The War Against Hip-Hop
Posted: 2 Nov 2010 Last revised: 29 Nov 2010
Date Written: November 1, 2010
The book is about the political context of Gangsta rap and the cultural style it has produced. The culture war that swirls around all this has become an abstract conversation about "authenticity". The question seems to be "Is it art or poison?" We explore the context that is missing from the debate. Gangsta Rap is thought of as music, we interpret it as identity politics: a continuation of the 60’s style militancy by other means. The urban rebellions of the 60s brought "wreck" by smashing windows. The insurgent urban culture of today brings wreck by inversion: by valorizing the very social identity that Greater America has tried to demonize and degrade. It brings wreck as well by providing a vivid news report about ghetto conditions. The book argues the culture war functions as denial: It is part of the larger project of masking racial caste by attributing the conditions of the ghetto to "culture." Also, the book historicizes the black middle class objection to Gangsta Rap to show that the objection of the "assimilados" represents a split, in the 21st century, over the meaning of "black identity."
"Decoding" Black Noise: When the mainstream "listens" to Gangsta Rap it hears only "nihilism" and violent lyrics. "There is no message, this is just 'black noise.'" Many blacks including black academics have joined this chorus. Clearly these critics listen from a great distance. The music has message, it says in a word, "Ain’t a damn thing changed."
My book reveals that within this perspective of anger and alienation there is a complex set of dualities: The post-racial myth v. urban experience of social isolation; modern blackness (the black middle class version) v. post-modern blackness; embracing stereotypes v. seeking respectability. There is a "radical incommensurability" here, middle class observers probably will not agree with it but it is perspective. It is a struggle by members of an “underclass” who are trying to renegotiate the meaning of their isolation.
In this chapter I try to lay the groundwork for a discussion of how structural racism persists but is "invisibilized" by the media. In film and in television the ghetto is a nightmare world of thugs and predators this creates a narrative of "us" v. "them". Tellingly, it has been referred to (by one of the policemen involved in the Rodney King beating) as "planet of the apes." It is made to appear not only as criminogenic but a foreign place, "another country." Later chapters will discuss how hip-hop attempts to make visible spaces and people society has sought to make invisible.
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