Monday, August 07, 2006

Rap, Racism, and Ignorance

I grew up listening to rap and hip-hop. I chose to avoid rock and metal and everything else. I was one of the white boys in my high school who everyone knew was all about rap. In elementary school and junior high, the first albums I ever purchased were Run DMC, Fresh Prince & Jazzy Jeff, Fat Boys, and Beastie Boys. I graduated high school in 1994, when House of Pain and Cypress Hill were in full swing, and Wu-Tang Clan was brand new. But I was all about all rap, I considered it part of my identity back then. I was not unique, there were tons of kids back then just the same as me, whether they were white, black, or whatever. I feel that it was simply the culture of the time (although of course there were numerous other musical cultures coexisting then as they do now, but with much less integration).

Okay, so I was a rap and hip-hop connoisseur when I was young. I listened to it all, even R&B. Today, I'm less of a fan; but the point of this essay is not today's music, the point I am trying to make is the music of then makes me who I am now. While I do not speak for anyone other than myself, I do not see myself as someone unique or beyond anyone else; I imagine I am a fair representation of many others my age. We grew up listening to gangster rap, gangsta rap, horror core rap, trip hop, all sorts of crazy odd experimental versions of good old rap and hip-hop.

But things got a bit crazy around the early to mid-1990's. Weed. Crack. Gangs. Pimps, hoes. East coast. West coast. Racism. Sure, these things existed in various states before then, but they became topics of conversation, song topics, album topics, life topics. People lived and died focused on these topics. Innocent clueless naive kids had these albums dropped on them: NWA, 2 Live Crew, Ice T, Digital Underground changed my life. I wasn't necessarily on a path towards something, but these albums definitely changed my life. I heard words and phrases and ideas that I'd never heard before.

As a youth, I was totally free of racism. Ethnicity didn't really register to me; I was blissfully ignorant. But then I heard rappers saying that the white man hated them and they hated the white man. I heard black rappers talk about killing their fellow black men, both in affirming and dismissive ways. I was introduced to racism against other ethnicities and racism against one's own ethnicity. I did not think much about it all then. I'm still forming these thoughts as I write them down here. It is a complex and often sad situation we find ourselves in.

Rap songs that continue to use racist words and ideas perpetuate racism. In addition to the racism that is basically advertised and endorsed by many rappers, ignorance and poor grammar are also spread like a disease. It's ironic that an art form such as rap (which is essentially a competition for the most artistic verbal ability) has degraded our overall verbal abilities. Yes, I'm now an English teacher. Yes, I now have two degrees in English. But I grew up as I previously described and in a way I consider myself multi-lingual, able to speak and understand multiple levels of American English.

I know that I am not concluding this thought, I know that there is more to say, but that is the nature of a conversation. My personal conclusion for the moment is that rappers have instilled a significant part of the racism and ignorance that exist today.