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Rap is not art but it’s cool

Rap is not art, it’s stylized abjection. Same with punk. Indeed, this is one reason why it has been possible for rap and punk to merge today, musically and sociologically. Who ever would have predicted this from first musical principles? In rap and punk, sounds primarily have social effects, not musical significances or aesthetic qualities such as beauty (as singers with beautiful voices optimize for beautiful singing, and are appreciated for this reason). Rap and punk are forms of low-conscientiousness signaling, which are enjoyable and attractive because the artist does not care about optimizing for admirable qualities such as beauty. Paradoxically, we admire people who can afford to not be admired. We infer, correctly, that they must be quite powerful in some way that’s not obvious. The popular name for this hidden, mysterious power is “cool.” Rap and punk are not beautiful art, and they never have been. But they are cool, and cool is at least as valuable and important as beauty. Genuinely cool artists make us feel, or rather they make us know — through the incontrovertible proof of their own life — that no matter how imperfect we might be, and no matter how undervalued or even hated we might be, it is always still possible to be great.

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