for numerous publications, including Pitchfork, Complex and Rolling Stone. MTV named him the “Hottest MC” in its annual list, ahead of more “famous” artists like Nas, Drake and Kanye (but who knows about MTV, anyway). Slope Day artists have tended to be of the rap genre of late and Kendrick Lamar would be on any remotely hip-hop-aware person’s short list of current rappers. Honestly, I was surprised that the Slope Day Programming Board chose an artist who has both radio play (songs like “Swimming Pools” were undeniable hits) and is ambitious in both his style and content. Lamar can be what you would call a “conscious” rapper, in the likes of Talib Kweli or Mos Def, whose lyrics are personal, thoughtful and introspective (something I’m not sure you could say about Taio Cruz).

Cory Booker could also face the charge that he is a relative unknown, simply a mayor of a rundown New Jersey city. But again, this is a fallacy, and anybody who is remotely politically aware would know who he is. Booker, like Lamar, is a rising star on the political stage. He is a social media maven, with 1.4 million Twitter followers and is completely changing the way in which politicians function and relate to people in the age of social media. He is, in all likelihood, going to be the next Senator of New Jersey and is already being groomed to run for the President of the United States (comparisons to Obama run rampant). He is also somewhat of a folk hero, saving his neighbor from a burning building, reducing his Mayoral salary and frequently donating his numerous speaking fees (including Cornell’s) to charity. Compared to the bland and insipid politicians who have spoke here these past few years, Cory Booker is a breath of fresh air — a politician who represents the future of politics in the 21st century.

I am sure that in 2004, when Kanye West came to perform at Slope Day, there were many who complained about this nobody who had only released one album. But now those same people can exclaim, with hipsteric glee, “I saw Kanye before he was cool!” This is the opportunity we have to catch a rising star in both Kendrick Lamar and Cory Booker, to see these two figures who in a few years will be titans in their fields. You can say many things about your Cornell experiences, but cool will rarely be one of them. This is a chance for us Ivy Leaguers to maybe be a little cool, so enjoy it, because either way, you’re paying for it.

Dan Rosen is a senior in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. He may be reached at drosen@cornellsun.com. Smell the Rosen ap­pears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Dan Rosen