Creating Mosaics: Given a Bad Rap

For the record, I am no expert on hip hop culture. I enjoy some of it and have fond memories of my youth in the eighties when it was just starting to enter the main stream. I remember tuning in to 104 WDKX (the station’s owner named it after Douglas, King and X) to listen to Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Flash and, of course, this young man not much older than myself going by the name of LL Cool J. I have enjoyed it, but ultimately consider myself more of a punk rock person. With all that in mind, I hope I do the subject justice in the five hundred words or less that I normally allow myself.

White America has had a love-hate relationship with hip-hop for as long as I have been listening to it. Not surprising the older generations thought it would corrupt the youth and that it was just noise. That has been the rally cry of every generation as their musical tastes are ignored by the music industry in favor of something new. Eventually the kids would warm up to it, though for the first ten years or so, most still preferred to stay away from it, even after rock and roll heroes Aerosmith performed alongside Run DMC.  Then came “Gangster Rap.”

If white parents hated the older hip hop, they positively reviled gangster rap. They saw it as glorifying violence, drug use, prostitution and human trafficking. What they failed to grasp, what has been explained over and again to them is that these artists, Ice-T, NWA and others, were merely showing the grim reality of life on the streets. Not every Person of Color ends up living like that, indeed most do not, but  thanks to concentrated poverty, many young people were, and still are, lured into that life, the only one that seems to free them from rat infested apartments with holes in the walls and no heat or air conditioning. None of these emcees were saying they wanted that life, they were telling everyone: this was their life.

I find it funny that so many white people would be offended by this. Some of hip hop’s most vigorous detractors have been those in the country music scene, or its fans. None of them seems to remember that some of country’s greatest heroes have been performers that, yes did silly entertaining songs, but also gained a lot of fame (and sometimes notoriety) singing about the gritty realities of life. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash come foremost to mind. Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson have more in common than a mutual appreciation for cannabis. To my way of thinking not only should these people so enraged by hip hop give it a break, they should give it a chance. They might be happy they did.

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