Selections of noteworthy hip hop.
For the last four years, I’ve been writing a column about hip hop for Unwinnable. I first stumbled across Unwinnable thanks to the one and only Levi Rubeck, who was already publishing here. I liked what Levi was writing and the whole vibe of the place and thought it seemed like a great place to publish an idea I had for a piece about the relationship between Jeff Vandermeer’s novel Annihilation’s relationship with Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie Stalker. I didn’t think my argument was too controversial, but Vandermeer ended up calling me “an arrogant ass” on Twitter (a point of pride for me to be honest). But, Jeff, if you’re reading this, write an introduction for one of the Radium Age books. I hold no grudges.
Anyway, not too soon afterwards, I pitched Stu an idea of a riff on Astrid’s metal album recommendation column, except sub hip hop for metal. Surprisingly, Stu (notable Goth) bit on the idea, and I started writing. Now, having written up a column nearly every month for nearly four years, I do feel a bit burnt out. I truly still love hip hop, but actively searching for new hip has started to wear even on me. By the time my son was born, I had already been shuffling off “new” hip hop in favor of writing about anniversaries or career retrospectives of artists and albums I already loved. I continued to try and keep a supply of that new new in my veins, but I was starting to hit the latter half of my 30s, and I could feel that I was no longer keeping up with the current trends. Instead, I was in my silos, and just recommending the same shit as always (hello Billy Woods!).
However, I’m never one to give up writing or a monthly payday, so I’m rebranding. Yes, if you follow this column you will hear about hip hop again one day. I’m never going to stop listening to MF DOOM and every new Kendrick album will hit my ears, but I want to write about a bit of a wider selection of things. It turns out, I like other types of music (Ween and Tom Waits come to mind) and I’m excited to write about other media as well. So, with that in mind, David and Stu have agreed to let me just choose my own beat and “The Beat Box” is rebranding to “Noah’s Beat Box.” I promise this will still be media oriented (I do have a PhD in media studies after all), but I want to get off the exclusive hip hop beat and switch things up. You’re going to see more about movies, TV and books, more about politics, power and identity. You’re also probably going to find more references to irrelevant academics as well, but you probably need to just roll with that part of things. I’ll try and keep the jargon as low as possible because I know it can be a bit insufferable. And I swear, I will still recommend a fire beat when I hear it.
With that in mind, today, I’m going to talk about something completely different, something I may never talk about again: reality TV, Vanderpump Rules and the Scandoval of it all.
For the longest time, my wife has been trying to get me into reality TV. Not all reality TV though – she specifically loves Bravo-style reality. No Survivor or Bachelor for her. It’s The Real Housewives of (insert wealthy city here) or bust. When we first started dating, I was actively adversarial to the genre. These were dumb people doing dumb things to get on dumb TV.
In some ways, I stand by this sentiment, but I reject the idea that consumers of that style of TV are also dumb. As I have learned from scholars like Laurie Oulette, Zizi Papacharissi and Jamie Springer – MY WIFE – there are all sorts of reasons folks enjoy reality TV and none of them involve being too stupid to enjoy Rick and Morty.
Despite my enlightenment to the value of reality TV over a decade ago, I still did not enjoy watching it. Jamie continued to introduce me to characters like Bethany in New York and Kandi in Atlanta or Whitney in South Carolina (for the record, I know Whitney is not a housewife), and I continued to decline to engage. Frankly, I had a lot of other TV shows to watch and none of this struck my fancy.
Of the things I did know was that, back in the early 2010s, Lisa Vanderpump, a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills, pitched Bravo executive producer Andy Cohen (STL shout out baby!) a show about the sexy, unique employees at her LA restaurant SUR (Sexy Unique Restaurant). Since then, SUR’s crew of hot hosts, servers and bartenders has been serving tea to a whole audience, of which I was not a part.
Jamie, God bless her, has been tuning in since day one. I remember when we lived in Lafayette, Colorado, Jamie was recording this on our TIVO (does anybody use a DVR anymore?) and I was like, “Why?” I tried not to stress it. I was busy in grad school and had plenty of my own embarrassing shit to watch, so I ignored it fully. But since 2013, Vanderpump Rules has been kind of sitting in the back of my mind. In 2021, I could have probably pulled Lisa Vanderpump and Jax Taylor out of a lineup, but the rest of the crew was a blank slate for me. That all changed last March because of the actions from the rat-faced, mustachioed motherfucker named Tom Sandoval from my hometown of STL.
Perhaps, if you haven’t been following the Scandoval, that assessment of a random reality star may seem harsh. However, I would recommend reading the following explanation of the Scandoval from Jamie, a true expert on the whole thing:
On March 3, 2023, TMZ reported that Vanderpump Rules’s (VPR) “number one guy,” Tom Sandoval was caught cheating on his life partner of ten years, the “born fucking cool” Ariana Madix with fellow cast member and “Bambi-eyed bitch,” Raquel Leviss. Raquel is the ex-fiancé of cast member DJ James Kennedy (DJJK) and Ariana’s (now former) best friend. By all appearances, Raquel, a former pageant queen who aspired to work with children, seemed the epitome of innocence and patience as she dealt with the volatile DJJK. Sandoval, while always extra and sometimes cringey, seemed truly devoted to Ariana and their life together. After Raquel ended her engagement with DJJK, many cast members rallied around her, providing her with free housing, moral support and camera time, essentially helping her move from a background player to a main member of the VPR cast. But we then discovered that for at least seven months, Sandoval and Raquel had carried on an affair while Ariana dealt with the deaths of her grandmother and her 16-year-old dog. The level of betrayal and deceit remains astounding.
Since March, Scandoval has become mainstream news, podcaster fodder, social media and sponsored content, and a constant topic among fans and curious newcomers. Because news of the affair became public in the middle of VPR’s tenth season, there were Easter eggs to hunt for each week, which bred constant conversations, information and theories.
At its core, this show is about an incestuous friend group where cheating is as commonplace as a handshake – seriously, the hookups and overlaps can only be properly communicated using visual aids.
Yet, Scandoval is unique and, dare I say sexy (forgive me), because it re-contextualizes the entire show. We saw the previously popular Tom as a manipulative user; we watched with fresh eyes and recognized the toxic behavior of all the men in the group, even the seemingly good ones. And finally, we were able to see the women who have long been ridiculed finally get the recognition and apologies they’ve so deserved – as a viewer and Sandoval hater since day one, it felt damn good to see.
It is truly a crazy level of intricacy to the story being told here and, in the end, I did get sucked in. I’m aware of details of these people’s lives that I never thought would be possible after years of resistance. So, why did this specific storyline finally break through? I think it’s a combination of watching the true betrayal of trust between a group of friends that is really sociopathic almost, combined with one of the best examples of dramatic irony on television. Rewatching season ten, knowing what scumbags these people are while nobody on the screen knows what’s really happening provides something almost Shakespearean to the narrative. The violation is so brazen, so audacious, so outrageous, and the characters on screen have no idea.
In the end, reality TV finally broke me and I got involved, but I’ve already told Jamie, this feels like it might be a one-and-done type of thing. The tenth season of VPR is finished, and I’m not sure I’ll be following up for season eleven (touch base with me next year–I may still be sucked in), but I don’t think I’m going to be spending much time in Andy Cohen’s clubhouse this year and I doubt I’m going to start keeping an eye out for what Countess Luanne is up to. My parasocial tendencies can only go so far, and I think I may have reached my limit. But you never know! Now that the dam is broken, maybe it can never be resealed. Maybe I’m not just a reality TV show fan, and if that is the case, I suppose I’m OK with it.
Noah Springer is a writer and editor based in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @noahjspringer.