Geniuses Wanted

Have you ever noticed that the word genius gets thrown around nowadays like a McDonald’s Monopoly piece for a free Big Mac?

Call me a purist, but I think genius is an exclusive term.  Simply being brilliant or at the forefront of your field doesn’t make you a genius at all.  It is how staggeringly advanced your contributions are in respect to your peers; without competition, determining genius has no chance of leaving the subjective realm.

Albert Einstein is typically the first person most people think of when they hear the word genius, and that is one of a handful of justices we have in this world.  In a world where you are most likely born in at best a life of constant hustle and at worst abject poverty, the fact that possibly the smartest man in the history of humanity is recognized as such gives me a warm feeling, and it’s not the Bacardi sitting in my stomach.

Einstein changed the game.   He turned the understanding of the universe and ideas which were thought to be hard and fast rules on their head.  His impact can not be overstated.  For an Agnostic like me, he is the closest thing to an actual Jesus Christ skeptics (cough, cough realists) have.  Some have their holy book full of, to be kind, absurd conjecture, but Einstein’s gospel is empirical.  His opinions became understood as truth.  That’s power.  That’s genius.

The application of that term therefore will always have Einstein as the comparison.  When people refer to say Kanye West or Family Guy as genius I wonder if people can actually appreciate how selective a term like genius is. 

Every realm can have genius in it,  but in terms of MCing or production, Kanye is not even close to being a genius.  His contributions, while some can consider brilliant, are all relative to his peers;  if the upper echelon of talent is all similar, then a genius does not exist.  In my opinion the only genius in Hip Hop history, in any facet, is Rakim, but don’t take it from me.  Here is what Grandmaster Flash (a literal architect of the genre) had to say about Rakim in his excellent book My Life, My Beats:

“…Rakim was the best I ever heard.  Rakim brought so much new thought and technique to the game when he rhymed, it was like he singlehandedly reinvented the artform of being an MC.  When it came to verbal acrobatics, no other MC came close.  If everyone else’s raps were like nursery rhymes, his were like Shakespeare.

Before Rakim MC’s would rhyme “cat” with “bat” or “pretty” with “witty” when they wanted to get cute.  Rakim rhymed polysyllabic words like “residence” and “presidents.”  Before Rakim people started and ended verses in complete thoughts.  Rakim would leave you hanging with an idea, just to make it rhyme, but finish the thought in the next sentence.  Before Rakim most rappers would set up one line per rhyme.  Rakim would load up his verses with so many continuous rhymes, I’d have to listen to them three or four times just to catch everything, marveling how every phrase was a hook, every verse a complicated play on words.”

I advise you to find credence in Flash’s assessment because after all, there is literally no one more qualified to make such an assessment.  If you doubt his stature, why don’t you at least Wikipedia Flash and I’d hope you read his autobiography which breaks down Hip Hop in a way I had never witnessed (though I’m not an expert, another term which gets thrown around way too much).

When thought of in that way, no MC can be a genius besides Rakim as no MC can make such a staggering advance in quality from what was considered the norm.  MC’s can be brilliant, because brilliance is not exclusive; if everyone is shining, well then everyone is brilliant.  As such, Jay-Z is not a genius at rap.  Biggie wasn’t either.  Have they advanced the game?  Sure and they are brilliant Hip Hop artists, they just didn’t advance it enough because Rakim’s genius negated any previous MC’s efforts. 

Same goes with Kanye’s production.  I think he is an excellent producer, so much so that I italicized excellent.  Even if he is considered the best, in the grand scheme of things his best competition is very relative to him.

Now onto Family Guy.  Without question, Family Guy has its moments where it’s brilliance is obvious, however let’s face it that’s about as consistent sunshine in Seattle.  Parts of Family Guy are downright painful to watch, with a bad joke obviously bad from the onset being stretched to I don’t know say literally two minutes.

In reality, Family Guy is much easier to pick apart than Kanye but as Family Guys’ fans seem to conveniently forget, Family Guy can arguably be considered a complete  lower tiered ripoff of the Simpsons with a talking dog and baby.

Let’s see, the Simpsons is about a dim-witted, alcoholic overweight man married to a woman not in his league, and their kids.  Sight gags?  Check.  Cutaway gags?  Check.  Scathingly satirical lambasts of American culture?  CHECK.  Only thing is, The Simpsons knows how to utilize all of these techniques with tact, while Family Guy has about as much tact with its comedic devices as Bill Clinton on National Secretaries Day.  You don’t put dollar bills in secretaries’ g-strings Bill.  I mean Peter Griffin has to be, at times, one of the most annoying characters in the history of television, on a par with Balki from Perfect Strangers.

I believe the reason for this phenomenon is that as time goes on being truly original becomes harder and harder and in spite of this we still want to coronate things as genius because it validates our place in history.  Thinking we live in a time where advancement is not accessible, and the public acknowledgement that goes with that is out of reach would be a deterrent to most people to embark on any endeavor.  Well, unless they are getting what they consider to be a nice sum of cash or equally desirable possessions.

Of course attempting to be a genius involves taking a great risk; if it’s as hard as ever to be genius and to know whether you are, you are going to need to engage in some crazy shit to do it, though I guess this would be true in any era. 

So please call your boy Kanye and your favorite show “hot” or “dope” or “cutting edge” or even brilliant.  That would be your opinion.  Just don’t call it genius, at least not around me.

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