Garrett Dutton still hasn’t figured out that he’s not as black as he wants to be. Which is very, very black. Problem is, Dutton, also known as blues singer cum rapper G. Love, is white. Snow White white. Al Gore white. Refrigerator white, to borrow a Nick Lowe line.
But G. Love doesn’t know that yet. Every syllable he utters on “Philadelphonic,” his fourth release, is a desperate effort to convince you that he is the original Soul Brother No. 1, that he’s street, that he’s keeping it real. The result is 54 minutes of cringe-inducing embarrassment, with Dutton almost Amos-’n'-Andying his attempts to sound black.
On a first album, such misguided cultural leapfrogging is forgivable; on a second it becomes tiresome; by the third, it’s inexcusable. On “Philadelphonic,” Dutton finds no black music style beyond his scope. He flits about between bogus quiet storm ballads such as “Relax,” and a mishmash of blues, D.C. go-go and old-school rap. On “Friday Night (Hundred Dollar Bill)” he steals his delivery directly from the Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” There’s also a rather dubious attempt at a Jamaican patois on “Honor and Harmony.” Even as a black singer, it turns out, Dutton has an identity problem.
It takes only the briefest of bios to discover that Dutton is a cultural interloper of the most obnoxious kind. He may be from that meanest of East Coast cities, but two professional parents, a Society Hill address and an elite private school education do not a Philly street-tough make. Dutton harbors, consciously or unconsciously, a misapprehension that cultural, racial and class differences are superficial and can be bridged with good-natured bonhomie and a few shout-outs. His affection for black music and culture may be sincere, but his attempts to replicate it, no, to be it, reflect a witless paternalism endemic to upper middle-class ghetto wannabes.
Of course no music style should be the exclusive domain of whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians or any racial or ethnic group. Pop music especially is filled with brilliant examples of the genius of borrowing, stealing and melding musical forms (from the Beasties to King Sunny Ade, from Elvis to P-Funk). But any style of music demands more than dead-on imitation. If that is all that’s offered, the art disappears. Imitations flatter, but they rarely inspire, and though Dutton does a fair enough job at replicating the sounds of his favorite music, his efforts are ultimately false, ill-conceived and inconsequential.
The song “Rodeo Clowns” opens with a typical Dutton voiceover: “Yo wassup, this is G. Love comin’ at you live out here from Califawnya even though I’m Philly born and bred and I got my man Jack Johnson in the studio today … my man Jack tell ‘em what time it is.”
Time for you to step off, G.