Last winter, a rapper whom most people haven’t heard of posted a photo on his Instagram account showing a black male model walking down a runway in a colorful skirt. In the caption, the rapper made a disapproving reference to Kanye West, implying that if it wasn't for the flamboyant fashion sense that West had been exhibiting of late - he had performed on television in a black leather skirt by Givenchy - black men would not be going around dressed like this. The post was tagged "half a fag."
The Instagram account belonged to Lord Jamar, who is forty-five years old and a member of the group Brand Nubian, which peaked more than twenty years ago but continues to command respect among fans of nineties-era underground rap. As a solo artist, Lord Jamar had struggled: after putting out one album, in 2006, he tried to fund a follow-up on Kickstarter, in 2012, but raised less than a quarter of his ten-thousand-dollar goal. Whatever his past glories - Brand Nubian's 1990 début, "One for All," is considered a classic by some - Jamar had become a largely irrelevant figure in contemporary hip-hop. But then there was the Instagram post, followed shortly after by the release of a song called "Lift up Your Skirt," in which Jamar attacked West for his wardrobe and for generally being the "pioneer of this queer shit" in hip-hop. The track did its job. Suddenly he was being asked to sit for interviews and expound on everything he believed was wrong with modern rap - not just the fashion stuff but the general softening of the culture, as well as the infiltration of the genre by white artists.