South by Southwest came and went. There was music, technology, fashion and enough press to cover ten presidential elections with ten candidates each. In the midst of all the action, one man stood out. One strikingly white man with hair a little too long, dressed in a patterned shirt just a little too bright, speaking a bit too loud for comfort and, of course, wearing his signature tartan pom-pom hat. The interviews trickled out following the festival and we just couldn’t get enough.
Nardwuar is upon us.
If you don’t know his shtick yet (and you really should at this point) Nardwuar, born John Ruskin, comes to his interviews bearing gifts. He digs deep into the unexamined trenches of hip-hop knowledge and learns every possible fact about his interviewee, from early influences to favorite foods. He then, it seems, magically finds the relevant items, whether it be rare vinyl albums or bacon soap, and presents them to his interviewee.
There’s no doubt we all appreciate a happy Santa figure only trying to spread the love by bearing gifts, but there is more to Nardwuar than his gift-giving and incredible research ability that makes him so interesting. More than his pleasant awkwardness that makes us obsessively watch his interviews: He’s open, friendly and interested. Nardwuar is who he is and unabashedly so. Most importantly, Nardwuar knows how to make connections. An interview with Nardwuar is intensely personal and incredibly endearing.
It’s important to note that Nardwuar became YouTube famous (and essentially “blew up”) when he started talking to rappers. The stark contrasts between interviewer and interviewee could not stand out more, and we just can’t look away. This dichotomy pushed Nardwuar above other interviewers. He doesn’t look like he should fit in, but he does and to great success. You see the shock on intimidating rappers faces as Nardwuar begins talking. He not only knows unbelievable details, but he has gifts to prove it. He appears to be a complete stranger to American hip-hop culture, but after watching interview after interview it almost seems that no one fits in more. He removes, or really ignores, the scary from “scary black rappers” and shows how we can all connect on a personal level.
His clear love of getting to know the artists he speaks with allows us to relate (we wish we could chat with those guys too) and look past their visual and aural differences. It’s not about what others see, it’s about what you yourself do and say. If this incredibly awkward Vancouver native can get a long with Tyler the Creator, Ghostface Killah and Danny Brown, can’t we all?
With the craziness surrounding Trayvon Martin and his now infamous hoodie, let’s stop the contagious hate-think for a moment and acknowledge that arguably the nerdiest of all nerds seems incredibly comfortable with hip-hops elite and they love him back. Just look at is barrage of interviews post-SXSW and the comfort between interviewer and interviewee. A guy who is unabashedly honest and himself is steadily becoming the most relevant, or at least interesting, hip-hop journalist personality of our time.
His interviews may annoy you or leave you hysterically laughing. Some artists hate it, some people are extremely impressed; Just look at Jay-Z, puffing on his cigar as he and Nardwuar talk about significant influences and Nardwuar hands off relics of the past. It’s an image that sticks in your mind— so unusual, but the two men get along surprisingly well.
His gimmicks are what polarize the viewers. Some love every minute of the gift giving (Pharrell is literally in awe), aching with anticipation every time he reaches out his hand to grab something new and other just don’t see the point. Take Nas, for example, who interrupted Nardwuar to say, “you are a fuckin’ weirdo.” Yes he’s a weirdo, but a weirdo with unmatched journalism skills and a unique personality to truly attract viewers. Forget pundits like Rush Limbaugh and the like whose gimmick is to scream and act angry. Nardwuar’s nerdy self, signature song and incredible journalism go hand-in-hand making him stand out in a world that needs more friendly faces.
Journalism isn’t stable, Iggy Azaelia is a reputable rapper and hip-hop artists dripping with gold are open and happy to receive gifts and an interview from a man who calls himself a human napkin (in off-putting Canadian lingo nonetheless). Think pom-pom hat instead of hoodie. Remember the positive things that bring us together, not the unimportant thoughts that push people apart.
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