Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hip and Hop & Conservatism

There's a peculiar exchange going over at Big Hollywood over the artistic and social merit of hip hop. What's peculiar about it is that the young'un of the interlocutor, one Ben Shapiro (age 25), is the voice of the opposition, arguing that "rap is crap." (No, seriously: that was the actually title of the post). Defending hip hop's honor are two older gents.

Here's the thread: Shapiro's original post, Tim Slagel's reply, Shapiro's response, and here's Michael Wilson getting into the fray.

The aspect that interests me in this whole mess is that Shapiro appears to have no understanding of hip hop beyond what he reads in the police blotter of US Weekly. His points are rehashs of arguments that went stale almost 20 years ago. Slagel and Wilson return fire with a pair of broad meditations on the creation and enjoyment of art. Wilson is particularly helpful in reminding Shapiro that hip hop doesn't have a monopoly on depicting violence:

To wit, if Shapiro’s logic were true, Republicans like Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger, Sylvester “Rambo” Stallone and Clint “Dirty Harry” Eastwood would have all been indicted for inspiring the murderous rampages of their fans. Maybe you could argue that Stallone and The Governator have inspired a lot of weight lifting and maybe even a little performance-enhancing drug use, but you’d be hard-pressed to uncover any real damage from artists who portray people who have literally murdered thousands of people in cold blood over the course of their cinematic careers.

And I’m pretty sure that Eminem never raped or murdered his now-wife Kim (or his mom, as Shapiro noted). Not in real life. And that’s the difference. Art is often an outlet for anger and rage. Deep, dark secrets and uncontrollable internal pain and anguish are artistic expressions that go back to Shakespeare and beyond. Hell, Sophocles wrote about a dude who kills his father so he can fuck his mom… And then Jim Morrison retold it… sort of.

If Shapiro wants more evidence that violence is a theme that extends to just about every genre of American music over any era, he should check out the American Anthology of Folk Music. This collection of folk, blues, country and gospel music from the '20s and '30s contains songs with lyrics that make today's music look down right tame.

I have a suspicion that Shapiro really isn't talking about hip hop (because he clearly seems out of his element when he does) and that he seems more concerned with the potential of hip hop culture to infiltrate the castle of the conservative movement. He comes out and outright says it in his response to Slagel:

More to the point, I would argue that there is no common ground between the rap culture and us [i.e. conservatives]. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Tim’s arguments in favor of such a common ground are based on fundamental misconceptions about political coincidence of interest. Tim says both conservatives and rappers have a fascination with guns and a distrust of government. This is true in the broadest sense. There’s only one problem: conservatives are fascinated with guns so that they can defend their liberties and property from the 50 Cents of the world (multiple arrests for drug dealing; the name 50 Cent was derived from Kelvin Martin, a Brooklyn robber aka 50 Cent).

Shapiro perpetuates the stereotype that all rap are some how criminals -- its this very kind of blind antagonism to the genre that enables him to completely miss one of the most "conservative" aspects of hip hop: the unapologetic embrace of unfettered capitalism. Here's how Shapiro describes the life of a rapper:

[R]ap culture is disgusting and degrading. Not every song, of course - the culture as a whole. It values the basest elements of human nature, from promiscuous sex to maltreatment of women to sickening violence. It’s no wonder that rappers have the life expectancies of fruit flies: by the time they’re 40 - if they hit 40 - there’s a good shot they’ll have shot somebody, been shot, been busted for hard core drugs, or acquired an STD (see this short list). The millions they earn from gullible white kids in the suburbs who just want to seem cool end up flushed down the drug/sex/fancy car toilet.
Except this is demonstrably not true. Ice T, whom Shapiro criticizes for his "Cop Killer" song -- from an album made 17 years ago that was actually a punk song, not a rap song (people tend to forget this detail) -- now plays a cop on TV. Ice Cube now makes and acts in family orientated movies. Rick Rubin, who helped found Def jam Records is arguably the most respect producer in music today. The other half of the Def Jam team, Russell Simmons, has taken a small media empire and transformed into a multiplatform business. And then there's Sean Carter...

None of these folks have ever been particularly shy about their desires to get money.

And why should they? Shaprio dismisses hoip hop as being about the glorification of violence and the degredation of civilization, but there is probably no other genre of music in the U.S. that is so devoted to the discussion of the American Dream than hip hop. Most rappers write music about the world they're from and the world to aspire to reach. Often times these places are miles apart, but that doesn't make them any less real.

1 comment:

grumps said...

There are similar discussions being had over at the right's new pop-cult website, Parcbench. They're not only taking on rap


They're going after the real geniuses behind the Liberal takeover of all culture, The Dead.


To quote, "The band announced their decision to hit the road again on January 1st after playing two shows this past year in support of newly elected President Barack Obama--the smell of unclean hippies and stale beer likely jogged the four surviving members from their everyday rut of recording watered-down crappy jam music no one listens to and hating Phish for stealing their glory. "

It looks as if The New Main Street Singers The New Main Street Singers have a market after all.