July 1, 2007

What happened to rap music?

It seems people got tired of the attitude:
Rap has been deserted by many white fans and middle-class blacks, apparently tiring of the "gangsta" attitude to women, racism, violence and bling - the gold rings and medallions that have made hip-hop a byword for -vulgarity.

"The public has made a choice. They're saying, 'We do not want the nonsense that we see and hear on radio, and we are not putting our money there'," said KRS-One, a rap legend from the Bronx. "Rap music is being boycotted by the American public because of the images that we are putting forward."
So the "more speech"/free market approach to offensive speech works?

44 comments:

SteveR said...

After twenty years, people catch on.

Adrian said...

Who needs research and numbers when you have anecdotal evidence? I chaperoned a high school dance last night, and the (almost all white and very rich) kids went nuts with every rap song.

Anyway, I certainly do hope rap is dying. At the very least, I hope the incredibly stale routine of white comics acting 'ghetto' to get laughs is over. The only consistently funny use of this today in my opinion is Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock, who just makes fun of it all the time - "white people dial a phone like this..."

Pogo said...

Dang. And I just cut my first middle-aged-white-guy-does-gangsta-rap album, too.

Album cuts include:
1. Killaz
2. Kill 'em
3. Kilkillkill
4. White, drunk, and 45
5. I miss U (ballad)

Now what? Change 'em to country songs?

P. Rich said...

"Rap music" is an oxymoron.

Tim said...

Rap "music" is to music what Al Sharpton is to politics.

And after a while, everyone figures out the fraud. Large groups of Americans may be collectively stupid on occasion, but generally not for long.

Wade Garrett said...

KRS-One goes back to the days when rap music really meant something. I'm not a big rap fan, but, when I was a kid, rap music took one of two forms: political (Public Enemy, KRS-One, etc) and fun-loving (De La Soul, Run-DMC, the Digital Underground, etc). Some of the political rap was violent (like KRS One's "by any means necessary,") but at least it had a serious message, even if that serious message was one that most people, even most urban blacks, disagreed with.

Dr. Dre's album "The Chronic" was really what made gangster rap music mainstream. The Chronic is widely regarded my music critics at Rolling Stone and The Onion to be one of the best rap albums ever made, and its popularity spawned a host of imitators who tried to one-up Dr. Dre by getting even more violent, sexist and misogynist with their lyrics. I'm glad to see that cycle has reached its conclusion. In recent years, rappers like Kanye West and Dead Prez have brought political rap back to the mainstream, and rappers like Common and Outkast have made the sort of goofy, lighthearted rap of Run-DMC popular again.

In case anybody's interested, the documentary "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" is a great introduction to modern rap music for people who otherwise know little about it.

Bissage said...

Mr. Simels, you are a music critic by trade, are you not?

Please make the most of this opportunity to show us your chops.

Thank you.

Danny said...

Oh look, white people complaining about rap music-- my favorite afternoon activity at Althouse Assisted Living!

Roost on the Moon said...

"Gangsta Rap" has been dead for years. Hip-hop isn't going anywhere. It's just changing, same as all music. There are new scenes/sub-genres coming and going constantly. Krunk came and went without the notice of the media. Hyphy is big in the west. Everyone here has heard an Outkast song. And you might have no idea who he is, but I'd bet dollars to donuts you'd recognize the voice of Cee-Lo Green. But when it doesn't enforce negative stereotypes of black people, it gets no coverage.

So now it's dying? Well, we'll see. It's certainly more alive than rock 'n roll.

"Rap music" is an oxymoron.

Rap "music" is to music what Al Sharpton is to politics.


Ugly. You don't need to like it of course, but I think I speak for many people under thirty when I say that it's hard not to chalk such willful ignorance up to racism.

Roost on the Moon said...

I need to clarify:

I didn't mean to say that if you are ignorant about "rap" (dead giveaway, by the way), that you are racist. It's that, plus being vocally opposed (e.g. "crap music", "it's not even music", etc..) that really smacks of prejudice.

tjl said...

"Krunk came and went without the notice of the media"

Fortunately.

stepskipper said...

>>it's hard not to chalk such willful ignorance up to racism.

Maybe it's hard, but you should give it a try. Hyperbolic statements about rap music don't set off racism alarms for me, as i can't stand it either, much like i can't stand Al Sharpton. And it's got got nothing to do with the color of the man's skin.

statements about rap music don't set off racism alarms for me, as i can't stand it either, much like i can't stand Al Sharpton. And it's got got nothing to do with the color of the man's skin.

By that logic, if you were to say "heavey metal ain't music" here in texas, someone could imply you hate mexicans. My point is, it oughta be okay to vocally hate aspects of a racial minority's culture, for aesthetic or political reasons.

stepskipper said...

shoulda previewed, sorry.

Bissage said...

Still no Mr. Simels?

Shoot!

Well, maybe he's taking extra time to compose his masterpiece.

Mr. Simels? Please don't rush on my account.

I'm content to wait.

I'm sure it will be worth it!

Roost on the Moon said...

Fortunately.

I'm with you there, and it's kind of a weak spot in my media argument, I'm now noticing, since it (Krunk)portrays plenty of negative stereotypes.

Not threatening ones, though. I guess it's harder to sensationalize the glorification of alcoholism among the poor.

Look at all the people who think "rap music" is just about violence though. That didn't happen by itself.

My point is, it oughta be okay to vocally hate aspects of a racial minority's culture, for aesthetic or political reasons.

Issues of what "ought to be okay" aside, hating "aspects of a racial minotity's culture for aesthetic or political reasons" is a pretty good working definition of racism.

You could say I don't like loud music, or I don't like violent lyrics. You could say that much of hip-hop is too repetitive. There are all kinds of perfectly vaild criticisms, both aesthetic and political, of any kind of music. At some point, it's just taste. I'll grant you all of that.

But when someone clearly doesn't know what they're talking about, like when they operate on the assumption that "rap music" is violent by nature, or that a majority of hip-hop is about committing crimes or something, there is something fishy going on.

It's been the biggest innovation in popular music since the singing group. It's a whole new way to deploy language in music. For better or worse, it has influenced every form of popular music, including mass-market country.
I'm getting off topic, here.

My point is, you don't need to like hip-hop; it's not for you. But when you object to it's existance, especially on such BS grounds as "it's not even music", what are you really saying?

As someone who has a passing familiraity with hip-hop but is no huge fan (basically, an average young suburban white guy), I can't think of any justifcations for that statement that aren't flat-out racist. If you can, I'd like to hear them.

Roost on the Moon said...

Also, I'd like to second Wade's recommendation of Chappelle's "Block Party". If you hate hip-hop, it won't change your mind, but it might bring about a little understanding. And even music aside, it's a highly enjoyable movie. Netflix has it.

Jeff said...

Look, Roost is calling KRS-One racist!

Internet Ronin said...

I didn't mean to say that if you are ignorant about "rap" (dead giveaway, by the way), that you are racist. It's that, plus being vocally opposed (e.g. "crap music", "it's not even music", etc..) that really smacks of prejudice.

Really? I've heard people say virtually identical things about classical music, opera, pop, country, jazz, and bluegrass. And even more people rant in exactly the same vein about specific artists. So, it seems to me that those kinds of criticisms are pretty common and usually have very little to do with racism. (Your mileage obviously varies.)

mcg said...

I agree with adrian, this story sounds more like wishful thinking than reality.

Roost on the Moon said...

That's an interesting take, Jeff, how do you figure?

blake said...

It don't make me wanna go hippity-hop.

I left my wallet in El Segundo.

Roost on the Moon said...

I've heard all those kinds of music criticized, too, Ronin, but not with "It's not even music." I guess I've heard that leveled at avant-garde jazz, and I don't usually draw the conlcusion that it is race-based there. So point taken, as far as it goes.

But do you disagree with my argument or with my conclusion?

It's not proof of racist beliefs when someone says everyone that likes hip-hop is stupid, but it's a pretty damn good indication.

John Stodder said...

Back to the original post, I doubt it's correct. It sounds like rap wants to correct its PR image, which might not be working so well anymore, but there are plenty of rap disks out there and lots of people are buying them. Isn't 50 Cent still a big deal? Timbaland? Ludacris?

The American music audience is now completely fragmented. There is almost no chance that a performer like the Beatles or Frank Sinatra that can unite a wide spectrum of fans not just around themselves but around a genre will emerge in my lifetime. The last one was probably Michael Jackson.

Now we have "American Idol," which reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode, starring me, in which I am taken to Hell.

Internet Ronin said...

It's not proof of racist beliefs when someone says everyone that likes hip-hop is stupid, but it's a pretty damn good indication.

Sorry, roost, that truly has not been my general experience over the years within my circle of acquaintances (not limiting the comment to friends here, but casual acquaintances). Not that those circles are special or anything, but because of where I've lived and how I've lived, there has always been a pretty varied mix of characters and colors. I can only think of a few times since the advent of rap when it seemed to me that there was a definite racial-tinge to the criticism. Ageism in this regard is another matter entirely.

Do I think some people feel threatened by what they perceive as songs praising violence sung by angry young Black men? Sure, but some people are threatened by the presence of more than one young Black male in a room, angry or happy.

It seems to me that the gangsta image pursued by some rap artists made them a hell of a lot of money and overwhelmingly provides the public image of the genre. At the same time, it reinforces some of the most negative stereotypes extant in our culture. Worsens them, I think. While it is natural for musicians play to their audience, they ought not be too surprised that they have also attracted an unintended audience that is only half-listening. Your thoughts?

hdhouse said...

died a deserved death?

blake said...

"Rap" like "Rock" is comprised of a great many different sub-genres, some of which are quite musically sophisticated, despite common perception.

However, Sturgeon's Law applies here as always.

Roost on the Moon said...

Thanks, blake, I hadn't seen Sturgeon's Law before, and it applies nicely here.

You can concentrate on the crud of anything. That some people insist hip-hop is nothing but crud and people who listen to it are stupid or primative is frustrating, especially given that it has been such a huge part of black culture for so many years.

But there is something to be said for your "ageism" angle, Ronin. I haven't really been taking into account the distate all people have for the new and unfamiliar. Anyway, I'd like to stress that I'm not equating disliking hip-hop with racism, and apologize to anyone that might have been offended by my earlier comments.

And to everyone that has condemned hip-hop above, if you have some spare time and a netflix account, you'd be doing yourself a favor renting a film like Block Party, if nothing else to see what it is you're wishing was dead.

Christy said...

One of the advantages of never hearing, or listening, to the words of songs is that I rather liked rap when it first became popular. The rhythms are fun.

Did you know there is an entire subset of Christian Rap? My sister used it quite effectively to divert my nephew from objectionable material.

I don't know where Rap began, but I do remember a bluegrass drummer who rapped back in the day on the Cas Walker Hour when Dolly Parton was the star of that local TV show, i.e. the 60s.

Roger Sweeny said...

Roost on the Moon,

Back in the '50s and '60s lots of white people said rock and roll "wasn't even music." They were complaining about white performers and the white kids who listened to them.

They were ignorant of the black roots. And that's the thing. You can say rap "isn't even music" and it isn't necessarily racism--though there's probably a fair amount of ignorance.

Roost on the Moon said...

Rereading your post Ronin, I just noticed that I didn't really address what you asked me, which is, (my parapharsing):

Doesn't hip-hop deserve its negative image?

I think not. From articles like the one above, that seem to assume violence has always been an integral part of the music, it has a bad reputation. I think this probably comes from NWA getting so much attention in the late 80s/early 90s. Their entire act was to be boogeymen, something the GHWBush-era media (spearheaded, by the way, by Tipper Gore) was all to glad to freak out over and run with. Sensationalist hysteria cemented "Gangsta Rap"'s place in our culture as the most rebelious music out there, which made it awesomely transgressive to my generation. I was raised in a small town in Wisconsin. My town had one black kid, and he was adopted. Still, we knew Straight Outa Compton. We wouldn't have without the media freakout. All this time, there was plenty of completely non-violent party music, dance music, positive-message music. But on tv, the angle was always "drive-bys" and "oral sex at gunpoint". A subgenre was born, and the one-upmanship about who was most authentic, who was hardest, spiraled out of control. It was a huge part of hip-hop in the early and mid-nineties, but even then, you had positive voices speaking out against it. I'm droning on, here, so I'll wrap it up.

I'm just basing this on the people I know, but 50 Cent isn't really taken seriously by most hip-hop fans. And his legion imitators even less so. It's marketed straight to suburban teen boys. There is a lot of violent music out there, but it's there to fill a demand created by white suburbia. This isn't your average hip-hop artist's fault. It is the primary form of black popular music today, and most people who go into it have no interested in bragging about shooting people and raping women.

I guess my argument in a nutshell is that hip-hop's violent reputation comes more from trend-manufacturing than the music itself, and this article about its supposed decline is just more of the same.

Galvanized said...

One thing that's not addressed in that article is that hip-hop is just as much about fashion, and I do know that the fashion side of hip-hop is on its way out, now known as "ghetto" by a lot of kids with the bling, grills, and the dropped-pants, baggy look. Also, hip-hop is more now about "money in da bank" and cars than about copkillers (though still about drugs). A lot about older rap needed to mature, and it has. A lot of the artists are singing more about coming into their own and rising about than about the harshness of the streets because, honestly, I don't think a lot of them identify with it anymore. Look at Kanye West -- I doubt that he's ever even known the streets. Look at P Diddy who, now, is a cleaned up post-thug and a successful businessman who would rather forget the hard life. I don't think this article is up to date on the culture or gives hip-hop enough credit. HOWEVER, the old violent attitudes had to go, along with the derogatory language. Now if they'd just take sex out of the lyrics, which has indeed gotten way out of hand (in every genre) then hip-hop would have undergone the whole overhaul it's needed. But it's engrained in even the most whitebred, suburban communities now. But, again, I think it's the fashion that's on its way out. Hip-hop will just continue reinventing itself because it's America's invention and a cultural staple.

Too many jims said...

Wade Garrett said...
Some of the political rap was violent (like KRS One's "by any means necessary,") but at least it had a serious message, even if that serious message was one that most people, even most urban blacks, disagreed with.


I haven't had the chance to re-listen (or review the lyrics) to all of BDP's music but, reviewing the lyrics from the tracks on "By All Means Necessary", I find it hard to say that KRS-One was "violent". I think his image as one advocating political violence stems, in large measure, from the fact that his cover art on that album was a take-off on this often misunderstood picture of an often misunderstood figure.

JackDRipper said...

Roost on the Moon said - As someone who has a passing familiraity with hip-hop but is no huge fan (basically, an average young suburban white guy), I can't think of any justifcations for that statement that aren't flat-out racist.

A racist is anybody beating a White liberal in an argument.

White boys in America who immerse themselves in rap/hip hop are simply fetishizing the black male. Black male vulgarity/sexuality/criminality represents an exciting taboo rush to the sorts of White males who have anxieties and insecurities about their own manhood.

For the rest of us it's just an embarrassing mixture of noise, arrogance, ugliness and overcompensating bravado.

Tim - Rap "music" is to music what Al Sharpton is to politics.

Classic. The perfect comparison.

Roost on the Moon said...

White boys in America who immerse themselves in rap/hip hop are simply fetishizing the black male. Black male vulgarity/sexuality/criminality represents an exciting taboo rush to the sorts of White males who have anxieties and insecurities about their own manhood.

Though I'm sure you mean this as nothing more than an attack at me and you clearly haven't given it serious thought, you make a real point.

As you should know, but don't, there is a lot (a large majority, even) of hip-hop that is not macho and violent.

I agree with you about the stuff that is, though. It is fetish music for white males. Again, I'd like to advance the idea that this isn't something being somehow foisted on us by black people. This is an aspect of the dominant culture, and dismissing most of modern black music because of it is ignorance in the service of racism.

Too many jims said...

JackDRipper said... Black male vulgarity/sexuality/criminality represents an exciting taboo rush to the sorts of White males who have anxieties and insecurities about their own manhood.

Why does "black male vulgarity/sexuality/criminality" appeal to these males rather than "white male vulgarity/sexuality/criminality"? Or are you saying that "white male vulgarity/sexuality/criminality" does not exist (at least not in music)?

Roost on the Moon said...

If anyone does take a look at Chappelle's Block Party, I'd be very interested to hear what you think. Especially if you count yourself among Ripper's "rest of us", for whom "it's just an embarrassing mixture of noise, arrogance, ugliness and overcompensating bravado.

Also, the impressions of the ambivalent and indifferent would be a nice refutation of Ripper's fanboy/hater dichotomy. Anyone think hip-hop is ok? Even like some of it?

Jennifer said...

I've heard it's not music, it's just noise said about heavy metal and punk rock - neither of which have any black influence at all. So, I think the racism charge is silly.

I used to like rap when I was younger, and it still makes me want to move when I hear it now. But, driving beats will do that to you, I guess.

To me, rap is to music as collage is to art. There's something that feels intrinsically less an act of creation than amalgamation about "producing" music on a machine (often from previously recorded melodies, etc...) vs. composing music on instruments. Much like cutting and pasting vs. painting/drawing/sculpting.

But, then I feel much the same way about most of the pop music out today. And, I'm certainly no expert in the broad spectrum of hip hop.

tjl said...

"an embarrassing mixture of noise, arrogance, ugliness and overcompensating bravado."

That pretty much sums up what I think of rap. Musical interest comes from melody, harmony, motivic and contrapuntal development. Rap strips away all of these qualities, leaving nothing but verbal expression over a rhythmic base. Since the verbal expression is at best trite and at worst repulsive, the genre gives me no pleasure. Others evidently hear something in it that I don't.

blake said...

I seem to recall Johnny Carson asking Ray Charles what he thought of rap, and he said something like "Well, they're really just talking. I was doing that in the '50s."

Nonetheless, I have been known to torture people of the rock 'n' roll era ('55-'58) by pointing out that the exact same criticisms made of rock 'n' roll apply to rap.

Pop music has been devolving since the '50s. But the devolved form doesn't stay devolved. After the "roll" dropped from "rock", there were more than a few songs that hearkened strongly back to swing, traditional jazz, etc. Ol' Paul McCartney has been known to write songs you Charleston to, or which would fit comfortably on vaudeville--and he's not the only one.

One thing is certain: Opinions about music will always rile passions.

blake said...

Actually, let me address this:

"Musical interest comes from melody, harmony, motivic and contrapuntal development."

I'm not an expert in rap or pop music in general (though if you want to talk 16th century chromatic polyphony, I'm your guy) but there was a period in the mid '90s where I found myself drawn to a local station (used to be classical) that played the hippity-hop. (Sorry, ever since the Coens' remake of The Ladykillers I have to call it "the hippety-hop".)

Anyway, what I heard, while eschewing traditional concepts of melodies was not bereft of melody, and was particularly rich in terms of counterpoint, motif development and harmonies (though again not in the traditional sense).

I was struck by listening to one piece (while stuck in traffic) of how much it reminded me of Ives (Charles, not Burl :-)), in that it had two completely separate songs in completely separate harmonic spaces going at the same time. And, I should add, it was more pleasant to listen to than a lot of Ives' stuff.

In other words, I don't think your statement is being made from the standpoint of someone with a lot of experience with this genre.

John said...

It's not that people hate rap music, it's just that the quality or rap music has skyrocketed downward recently. Rap has began to lose all its pain and what rap is really about. Tupac, 50 Cent and others kept it real, but these days its all about money and bitches.

James said...

It can't be because 'rap is violent,' we live in one of the most violent countries in the world, our politicians routinely bomb countries, not to mention invade, violent movies/video games sell loads etc...We certainly do not have an aversion to violence in the US.

Rather, rap used to highlight some very serious political and economic issues; inner city destitution, violence, drug dealing as the only successful job, African American males in lockup on bogus charges etc... It articulated some of the legitimate grievances of the bottom rung of our country. You keep talking about these things and eventually someone might try to do something about them. If I was a large record label or an investor, why would I a) put my privilege at risk and b) why would I not expand my market to include wannabe white kids by singing about 'magic sticks' or some such nonsense?

RapDefender said...

rap has died. dead dead dead. People like biggie expressed what happened in his life and what goes on. lets be honest. we dont exactly pay a whole lot of attention to what they said. Biggie smalls, in the song juicy, talked about how he went from eating sardines for dinner to having 2 rides, and a limmosine(forgive my spelling, im tired) with a cheuffar. With those songs you don't dance to them, you LISTEN to them. thats the main difference beetween the good ol' 90's gangsta rap with bushwick bill and pac, and today's "im going to read this peice of crap song off of a sheet". old rap was sung from the heart, not the paper in front of you. now I'm 12 and being exposed to this new excuse for "rap" has made me hate it MORE! Don't take my oppinion as a joke please just because im not an "adult". I wanted to rap because of the classics, but well im white. eminem isnt exactly a rapper. I don't have the stories either that i would rap about. I'm raised by a good family. I wasn't raised in BedStuy or other bad neighborhoods. True rap comes from the heart. It took me 1 day of exposure to tupac to understand that, but it takes you people-what-20 years, did i see? It's not fair to give an oppinion on something you do not understand. RIP rap. I'll miss you.-RapDefender

Joe said...

yes but now all the new stuff is techno rap crap that is over played with lines like " Ill catch a gernade for you"? why cant we have songs like gangsta bitch again? i dont care if they really did it or not.