At what point does rap music have to take responsibility for a destructive culture it’s helped to manifest?
Rap music has spent years taking listeners on a journey through a rough jungle of decadence, violence, history, philosophy and sex throughout its existence and, at times, it could be argued that it has gone too far at times. It’s at these times where the rap community (and it’s defendants) have come to its rescue —with the most readily available scapegoat being: “We’re speaking a truth about an environment we’re from”. By all accounts, this is pretty much true; rap and hip-hop culture spawned from the ugliness of living in poverty and violence. It was an escape from that place (whether mentally or physically through success), but more-so than that it was a testament and portrait of the other America, the place where the American dream doesn’t take place.
This argument can only go so far though, and after all steps need to be taken back, the scene needs to be purveyed and we need to evaluate whether we’re still telling a story or if we’re just nurturing a culture of violence. It’s hard to tell a kid living in abject poverty how to live a righteous life when he can’t put food in his stomach, it’s also hard to convince that same kid that crime doesn’t pay when all he has to do is turn on tv and become inundated with the message that it actually does pay. It’s a complex issue handling these types of situations, and naturally when something is too complex for us, instead of trying to deal with it we just sweep it under the rug as nothing more than a black and white issue that’s not our problem.
The truth is: all we have are the quandaries. A subject like this is such an enigma where every answer you can come up with leads to a dead end. Society is fucked; violence takes place because of the nature of living in turmoil, violence is celebrated in music, movies and television because that’s all we know and music is pushed to the masses because it’s profitable and—to paraphrase Breaking Bad—companies aren’t in the morality business, they’re in the empire business.
All we have our the moments where rational people can sit and discuss what is happening under our noses. The biggest issue with this though is that those same rational people aren’t taking part in saving these areas that they’re so torn up about. As someone who’s volunteered to at-risk youth, I know from experience that you should consider yourself lucky if you can save one; no matter how much time you spend with these kids, no matter what you try to tell them, when it’s all said and done you’ll leave and those kids will go back to that environment and culture of destruction that is sculpting their minds every day.
Violence is a natural function of life. It’s everywhere, always has been and always will be. Entire cultures and colonies were built on violence. (including this one.) We’re born violent; when we come out of the womb, we come out kicking and screaming. As we grow older society tells us our violent nature is wrong and tells us to stifle it. But stifling our nature doesn’t erase it, and the difference between areas with little to no violence and areas that are heavily violent is the rules we apply to ourselves. If you’re starving than you do whatever you need to just to eat, that’s just a given; there are neighborhoods are full of people starving and their pleas for food have gone ignored. Maybe there’s a chance that rap is just nurturing this mentality more than educating about it—it’s a high possibility; but, at the same time, no matter how much bloodshed has taken place in Chicago or New Orleans, it’s a helluva lot less than what’s taking place in countries all over the world. Not saying it because that makes the situation better, just saying it because it’s true. It’s a violent world. Just as societies have denigrated and destroyed themselves because of violence, no society has made any sort of “progression” without it.
The beauty and the shame that comes from gangster rap music is that it gives a microphone to America’s forgotten children. From N.W.A., blasting street knowledge about being poor, angry and black with the kind of reckless abandon that can only come with youth to Chief Keef conveying that same abandon, albeit in a different way entirely. T.I. referred to Chief Keef as the future, the sad thing is he might be right. I’m not going to talk shit about him because I like the kid, I just think he’s incredibly misguided and has no idea just how grand the ramifications of his actions are–and that’s what makes him the voice of this new generation. A generation of mentally unstable young kids with no direction and no guidance from anyone, taking their cues from a culture that tells them their worth is based on what’s in their pockets and has taken guerrilla-like machismo and stylized prostitution and labeled it swag. George Carlin has a great bit about why man is driven to violence, basically saying that our need as men to destroy everything can be deconstructed to be just one big, “who’s got the bigger dick” contest. It only makes sense that that a culture as degraded and jaded as the black culture participate so heavily in this act.
However when all this is said and done, I’m still speaking in generalities. Violence is everywhere and in every culture, long before there was any music. (Not to speak of rap.) There is no direct correlation between rap music and violence, but that doesn’t excuse it. It’s nice to think that if the music was positive or, at least, cautionary then maybe things would be better and lives would be saved. I’m sure a few would. The issue though, lies in every other factor that drives these kids to take a person’s life. When Lupe Fiasco went on record to say that chief Keef scares him, he’s not speaking on him personally he’s speaking on an environment that made him who he is. The greatest American catastrophe that’s taking place right now is happening in the development of our youth, and it just shouldn’t be that way. The children are our future and each day that passes the future becomes desolate, and all one can really do is hope that those roses that will grow from the concrete bloom bright enough to turn it around.