Monday, November 30, 2009

The Peter Rosenberg Question

Visiting Tribeca at night is like stumbling upon the remnants of a once great civilization. The pedestrianless blocks are laid out in an area where the grid becomes badly mangled by approaches for bridges, tunnels and the Westside Highway. The smattering of upscale bodegas and darkened lunch chains are the only dining options with the exception of a few of the bluest blood institutions inhabiting the bottom floors of hotels and large commercial skyscrapers. A casual wanderer gets the feeling that the only people living in the neighborhood stay above the twentieth floor or are sleeping in overpriced suites on business for a couple of days. It’s probably the very last place in New York you’d expect to find Hip Hop scholarships most intimate and exciting development in years, but on Hudson Street near the Holland tunnel every few months it’s where 92Y is hosting Noisemakers.

For those who aren’t aware, Noisemakers is an interview series began a few months ago by Peter Rosenberg involving casual, sit-down interviews with Hip Hop legends that have included both rappers and producers. The MC, that’s the literal master of ceremonies has become a lightning rod of sorts in New York and on the internet for good reason, there’s some things to like and a lot to scratch your head at. With a bipolar personality that bounces between an aw shucks starry eyed Stan living the dream to know-it-all record snob asshole, he can be grating, not a good look for a professional personality, but no stranger to a market that the likes of Wendy Williams and Star & Bucwild have called home. His absurd beef with Combat Jack exhibited an impulse control issue and a poor set of decision making skills. I don’t agree with his politics but what’s even more irritating is I’m familiar with them. For instance, where does Funkmaster Flex stand on Radical Islam? That being said, what he’s accomplished at Hot 97 and in New York in two and a half years has been staggering. He worked his way up from college radio to a prime spot in the DC market before the big league call up, eventually getting suspended or fired from pretty much every job he’s had.

Rosenberg was awarded a graveyard shift off the strength of a dumb youtube Rich Boy spoof and has parlayed that minuscule degree of acclaim into a prominent position as co-host of the morning show along with Cipha Sounds, who up until Rosenberg’s arrival had played second banana to Funkmaster Flex for a decade. Rosenberg is arguably Hot 97’s third most recognizable personality behind Angie Martinez and Flex at the moment. He’s a savvy self promoter who has quickly made himself a part of most of the city’s Hip Hop related conversations, hosting monthly showcases at S.O.B.’s for up and coming talent, getting MC honors at a series of A-list shows around the city, and now the engine behind his most intriguing project, Noisemakers. His hustle is phenomenal. There’s no reason any number of New York Hip Hop media figures couldn’t be doing this, but for the most part they’ve contented themselves plugging mixtapes and club appearances. Love him or hate him, until a less abrasive but equally motivated personality comes along, Peter Rosenberg has changed the game.

His Noisemakers offers an unprecedented level of access to the artist in question and I predict will prove invaluable to fleshing out the many personal and collective histories in the genre. The focus has been primarily on New York and Classic Golden era Hip Hop thus far, but as the series (hopefully) continues and expands it will tell some of Hip Hop’s great, thus untold stories and give fans the perspectives behind the music. Unfortunately Rosenberg is at the helm. His presence as moderator is nearly unbearable at times, lauding praise and lobbing what appear to be pre-rehearsed soft balls at his guests, distractingly taking the opportunity whenever possible to espouse his knowledge of the artists’ rarest 12”s, digressions intended to transparently vie for his guest’s approval and our respect.

With a love of old school and underground brought to the forefront rather than it’s typical place tucked away Sunday evenings after midnight, Rosenberg is bringing historiography and intellectualism to New York’s Hip Hop media. That’s not to say his knowledge is as deep and profound as he’d have you believe. Flex, Cipha Sounds, Clue, any individual who has spent the last 10-20 years DJing in this city, which is nearly every personality on air in New York, can quote BPMs like batting stats and recall the limited underground staples they kept in arsenal for their low profile nights spinning in Hip Hop lounges around the city, it’s merely been taken for granted. Rosenberg isn't the first to drop his Hip Hop cool and nerd out reminiscing on the first time he heard “Tried by 12”, recognizing the breadth and importance of Hip Hop’s history rather than trying to keep up with the times and be on top of only what’s happening at this moment. He follows in the footsteps of radio giants like Stretch & Bobbito, late night Rap nerds with a willingness to give shine to the little MC, but he's doing it all over Hot 97 and in the mainstream public eye. Hip Hop media institutions such as XXL have seemed willing to dumb down their coverage in the interest of ratings and sales. Hot 97, one of the only major players left in the radio game not under the Clear Channel umbrella, has taken a bold stance allowing Rosenberg to achieve this level of prominence

In short, Rosenberg could potentially represent nothing less than a highbrow vanguard being brought back to mainstream Hip Hop media. What The Source’s Mind Squad once was. It’s a shame he has to be such a dismissable gaping asshole in the process.

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