The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, February 06, 2006

Arrrgh! Politics...

I hate this stuff.  I want so very badly to stay away from this arena, but no matter what I do, current events and conversations pull me back to the realm of the male-female, black-white, right-left crap, and it drives me crazy, it really does.  So I’m going to vent a bit for the next few days…hell, if I don’t do it here, where WILL I do it? 
It was just in the news today: rapper Busta Rhymes’ bodyguard was shot and killed outside a video shoot.  I am so incredibly, deeply, poisonously sick of this, and also of the criticism of anyone, black or white, who suggests that there is something toxic and self-destructive (is there a word for the crossbreeding of genocide and suicide?) in the world of rap and hip-hop.  I mean, excuse me.  We don’t see that kind of violence in any other form of black music, so it ain’t racial.  You don’t see it in blues, gospbel, R&B, Jazz, pop, or whatever.  You just don’t.  So don’t think you have to defend it on racial grounds.

I have a suspicion about the violence which crops up with sickening regularity in connection with rap.  Its   image, its  thematic content, seethes with death.  There is little honest and true there—a   fraction of black existence is magnified and shouted out.  I trust no artists who deny their pain, their love, their softer emotions.  My guess is that the term “artist” simply doesn’t apply to most of these men and women.  I’m not speaking of Mos Def or Kanye West, who I genuinely respect.  And I have a lot of fun with some of them…can’t deny the infectious beats of Snoop, the bitter irony of Ice Cube, or the house-party hip-hop flava of Will Smith (who gets dissed for being “soft”—he speaks of love and family and joy). 

But I remember going to a Nelly concert, and while I enjoyed watching him fly through the air in a giant track shoe, the preliminary acts were, not to put too fine a line on it, PITIFUL.  I’ve watched concerts my whole life.  Seen black and white acts from around the world.  Never in my entire life had I seen a lower level of talent and ability commanding a stage.  They couldn’t sing.  They couldn’t dance.  They couldn’t play instruments.  They just hunched across the stage mouthing doggeral as the crowd went wild. 

Last night on the Superbowl, there was a terrific, telling commercial with P. Diddy and Jay Mohr.  On it, Diddy wanted to make a rap song with Mohr’s client…a can of Diet Pepsi. The result was hysterical.  They built an entire, catchy, radio-worthy song around a can that could occasionally hiss to the beat.  Hoochies, singers, synthesizers, dancers, guest artists…they had it all.  Wow!  An instant hit. 

And all the can could do was hiss.  And you know something?  That is ultra-believable.  I think that part of what goes on in the rap community is that most of them know that they are created by producers purely for image, that they are frauds.  That they have no real talent to fall back on, and that their shelf-life is shorter than celery.  They taste the money at the top, knowing that it can all be taken from them so easily.  And that, my friends, breeds fear, and fear breeds violence.

Add to this the incredible thuggish image system.  Do you really believe that there are not real, genuine thugs among them?  That either before or behind the microphones there are not real killers, real drug dealers, real gangsters?  It simply stretches the imagination.

In a musical genre where even the sweet-faced girls croon for “roughnecks” and “soldiers” what in the living hell do you think is going to happen?  To remain silent about the diseased ethics and morals being promoted as entertainment, even as the death statistics mount, is to be complicit with the destruction of your own community.  I am ashamed that so many remain silent on this, or protest the criticism, and when I hear right-wing commentators dancing around the issues of whether this actually represents what black people are, I want to cry, because in too many cases, I hear reasonable and intelligent black commentators say: “yes.”

I had dinner with a very famous black playwright once, and this person defended hip-hop culture most eloquently.  I cannot deny the power of the arguments, or the clarity of the thinking behind them.  And yet…and yet…

I open the newspaper, and look at the headlines.  Another one bites the dust.  Name of God. When will it be acceptable to say that the Emperor has no clothes?

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