YOUNG, GIFTED, AND WACK

Darrell Bowling has some thoughts about the impact of rap on the popular culture.

“Y’all gonna make me lose my mind up in here, up in here.” That’s a DMX song and that’s how I felt during a week in early December when I was overwhelmed by negative images of black men in the media. It hit me with many different emotions: sadness, embarrassment and anger.

***

Black American music has been the heartbeat of our country. Our music gives America its groove. It has been tossed, turned, co-opted and stolen by others. There was even a time when blacks rarely got credit from the media – or the proceeds from sales and royalties.

Now, it’s happening again. Our culture is being stolen again, only this time it’s by young black men who are promoting racist stereotypes of our people simply to make money.

Black men put black women in videos and call them “bitches and hos,” and promote drugs, sex, drinking and high-priced luxury items. If they were “keeping it real,” they wouldn’t be able to afford these things, at least not in the St. Louis neighborhood where I grew up.

White kids historically have followed black culture’s lead and they continue to do so, not surprisingly. Because of the theme of gangsta rap, what is troubling now is the almost voyeuristic, horror movie feel to it. Let’s be realistic. If a group of white kids saw 50 Cent and his G-unit walking behind them on a street, those kids would be as scared as if it was Jason wearing a hockey mask and carrying a chainsaw.

Even I provoke fear in white people when I walk down the streets of Seattle. And certainly none of these brothers, acting and dressing as they do in their videos, would be welcome in white neighborhoods.

So rappers offer white people a safe look at how young black men think, feel and behave. Then whites take that behavior and imitate it. They never have to venture out of their neighborhoods to meet a real “thug.”

***

Chuck D once called rap the CNN of the streets. It still is, but the mainstream is only seeing the make-believe, seedy side of rap music. And it seems that the music industry and the media are only interested in making money by pushing trash to our kids.

***

At this point in the pop rap business, all you need is a great producer – Dr. Dre, Jermaine Dupri, Pharrell. They come up with the phat beats, you drop the”f”bombs, say the “n” word, talk about jackin’ people up, screwing women, how much money you have, cars, diamonds, mug for the camera, grab your crotch and there you have it – an instant hit.

If popular rappers really want to “keep it real,” they need to tell the truth. Nobody parties 24/7 – try talking about real experiences, love, pain, sorrow, happiness.

And black people have to stand up and say we have had enough with popular rap music. It has gone too far. I’m not the only person saying this. Spike Lee said at a college recently: “We buy all this stuff (rap music), not even thinking about what’s behind it. … Think about the power that we have. We can’t just sit back and think it doesn’t affect us. We have to do something about it. We have to be more choosy about the types of stuff we support.”

USA Today once called Eminem the new Bob Dylan. Well, I want to know where the Curtis Mayfield of popular rap music is? And why isn’t he getting a Grammy?

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John Lemon says:

    Eminem is the “new Bob Dylan”? Seriously?! Not that I’m a Bob Dylan fan, who is a politically correct favorite, but largely unlistenable to — only when others record his music is it tolerable.

    Ashton Kuchner is apparently the new Sidney Poitier.