|While a minority of America accepts this...|
It's always nice to be accepted by your own people, so their rejection of my blog's premise might sting a bit, but I love my people too much to care about what they think about me. I also admit to being a hypocrite because I originally embraced the PG-versions of Lil Kim on the radio before I realized she was actually X-rated (I had to give the "Hard-Core"-titled compact disc away; it just hurt my sensibilities too much). I have since wished that she could put her masterful beats and unique sounds to something more uplifting than extolling
|...The Majority of Americans Accept This|
Over two decades ago, I wrote a screenplay, called "Poetic Rap," about the relationship between two teenagers, a girl and boy, the latter of whom loved rap music. I tried to make the argument, at the time, before gangsta rap was the norm, that the poetry of rap was no different than the sonnets of Shakespeare or Robert Browning, only showing more contemporary metaphorical ways to express love and romance, and, yes, carnal lust. That's before Hollywood let loose the F-bombs and curse words on cable that allowed all of us to witness what was once kept private. Now, swearing is part of our everyday lexicon. And Rap is one of its prime ambassadors.
Not being a psychologist, it's hard for me to speculate as to why rap has embedded itself in Black culture, but I would guess that there is a certain creative satisfaction in expressing one's thoughts in iambic pentameter. As a child, when I saw "West Side Story" on television, in suburban Los Angeles where I grew up, and when the Crips and the Bloods were just neighborhood cliques, I figured it was because they had seen the movie. The whole gang thing seemed relatively juvenile back then: it was turf control--don't come on this street or wear this color. The lawns were all manicured in those black neighborhoods. There were mostly two-income families. When we drove down Piru street in Compton, venturing from Carson, our neighboring suburban city, we would drive, ducking our heads for fear we might get shot at.
There was also the rumor was that one should never flash his or her car lights in certain neighborhoods, to avoid inviting trouble.
Another falsehood about the hood.
Urban legends about suburban strife.
|Robinson: America's Bad Favorite Boy|
Black America started on its descent with the ascension of Ronald Reagan, a B-rated actor, who anointed himself the arbiter of what was the acceptable purveyor of American cultural greatness.
Blacks did not get the memo that only white thuggery can be fictional.
Lenny Bruce and Jack Kerouac were controversial counter-cultural commentators back in the 50s, and started a brand that spawned many of the foul-mouthed comedians of today. Words aren't as potent when spoken by a white person, however. It is not the beatniks and the hippies, now, or even conscious rap that's under attack. It's Black youth, with their pants pulled down almost to the ground, walking bow-legged, showing their defiance of... other Black people? I'm not sure. Somehow, seeing dark-skinned men espouse controversy is very threatening, until whites embrace it. In fact, Hollywood, e.g., the music industry, has perfected the monster, and demands that rappers continue to dig our culture into depths of their demagoguery, and, seemingly, purposeful accelerated destruction of Black culture:
Convinced that tales of sex and violence were the most profitable among rap’s White consumer base, in the early 1990s, record companies began pressuring artists to focus on gangsta-style lyrics that were largely devoid of the kinds of social or political commentary that many ‘‘golden age’’ rappers provided (Kubrin, 2005; Weitzer & Kubrin, 2009). This pressure, combined with massive consolidation among record companies and radio stations in the years thereafter (Rose, 2008; Spence, 2011), has drastically limited the variety in mainstream rap music, with a marked lyrical emphasis on what Sharpley-Whiting (2007) calls the ‘‘‘pimp-playa-bitch-ho’ nexus’’ (p. xvii) or what Rose (2008) terms the ‘‘gangsta-pimp-ho trinity’’ (p. 13). Although there are still many rappers taking up overtly political causes—Lupe Fiasco, The Coup, Immortal Technique, Brother Ali, Talib Kweli, Jasiri X, Rebel Diaz, and Dead Prez, just to name a handful—these rappers are often relegated to hip-hop’s ‘‘underground,’’ where they can build loyal followings but rarely achieve the kind of exposure enjoyed by mainstream acts. As a result, some critics have suggested that mainstream (or ‘‘commercial’’) rap music is no longer a force of opposition. Whitlock (2012), for instance, goes so far as to call hip-hop ‘‘the lobby of the prison industrial complex,’’ while Rose (2012) argues that it’s ‘‘the cultural arm of predatory capitalism’’ (see also Gilroy, 2013).https://webfiles.uci.edu/ckubrin/Rap%20on%20Trial.pdf?uniq=pihx9r
This is a dangerous proposition, in effect, because now, where words were once a nuisance, now they can put you in jail. Charis E. Kubrin, associate professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, and Erik Nielson assistant professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond, have written about the disturbing trend of prosecuting rappers for writing lyrics that merely suggest criminal behavior. The quote above is excerpted from their work, worthy of intense scrutiny for its frightening implications. My blog cannot do justice to the extent of their research, well-documented and presented in a cogent historical light. Their research should serve as a clarion call to rappers, and Black Americans who support the genre, to reign in the gangster hyperbole: love your race but don't facilitate our increased incarceration because of a need to support "cool." Of course, there is the corollary of what has happened to law enforcement, and its fake-cop supporters that it fears the Black rapper to such a degree that it feels compelled to snuff him out, so deplorably--but that will be another blog post for a future novel.
I'm not sure whether life imitates art, however, I believe as Black Americans we are spooked by our own story, and now live in fear of each other. I dare not try to dissect Chicago's gang strife, and black on black crime, except to say Black Americans are a complex people, riddled with inherent inconsistencies and hypocrisies (some of which I readily admit).
A subplot in my own upcoming novel addresses the relevance of rap lyrics in a criminal investigation, but muddies the waters of potential culpability in my Louisiana setting where Whites and Blacks and so many other different races embrace rap music for its violence and overt sexuality. Things aren't always what they seem. Would Eminem ever be prosecuted for his lyrics of misogyny and Oedipal rage should anything ever happen to his mother?
The cat is out of the bag, now, however, and it's not going back in, and, as a result, the cycle of hatred for rap and black culture has now pilfered into our educational system. Public schools are penalized for not taming the wild, rap-obsessed youth, who must often look only to themselves to learn. With music education only tepidly trying to make a comeback, there are several lost generations of kids who only know how to rap. They don't know music, they don't know melodies, so they sample music from back in the day when most Black male entertainers had really nice singing voices, played instruments, and knew four- and five-part harmonies. We all want to be noticed for our talents. I do not begrudge the innate desire for people to practice their craft. But I despair that bags of money are being placed into the outstretched hands of hungry kids who see faux gangsta rap as their only ticket out of anonymity.
I can only hope that American capitalism embraces Venezuela's socialist answer to the question of how to bring kids out from the shadows of poverty, crime and despair: teach them some damn music. Imagine where an already inherently, enormously talented people could go with music.