RAP: Where Did We Go Wrong?

John H. McWhorter, “Rap Only Ruins”, (PostOpinion, NY Post, 8-10-03; taken from “How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back”, City Journal, 7-1-03. http://www.city-journal.org/html/13_3_how_hip_hop.html), captures the shift away from the “happy party music” of the late 70’s, to the “gangsta” style (“that picked up where blaxploitation left off”), that I had always noticed. He places the shift at Grand Master Flash’s  “The Message”, and quotes a few lines about “admiring” thugs, pimps, and pushers, among others, and “your eyes shall sing a song of deep hate”.
He comments that the ultimate message of “the Message”, is “that ghetto life is so hopeless that an explosion of violence is both justified and imminent”, and that this would become the “mantra” of later hip-hop.

But I don’t see the Message as the beginning of the downfall. That to me was the height of, believe it or not, the more positive aspect of rap; what it was supposed to be all about. Life in the ghetto did seem pretty hopeless, and while violence may have been imminent (as long as the powers that be ignored the people of the ghetto), he was not saying it was justified. It's "you will admire…", not "you should admire...". That's the way many kids' lives were going, and sure enough, it has come true in modern rap. But "The Message" was only telling it like it was, not promoting that.

“Message” became the other major style of rap after the party style, in part because of the popularity of Grandmaster Flash’s “Message”. Kurtis Blow had already given us “The Breaks”, but now, there would be many good messages, telling us the way it is, (and many addressed the entire world, and not just the ghetto!) but also offering wisdom. There was Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde’s “Fast Life” about the dangers of being a “fast kid”, around 1983; Disco Four's "School Beats" telling kids to stay in school, Rockmaster Scott and the Dynamic Three’s “It’s Life (You Gotta Think Twice)”, also aimed at kids; Ultimate 3 MC's "What Are We Gonna Do",  “Games People Play” (Sweet G), Jimmy Spicer’s “Money (Dollar Bill Y'all)”, and Wuf Ticket’s “Ya Mama (That's right, I said yo’ mama)” which even warned about using that popular phrase in arguments! Fabulous Four did “Problems of the World Today”, and Divine Sounds did "What People Do for Money".  Even the Fatback Band joined in with “Is This The Future?”; and a group called “CD3” released “Get Tough” which urged a kind of “toughness” other than violence in dealing with the problems of the world. Then, there was Grandmaster Flash’s follow-up hit “New York, New York”, "White Lines (Don't Do it)" about the dangers of cocaine use, and the group lead rapper Melle Mel's solo hit "Beat Street" with such powerful lines as "You search for justice and what do you find? You find just us on the unemployment line You find just us sweatin' from dawn to dusk There's no justice, it's, huh, just us…" followed by a whole section that looks at world conflicts, followed by

 

"The cheats, the lies, the alibis. And the foolish attempts to conquer the sky.

Lost in space, and what is it worth? Huh, the President just forgot about Earth.

Spendin' multi-billions and maybe even trillions. The cost of weapons ran in the zillions. There's gold in the street and there's diamond under feet. And the children in Africa don't even eat.

Flies on their faces, they're livin' like mice. And their houses even make the ghetto look nice.

Huh, the water tastes funny, it's forever too sunny. And they work all month and don't make no money".

 

This is what rap was supposed to be. It was the continuation of the consciousness introduced by the great black leaders of old. Something that had the power to really shake up the powers that be and not allow them to ignore the reality of life among the powerless. But just as the old leaders had been silenced decades before, all of this would soon be eclipsed by what I do see as the beginning of the downfall of rap: the EGO style.

 

Run-DMC burst on the scene in 1983 with a standard message style rap, “It’s Like That”, which like most of the others, told us how tough things were, and offered words of wisdom to survive. “The next time someone’s teaching, why don’t you get taught…”; “Take a bus or a train; drive to school or church…”.
But it was the other hit they released at the same time ("It's Like That"'s B-side), that took off and really transformed rap.

“Sucker MC’s”, was an aggressive rap where Run bragged on and on about all his own personal and material worth, and then concluded to put down a hypothetical competing rapper, the anonymous “sucker MC”, who was far inferior to him. (I read somewhere it was actually aimed at someone in the business, but now can't find anything about it).
While there had always been an element of ego in rap, this would now dominate the genre, all but killing off both the party and message style, and now even Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow (whose protégé Run was) would soon copy Run’s formula.

As popularity increased, Run DMC and Kurtis Blow soon dubbed themselves the "kings" of rap. When I think of some of their lyrics now, they were ingenious, but this to me was overshadowed by their braggadocio. A person could just be “good”, and they wouldn’t need to spend so much time saying how good they are.

This is where rap began to go downhill. As new singles and a second album came out, Run-DMC seemed to become more and more egotistical and materialistic, the rest of the rap industry followed, and at the same time, violence started erupting at concerts.
Run and
DMC claimed their message was good, they were telling kids to stay in school, etc. and it was only certain individuals in the audience who caused all the trouble. But I couldn’t help notice a connection with the message they were preaching. When “Sucker MC’s” first came out, I noticed that the more aggressive kids; the ones who liked to pick fights because they thought you were “weak”, were the ones who seemed to like it the most. And it made them all the more boisterous as they walked around reciting it. It was perfect vehicle for them to go around bullying others and saying, “I’m bad!”

Yes, the streets are tough and violent, but they did not need these heroes further encouraging this attitude, let alone promoting it all across pop-culture as what it means to be black. The earlier message raps said “yeah, this it how it is; we’re at the bottom; it is tough, and sometimes you have to fight (others, the system, etc) to survive”. It was defensive. Now with egotism, it became offensive: “I’m at the top, and dis all you suckers!” This was not the message needed in the streets. At the same time, ridiculous gold jewelry began to be sported. Enough people were fighting and even being killed over smaller jewelry, so why flaunt this? Why stake our worth on some vain trinket one has, while many still did not have enough food to eat?

In just a couple of years we went from complaining about how rough life in the ghetto was, to bragging about our gold, and other aspects of a rich lifestyle. What did this say to those we were complaining to? That we were off the wall, "whining" about the distant past that had ("obviously") since changed, as conservatives put it. Of course, that is their biggest defense: that there is plenty of opportunity for all, but we just want something for nothing.

So the message and attitude of rap became entirely narcissistic. Nearly every rap became about how unbeatable the person was compared to others' supposed inferiority. Such a mindset would eventually by its nature, breed all of the problems we see today, as we shall see as we go on.

It is being acknowledged all over the place now, that Run-DMC were the bridge between the early rap era, and the modern rap era. They in effect ended the first period of rap.

Throughout this period, there were still some lights in the darkness. Some of the raps were actually praising the group's DJ, and this was actually the MC's original function. So it was a bit of a relief to hear them praising another person besides themselves for a change (even though it was now still done in a comparative fashion with "all the other" inferiors).With misogyny not yet on the scene, “Roxanne Roxanne” was a humorous lament about a girl who, rather than being a “ho”, instead wouldn’t “give it up”. It became an interesting saga as dozens of response records followed. However, it was the first response, "Roxanne's Revenge" that seemed to set the stage for vulgarities being more explicitly used in raps, which at this point were simply bleeped out (and a "clean" version released subsequently in this case). Afterwards, we begin hearing more bleeped or scrambled words in raps.

Doug E Fresh’s “The Show” was a fresh new idea that to me could be the best rap ever. It too had some responses, in which Salt-N-Pepa first debuted, and Doug’s partner, Slick Rick would begin to introduce some misogyny and increased vulgarity. But they soon parted.

But the worst was still yet to come. Run’s brother, Russell Simmons, teamed up with producer Rick Rubin and created Def Jam Productions. They produced LL Cool J, who basically copied the ego formula, though (in my opinion) was not quite as convincing as Run. However, it was their other major act, the Beastie Boys, who featured sex, drugs/alcohol and some violent references in the raps. Around the same time, Schoolly D and a few others tried to introduce gangsta rap, but it didn’t quite catch on yet. There was something yet still missing.

It was with the new crop of rappers, who came on to the scene around 1986; that the terms “Old School” and “New School” were first coined. This original “new school” aimed to take rap back to its roots with a whole new focus on “message”. But by now, egotism and the resultant narcissism were so thoroughly entrenched in hip-hop, that the elements only mixed further causing confusion and double standards. Rappers would now start to look to Malcolm X and other revolutionary leaders, and copied the violent aspects of their message, but it seemed to be more about fighting other blacks (whether real or the imaginary "suckers") than about defending ourselves from racism.
The group closest to the revolutionary spirit, Public Enemy started out with the ego formula, but then moved towards consciousness, with sometimes violent undertones along the way. But still, a lot had changed in race relations in the twenty years since Malcolm and the other revolutionary movements, and it doesn’t seem society at large really understood their whole premise, so they came across as just a bunch of violent hoods to most.

 The biggest enigma from this period was “Blast Master” KRS-One. He basically picked up where Run DMC left off and took their style to a whole new level. He dubbed himself  “the Teacher”, advocated “creativity and intelligence”, along with “getting back to what they call hip hop” and introduced a fresh new ingenious style, with catchy melodies, usually sampled from lesser known sources to make it sound all the more original. He even criticized the egotism and materialism of the Old School “kings”, and rapped against violence and disunity in rap.
But at the same time, he often contradicted the very messages he was supposedly teaching, in practice promoting those very same things. He gave a mixed message, when a clear one was what kids in the street needed. His very first two hits were attacking a
Queens rapper and his crew under the premise that they had said hip hop started in Queens instead of the Bronx. (Which was not even accurate. In a much later rap looking back on this, he points out that —in lieu of the Roxanne battle; "It was the only way an MC could get on").

Actually, the strife had begun over an earlier record. Just as Run-DMC had done before, KRS had begun with a pair of good clean message raps,  “Success Is the Word”, and “Advance”, both of which could have easily fit into the pre-ego trip ‘82-83 period, though the second one being done in his clever new “intellectual” style. By 1986, these types of raps were very rare and basically out of fashion, and neither of them did well at all. It was when “Success” was at one point slammed by a NYC radio station DJ, that he formed Boogie Down Productions, aligned himself with the rival station and its DJ, and began the attack on Queensbridge, which was aligned with the first DJ. His raps then took on a heavily egotistical and even violent and vulgar nature, though now, you also had good “intellectual” and "conscious" messages mixed in on the albums and often in the same tracks.
This took the industry by storm, with several people copying various lines and melodies from the raps, ("jump up to get beat down", "how many MC's must get dissed", etc.) and a few others even joining in dissing
Queens. Friends suggested to me that this war might have been phony; and it was all show biz, but even if this was true, just look at the image it produces.

Where Run and the other Old-Schoolers lambasted imaginary “sucker MC’s”, KRS now chose real MC’s to fill the role. And unlike the older classic one-on-one rap battles (which were primarily competitions of skill and talent much moreso than ad-hominem attacks beyond light “ranking”), this one was filled with violent and even vulgar imagery.

In a recent look back on VH1, he was praised as “taking Queensbridge off the map”. How destructive! Yet, at the same time, he began pushing peace and unity, talking about how he gets “…challenged by a million MC’s. I try to tell them we’re all in this together…”. HUH? I couldn’t help but wonder how he could say this while waging this war against Queensbridge over absolutely nothing.
He then launched the “Stop the Violence” movement, with the rap “Self Destruction”, while still dissing Queensbridge. Then, you had lines like “But they can get bust, get robbed, get dropped. I don’t play around, nor do I ‘F’ around. You can tell by the bodies that are left around; when some clown jumps up to get beat down; broken down to his very last compound…”.  In another rap, (“Elementary”), “I don’t battle with rhymes; I battle with guns”. In yet another, "If I want to battle; I just pull out a nine". He pictured himself holding a pistol like Malcolm X on the first two albums. The title track of the first, significantly named “Criminal Minded”, he says “We’re not promoting violence, we’re just having some fun”. If all of this wasn’t promoting violence, then who was?

He would soon go on to "bum rush" other rappers like PM Dawn on stage, and I even read something about him “Beating down wack soundmen” at some LA show.¹ He was said to have justified the PM Dawn attack with the line "The way I stop the violence is with a baseball bat and beat the s___ out of you . . . If negativity comes with a .22, positivity comes with a .45. If negativity comes with .45, positivity comes with an Uzi: The light has got to be stronger than darkness".²
But then, if everybody does this, then where will the peace come from? Do you think  someone else will come along and just wave their hand and create peace, but in the meantime, we can only push for peace in theory while living the opposite way? Or, I guess we create peace by being violent enough to completely eradicate “darkness”? The problem is, those you call “darkness” think they are right too, (as well as the possibility of yourself being the "negative" one; ESPECIALLY as this type of behavior would suggest). If you say your attacking him is fighting "darkness" or "negativity", then what determines who is negative, and who is positive, or who is light and who is darkness? Basically, each person will just claim to be the light, on no other ground than because they say so.  So then if we all should try to be “stronger than the darkness” in that way, then you are basically telling everyone to try to kill one another to resolve conflicts! Can't you see why people would accuse this of being "contradictory" to the overall message you claim to be teaching?

(This should also be instantly recognizable as the same philosophy behind America's war policy, and particularly that of the Republicans. "War brings peace". This is often criticized by the more politically "conscious". Again, why is it wrong when they do it to other nations, but right when we do it, and to our own neighbors or hip hop artists?)

 

Since they like to employ Biblical language, then doesn't it say that the light runs from the darkness? Isn't it the way of darkness to resort to physical force against truth?

 

Contrast all of this with “Games People Play”, once again, which while mentioning that “…sometimes you gotta fight” (defensively, that is), still pointed out the true ideal: “Winners will talk, rather than fight. Losers need a gun ‘cause they don’t see the light”. This was turned completely on its ear now! The weak (“soft”) will talk rather than fight. Winners need a gun, ‘cause they ARE the light!

 What kind of message was all of this sending to everyone? “Yeah, violence is wrong, but I do it anyway”. After all, “Violence is all someone else’s fault anyway (because they're the ones who are "negativity"), so I can tell others to stop it, but I will continue to use it until they stop first”. “I’m bad, and I’m above the rules I teach to you, and I say one thing here, and then do another over there, and this is intelligent”.

 

Naturally, violence continued to erupt at concerts, and like Run DMC before him, he downplayed the problem, claiming it was “…not the rap audience that is buggin’, but one or two suckers; ignorant brothers…” as he claimed in “Self Destruction”. But what were you “teaching” these “brothers” who came to your concerts? (It was reportedly PM Dawn's making a similar comment that provoked the attack on him). What were you showing them in your life; what example were you setting all along? I’ve seen how fights can start just from people playing around, and if they are emulating the rapper up on stage dissing “suckers” and romanticizing street violence, then isn’t it obvious how violence can start? Someone could accidentally step on another’s expensive sneakers and start off a riot. I wonder if some of those fights at concerts, with people chanting “the Bridge is Over” might have involved people from Queensbridge who were offended, or someone dissing them for living there?
As it was, the dispute could have erupted in physical violence, as another Queensbridge rapper responded, and there are reports of both sides going to the other’s borough armed with guns looking for each other. Once again, the classic "Rap battles" earlier on, were more about talent, rather than violence. Now it was increasingly based on "You're soft, and I'm gonna take you out!", and here, still nearly a full decade before Biggie and Tupac, it was beginning to be just a continuation of street gang warfare. In “My Philosophy”, he claimed he didn’t reinforce negative stereotypes of blacks (“all my brothers eat chicken and watermelon; talk broken English and drug selling..."), but how about picking fights, for no reason, gun violence, criminality, etc?

 

Once again, yes, the streets are tough, but still this was not the way to inspire kids. All of these emerging rappers justified all of this “violence”, as “keeping it real”, but then what is real? Sure, violence is real, but is it something we should avoid and try to remedy, or something we should just revel in, (while hoping it still somehow goes away on its own, or someone else comes along and magically ends it for us)? Make up your mind! In the original "old school", it was so nice to see these brothers, dressed like everyone else, and using the same lingo of the streets, (and without even having to be nearly as vulgar as rap was becoming at this point!) but using all that and their street smarts for the opposite of the thug life, to rise up and preach a consistent message against all the negative stuff we were doing to ourselves, as well as what the system was doing. They arose out of that same background of poverty, death and crime as the later rappers, but still used their talent to counter it. Now, the talent became a continuation of it.

 

KRS was easily the most ingenious rapper of all time, (especially with “My Philosophy” and Still # 1”) and clearly the most intelligent. (Which is why he gets so much space here, in addition to the fact that he has been certainly gloating about this fact, and now is even claiming to be hip-hop incarnate. You should also see the little monument he has drawn to himself at the VH1 site.³). But I believe this ingenuity was misdirected, rather than his intelligence proving that the philosophy he promoted was what was “real”. (And Run-DMC the most ingenious in their heyday before him).

This style these groups inspired was dubbed “hardcore”, and it basically redefined rap, with nearly the entire genre eventually swept by it. Rap lyrics increasingly began to go as far as to mimic armed holdups and the sound of gunfire. And it was no longer complaining about the fact that this was ever too common in the ghetto, but rather playing it as some kind of glorious role! This was then no longer lamenting "what was real", but rather celebrating it!
And increasingly, most raps were about some sort of conflict with someone else, whether real or hypothetical. It wasn't enough to brag on oneself, but it now had to always involve some sort of beef, even if it was with nobody. Also making it worse was loosening restrictions on explicit language. Now, anything could be said, and all the company had to do was slap an “explicit lyrics” label on it. A far cry from the days of Sugar Hill’s “8th Wonder” where even the word “bed” is censored! (In “next thing you know; she wants to go to b__” )

 

KRS and others like him had the potential to transform rap back to a real positive force of consciousness, but they mixed too much self-destructive narcissism into their message to have any positive effect, but instead pushed rap further into the total violence and narcissism we see today. They very well could have become another Malcolm X type figure, but it seems that most of these rappers did not understand Malcolm at all. They took his violence and then put it into their own contexts, and left out the rest of his teachings about real self-improvement. (Likewise, their fans would follow suit, and gloss over whatever “positive message” was buried beneath all the “realism”; and emulate only the violence and crime being rapped about).
They talked about fighting the system, but it seems it was other blacks (such as rival rap crews) they spent most of their time fighting, just as occurred in the streets. This furthers our problems, and also gives the whites an excuse to demonize us, and for the cops to shoot first, ask questions later.

Many rappers at this time, as rich as they were becoming; finally coming into the mainstream of pop culture, at the same time took on a strong anti-white attitude. A lot of this was fueled by the Five-Percenter religion (Nation of Gods and Earths) of many of the leading rappers from this period. This was a spin-off of the Black Muslims, which copied concepts such as the godhood of the Black man, and the white man being the devil. But where Black Muslims like Malcolm cleaned up their lives and gave up the criminal life, Five Percenters were allowed to do anything they want— wine, women, drugs, murder. (and this group took the "godhood' concept even further than the Black Muslims, leading to the "I'm never wrong, no matter what I do; it's everyone else who is 'darkness'" attitude).
But if these people agreed so much with them on the evil of the white man, then Malcolm would have told them to leave his money, his big cars, his mansions in the Hamptons or “Cali”, his jewelry and name brand clothes, his wine and drugs and all the rest of that stuff alone, then. But nobody remembered any of that. No; they all would continue to have their cake and eat it too.

Statements of his such as “By Any Means Necessary” or “the Bullet or the Ballot” were addressed to blacks in the sixties facing a rabid racist society still refusing to let go of segregation and police brutality. He said that you have to fight the system if necessary, but he never advocated thuggery and blacks fighting each other for power in the streets, or oppressing who you think is “weak” or “soft”. He never would have approved of all of this bragging about trinkets and making it in the pop-culture world, while your neighbors in the streets are still struggling, and you’re feeding them more self-destructive attitudes and behavior. He was about self-empowerment along with the community, not self-aggrandizement at the expense of the community.
All of this was basically a mockery of Malcolm X and what he stood for. (And who was at the top of the record industry making millions off of this?)

 

In the seventies, we were still reeling from the total neglect of the black community. The early message rappers once again, were more defensive. Flash’s statement was “Don’t push me, ‘cause I’m close to the edge. I’m tryin’ not to lose my head”. At least he was trying to stay calm. Now, it was “yeah, go push me, so that you‘ll soon be dead; I’m trying to blow off your head”!
Both "Message" and a few others such as "What Are We Gonna Do About it" mentioned guns, but this was clearly a hypothetical last resort as extreme measures, and only in passing; not as something they were happily bragging about and threatening to use on anyone they were having any sort of conflict with.

By the eighties, blacks had gained many rights, and life was getting a little better for many, (partly evidenced by all these rappers being able to make it so big, and now sporting various luxuries). There were two main remnants of racism this decade. One, the “backlash” mentality, in which white conservatives would claim to be cheated by programs such as Welfare and Affirmative Action that supposedly were all going towards "undeserving" blacks; and Democrats’ supposed softness on crime (while conservatives ignored govt. waste that benefited whites, as well as corporate welfare). This swayed several elections and pushed the country back towards conservatism (Republicanism). Where were the black outcries on this? "Willie Horton" campaign ads, and other such references being popular! Not a word from the rappers! Blacks seemed to be too busy trying to dog each other while making it big, while our leaders did nothing but make fools of themselves.

 

The other main element of racism was continued police violence, and this is what started to get attention in rap.
Next in line came the West Coast rappers, with the "Cop-Killer" style, in which some boldly advocated fighting the police. It was certainly true that police often harassed black kids, but trying to fight them head on like that was self destructive, and not the more tactful self-defense that Malcolm advocated.
But with the "I'm invincible, and I'm takin' suckers out" mentality in full swing by this time, why not entertain such grandiose illusions like you actually have a chance to be able to beat the police?

The black activists of the sixties had a large white movement (a source of sociopolitical power) behind them in their battles against the racist Southern law establishment. But by now, most whites were not behind the movement, so what can you gain by killing cops? They have the Law on their side, and you can’t outgun them. No, you can only get yourself locked up, or worse yet, killed (as “Fast Life” had warned). You can only make blacks all the more look like animals in the public consciousness, and further justify cop violence in their own minds.
Yet again, the “message” concept was appealed to, claiming we are only “telling it like it is” or "keeping it real". But now, where the early message raps were lamenting the street life, because there was no way out back then, these new raps were glamorizing it. It was something to be envied, not avoided, unless you were “soft”. It was the “power” they had been looking for.

The transformation from “lament” to “glamorize” was a very subtle one, and its first phase was “romanticize”. You still kind of lament it, but begin to cast it in some sort of good light, usually under the premise that you really don’t want to be this way, but it’s all someone else’s fault; particularly “the system”, so this is the way you "have to" be. Also you have ambiguous concepts like “Criminal Minded” and the accompanying cover portrayal of gunmen, which is supposed to be a metaphor for 'street smarts', and supposedly not aiming to say that being a criminal is good.
It's on this point that the rappers will vehemently deny promoting criminality, and claim to be misrepresented. It's only a 'symbol' of something else, basically.

But nevertheless, “criminal” is beginning to take on a positive sense through that. Another good example of this was the West Coast rapper Ice T who had strong messages against drug use and other aspects of the street life, but still maintained the image of a pusher or pimp. In raps like “I’m Your [rap] Pusherman”, he’s telling you to "get high" off of rhymes instead of dope, but regardless, the whole image of the real pusherman is still made to look cool. This may have been done with the good intention of using this "popular" power figure of the streets to get people's attention. (I was even impressed with it as such, at first).

Still, it basically backfired. Eventually, this method catches on, and as others follow they do soon begin actually glamorizing the thug life. This is what would happen as we go on.
So Flash's prediction of "admiring pimps, etc" became true after all, in rap! But this was not Flash's fault, and you cannot even completely blame the system's neglect for it either. Rappers found a "winning" formula that sold; basically exploiting the language and reality of their own rough backgrounds. It sold, and they and the record companies went along with the flow, in the name of profit.

 

Rap groups like Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince offered a light and airy alternative to this emerging style, and were criticized by the likes of the late NWA rapper Eazy E as appealing to a “white” lifestyle (e.g. the family driving to the mall in “Parents Just Don’t Understand”). What is this suggesting? No blacks had any sort of relationship with their parents, and in order to really be “black”, they should have just made more raps about killing police?
Here were precisely KRS’s “negative stereotypes” of “all my brothers”; but where was his war on this? He seemed to respect these “hard” rappers. In fact, to this day, he even continues to defend "gangsta rap" as unfairly blamed for the problems in rap! (Why then did he criticize stereotypes? BTW, he even joined in focusing on cops shortly after!)

"Fast Life" had warned "Well, fast kid, you could use your brains, or get ‘em knocked out with bats and chains". But now, rappers would begin to reflect and glorify this "fast life" themselves, and only teach how to use your brains to be a better criminal, and that the way to avoid those bats and chains (or cops’ night sticks and handcuffs) is by pulling out a gun and blowing your opponents away first.

At the same time, Eazy E and the rest of the West Coast rappers followed the East in pitching a half-hearted “stop the violence” campaign of their own, with the otherwise great message in the rap “We're All in the Same Gang”. Major rival street gangs even teamed up for a time, but this quickly fell apart, and it was back to business as usual. Nobody understood that you can’t claim to stand up for one thing while doing (and rapping about) the exact opposite, and expect it to make any kind of positive impact on the problem. The most it can do is save face for the moment (“See, we’re trying to solve the problem; we’re not apart of it”, when they know good and well that stopping violence is not “keeping it real”, according to their own philosophy).
For one thing, when you look at some of the words, you see that both coasts' campaigns were more about fending off "the system", than truly fixing the problem within the rap world itself. "We're all in the same gang" for instance, was basically an "us versus them" theme against the cops, and then, there was KRS's line "you know we're being watched; you know we're being seen; some wish to destroy this scene, called hip-hop" (From another track directly entitled "Stop the Violence").

While the image we portrayed was something to be taken into consideration, getting the others off our backs not be our only motivation, but rather true self-improvement, including changes we make to our own behavior. (Remember, the theme of these messages was for us to stop dogging one another, and you can't get the system or the cops to do that for us!)

But they continued to point the finger elsewhere, and the result was that we never even did improve our image to the "watching" system; let alone bring any improvement to our own situation! The problems, as well as people's perceptions continued to get ever so worse!
It was a time for rappers to either put their money where their mouth was, or just admit that "peace and unity is soft and weak, and we cannot support it in the streets we come from, and that’s just the way it has to be". But that doesn't sound good to the public, so when we are coming under fire for violence, we want to sound or look good, so we must basically, play both sides of the fence!

 

Along with the cop-killer style came the onset of misogyny (after all, women were just another sign of the man’s power, and were only good to be used for his ego), and the widespread use of  “Nigga”*, “bitch”, “pimp”, and “ho”. Rappers like Queen Latifah were the lights in this period, challenging that type of language. However, the role of women in rap eventually began to decrease:

There was a time when the music was a movement, and it seemed there was room for everybody. Rap was the ultimate reality show, with lyricists spitting rhymes about their lives, real lives. If you had a story, and you could tell it well, then people wanted to listen. Especially if you were telling your story over some banging beats. You could be an intellectual, along the lines of KRS-One or Public Enemy. You could be political like Sister Souljah. You could be silly, like the Fresh Prince or Slick Rick. But then gangstas replaced the intellectuals, thugs replaced the activists, and the culture became a commodity. Now the only role for women is, to crib from Lil Jon, "to get low . . . all these bitches crawl." Which is to say, shaking it up on a video, mute, cute and damn near naked.

(“Ladies Last: Once Atop The Scene, Female MCs Are Singing the Blues”)

By Teresa Wiltz, Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2004; Page C01

*(As for this much decried N-word, I should point out, while much is being made of this term, I understand that it has become a non-offensive term when used among blacks. It is basically used in confianza, as the Spanish would put it. It basically means "man", and has replaced "dude". Still, we should consider that others do not understand this, and will feel they should be able to use it, but then, we won't accept it. The other words, for women, still have not even lost the negative connotation. We see what happens when a white media person crosses the line and uses them).

As the nineties drew on, the old party chant of “throw your hands in the air, and wave them like you just don’t care”, was now replaced with “throw ya gunz in the air, and pop, pop, like you just don’t care” (from a group then associated with Run DMC!). Many in the streets were doing just that, and more and more innocent mothers and babies and others were being killed by stray bullets. The rappers, as "serious" as they were pretending to be, basically turned it into a big JOKE.
Some of them may have come from backgrounds of gun violence, but while they lived to profit rapping about it, others were not so fortunate. But now it was basically some funny matter to brag about on a record to show how bad you are.

Many rappers began looking and acting more and more like pimps still in the streets, and the names of the crews increasingly reflected this as well. “Thug” eventually became a good thing to be called! (By the end of the century, a group called "Sporty Theivz" would complain "I thought she said 'Thug', but she called me a 'scrub'!")

Wu-Tang was the next at being very creative after KRS and Run, but introduced even more violent imagery along with glorification of drugs! Arrested Development was an alternative, offering old-style positive messages. ("Revolution", their tribute to Malcolm X for the Spike Lee film, really captured the spirit of his message. Again, guns were only mentioned in passing, not "I'll have my gat in your mouth" or "let's take out some pigs" as you could hear on other raps at this time).
Doug E. Fresh also chimed in to hypothetical fans-turned-rappers, who were “…just happy when I seen you in the street, but now you’re a killer, and you can’t be beat”. “You can call me ‘old school’; but I’m no fool; ‘cause back then, at least we had a hip hop rule; and the rule was you had to be original. But in ’93, it seems originality is on the verge of becoming extinct to me; and most of y’all rappers just stink to me; and none of you seem to think to me; just getting pimped like a ho by the industry”.  (This right here shows that all of these “hardcore” rappers, as much as they pride themselves on “keeping it real”, and looking down on “sellouts” and “commercialization” are in fact themselves the most sold-out and commercialized of all!)

 

Yes, the message may reflect reality, but it also helps shape it at the same time. It is a reciprocal causation.
Rap is a form of poetry, and like any other art, it has an aesthetic appeal that people like to savor, and even be inspired by (e.g. emulate). So kids walk around reciting their favorite raps in their heads, if not out loud. What they are spending their time playing in their minds can influence their behavior and outlook on life.

The earlier raps cried “this is the way it is, but it is not good. Will somebody please help us? And let us try to help ourselves as much as we can”. The new stuff now cheered, “yeah, this is the way it is, and the way it should be! This is who we are! We don’t need nothin’ but a forty and a nine and some blunts and ho’s! F everybody else!” Which way do you think kids playing either one message or the other in their minds all day every day might be inclined to act in a tough situation?

The violence would soon catch up to the rappers themselves, as they increasingly got caught up in street warfare, with some getting killed. And here we are today.

 

 

Rap has been dragged through the mud by all of this, and many people when they hear rap, think of total violence, not remembering the earlier more positive message.
When Run-DMC and KRS’ first records came out, as people are recalling now, it was like “Wow! Nobody ever did anything like this!” The mixture of ingenuity with increased aggression and egotism seemed to be what gained attention and sold the most. But it was at these two turning points, that it was effectively decided that rap would be primarily about aggression and narcissism, and no longer about fun and wisdom/self-improvement. (After the aggression would mutate into total narcissism, then the only “fun” now would be no longer the party itself, but rather the stuff going on in the back room, and the only self-improvement would be amassing material items, and the only wisdom “kill them before they kill you”!)

At this point, it went from becoming potentially a countercultural agent of change (for the better) to just a reflection of culture as it is, including everything that was wrong in it! (Black on black crime, substance abuse, violence and misogyny). It became all about image, and what sells to the masses  —which KRS even pointed out in “My Philosophy”. (And it's not just "'cause the company's selling it", but also because the audience is buying it!)
So likewise, we see that this change in rap was shaped by the force of the market as well. (After all, I guess, who would rather be preached to like the old raps did, as opposed to having our lifestyle validated?) Some have suggested to me that this was basically inevitable, and reflected the hard reality that lurked beneath even the party and message raps of the old days. But it seems the record publishers, who now perpetuate this image, have simply exploited this. They pushed it into a more negative stereotypical image that was more detrimental to the black community than to the "system" the raps so cursed. After all; who were the major first rappers to blatantly rap about getting high, drinking beer, stealing and guns (including shooting someone in the head)? Not some angry "conscious" black rapper, but rather —former punk rock band, The Beastie Boys! With Rick Rubin as their producer. Their raps to some extent appeared to spoof fellow Rush Productions stars Run-DMC's style, but with the aggression kicked up a great deal. Funny that right after this time was when raps started to blatantly glamorize guns, sex and intoxication, as if that set a trend that caught on.

It is almost like rap was deliberately steered down that path, and not by blacks simply wanting to relay their rough experiences. Just like all of our movements that challenged the system were steered down self-destructive paths somehow.
Eventually, some of these violent raps would begin attacking the entire "white" system. You wonder why white record companies would put out something basically wishing their own destruction. It must be because it is no real threat; but will only serve to allow the people to discredit themselves, and perhaps even destroy themselves if they happened to actually try it. They know these rappers are never going to be able to bring the system down. So let them fantasize about it, and make fools of themselves in the process!
Notice, for instance, that the whole time Malcolm was in the NOI, and preached "white devils", he was allowed to live. When he dropped that, and began focusing on other issues; ones that really threatened racism, and worldwide at that; THEN he was eliminated! The same with King. He went decades leading marches and forcing integration, but when he expanded his focus like Malcolm, then he apparently became too dangerous and had to go.

So violent and hateful words amount to nothing in this battle. It is ideological and political, and if we can't adapt to that, we will never get anywhere. So then once again, by just going along with this, and continuing to put out whatever they tell us, based on "it sells"; we fall into the very decadence of "white society" that many condemn. Just like on the opposite end of the spectrum where we have several white female faces gracing the tabloids, TV screen and even newspaper columns every day. —Even though these particular individuals don’t have a bit of talent, don’t do much of anything at all, really; and who only got famous because of their looks and sexual antics. So you have the stereotypical role of the dumb blonde bimbo on one hand, and the black thug and ho on the other, and we are fitting right into the negative role everyone expects of us, instead of breaking out of it. (Likewise, many conservatives deride hip-hop as a "culture of death", but ignore their own segment of society's obsession with the Mob, violent movies, guns, war, etc. Everyone; the whole society; black and white, pitches "peace and love" in theory, while in practice worshiping power and lust!)

Narcissism naturally breeds all this stuff, because if it's all about ME, ME, ME; then naturally the next step is "screw everyone else". If I don't like someone, dis 'em! If they dis me, kill 'em!
In the early 80's messages, there was virtually nothing about "me", It was all about the issue. The most "self" you would find would be in the battles, and perhaps some of the party raps, and even then, it was nowhere near as crass as it became later. Most of that was "this is who I am, and this is what I do" without dwelling on anything negative.

For several years, Music Choice "Showcase" channel on cable played "Old School Rap", from the earliest commercial records, and into the mid 90's (well beyond the original "old school" definition). So the difference in the words (and not just the style) really stood out.
Listen to the raps beginning in the late '80's. Almost every line of nearly every rap: All "me, me, me, me"; "I, I, I, I"; I'm all this; you ain't that; if you —or anyone— steps to me; I'll do this…" (It was all fighting words; even if it wasn't a response in a battle where they were being threatened; and "this" becoming more and more violent and even graphic, such as blowing someone's brains out). The "I'll do this" part then becomes the main theme of most raps in the 90's, —unless they were nasty sex raps.
Those then became basically the two main rap messages down to the present. And this is what all the columnists, parents and other critics are complaining about!

It is easy to follow the natural progression: if “I’m the baddest rapper”, then it follows that “you’re nothing; soft, weak”, etc. This in turn leads to retaliation, and counter-retaliation; first verbal, and then often physical! This is human nature: “It’s like that, and that’s the way it is”! Also, women are just there for the man's pleasure, and thus are "bitches" if they don’t please him, and "ho's" if they do! Drugs feel good, so lets do those, as well.

 

 The epitome of this attitude, is when the late civil rights activist C. Delores Tucker began criticizing rap, several rappers, from KRS to Eminem to Tupac began totally disrespecting her; grandmotherly lady in her 70's, like she was some young female rapper or girl in the streets they were having beef with, like the ones in their raps. "Instead of trying to help a nigga you destroy a brother", says Tupac.
The utter irony of this is astounding. It wasn't the industry, with its increasingly violent beefs, which ultimately took his life that "destroyed" a black man! No, by opposing that, she was the one "destroying" a brother! Maybe it would have seemed more like "help" if people had taken her advice, and then maybe Tupac and others might still be alive! What other kind of "help" did they want? She certainly isn’t the one who got them killed, for her to be accused of being the one to "destroy" them. That was precisely part of what people like her were complaining about!

KRS' response track, (which tells her to "Free Mumia"—instead of attacking the big record companies!) even mocked her references to the Bible by quoting Jesus: "Wisdom shall come out of the mouths of babes and sucklings… judge not lest ye be judged". But what wisdom??? Calling each other "bitches", "niggas" and "ho's"? Rapping about killing each other? That's what people like her were complaining about. So it was really the industry's own actions that were judging them!

But if she was so fowl for doing that; if any criticism of the industry was destroying black men instead of helping them, then again, why was there ever a "Stop the Violence" movement? Wasn't that a criticism of some of the same things? (In the same album as "Free Mumia" he again addresses all the violence then sweeping hip hop in "Squash All Beef"). Again, the difference is that the blame in that movement was deflected away from the rappers, and towards everyone else, such as the audience, and ultimately "the system", while Tucker pointed directly at the rappers, and since she was trying to have stuff banned, it also would hurt sales, so they basically would be hit in the pocket as well!

That shows that despite all this "realism", they were all about money, just like everyone else. Makes it ironic how the rap called her a "house Negro" in his rap, when again, the rappers probably had more wealth than she did, which they would protect at any cost! (They supposedly resent these older figures for leaving the Black community, but these rappers have actually followed right behind them! The only difference is that they still act, talk and dress like the hood. But what good is that, really? You're just as far removed from the actual poverty!)
This is even acknowledged in the rap, when they justify their careers as "the voice of the youth", "because I fill brother's pockets; Got em drivin Benzes Jeeps and Rolls Royces".

One, if that is true, what then are we still so angry about? It sounds like we're all doing really well, thanks to these rappers!
Two, if that is true, and "brothers" have gained all those things, then where's mine, and most everyone else I know; who still struggle to make ends meet, as hard as we work?
Maybe that's the answer to #1. Blacks at large still don't have it that nice; only a few, such as these rappers. So they again are filling their own pockets, and concerned about themselves, not everybody else, especially those they left behind in the hood with all the shootings and other crimes glorifi…er, "kept real" in the raps.

Again, WHO is the REAL "house Negro"? Who actually defended "Massa" this time??? (That's what the house negroes always 'historically' did!) The actual chorus of "Free Mumia" went "Warner, Electra, Atlantic is 'WEA'; instead of trying to take them out, go free Mumia". Notice the virtual pun "WE-a". They're actually identifying with the record companies (their "bosses", basically)! This is like the joke of the century!

I used to hear about the "bourgeoisie" and how they "got theirs and ran off to the suburbs leaving us"; with apocalyptic scenarios of a future race war where they are under attack, and then run back to the ghetto they abandoned to try to mobilize, and are then unable to be helped. But it's the rappers and rap moguls who have the mansions in the Hamptons and other rich areas. They would be the ones getting those mansions bombed before the middle class black neigborhoods in Nassau County.

Three, again to cite scriptural wisdom, man's life does not consist of the abundance of material items he owns. These "spiritual" type rappers, who once criticized the commercialization of rap, should know that more than anyone! What good does it do to gain the whole world, when you may die from your own lifestyle? But again, we see they are just as materialistic as the rest of society. (And would her pushing to free Mumia have saved Tupac and others?)

And again, the excuse that "America was way violent before rap, FACT!" True, but the issue is not who started it; but rather what we are going to DO about it? Do we have to ADD to it; especially doing it to ourselves? What makes us any better than anyone else, then.

 

Rappers have often employed "conspiracy theories" against the white system, ("ill plans" they use to degrade or destroy us, as the group Third Bass once called it), so they should understand this next realization (which reads just like Ice T's line in "We're All In the Same Gang").
What do you think hard nosed racists who hated Tucker and other Civil Rights leaders would or must have thought hearing Tupac and Eminem's harsh responses? Considering these were published by ultimately white companies, they probably would be jealous, wishing they could have gotten away with that themselves. (However, their jealousy would quickly wear off as they cheer and laugh their heads off!)

If only they had known back then; all they had to do was wait a few decades, buy a record company, and then you would be able to get black performers to attack her for you! And not only that, but even a white performer in the industry could join in and get away with it as well! And they would even defend your company from them, on top of it all!
All you have to do is get the blacks to rap about fighting and killing each other (and then some of them actually do it), degrade their own women, as well; and when the Civil Rights activists stand up and confront all of this, the rappers will go after them! Two birds with one stone! (And this is basically the way it worked in the death of Malcolm and others).
Meanwhile, you're making the most money off of all of this, and even though many of the rappers are calling you and your system "the devil", and even cheering on attacks by the political enemies of your system, they still aren't doing a THING to you personally, or the system! What racist could ask for anything more?

With all the junk these rappers said about her; I would have liked to see how THEY would have fared with the racists of the 60's and before she dealt with. If they would have just pulled out a gat and took out them all and "won" such a battle!

So basically, WHO is it REALLY that is "hurting and not helping" blacks?!

 

Again, that they would stoop so low as to slam this lady like this is the ultimate result of the narcissism that took over the industry. Again, it's all about ME, and HOW DARE anyone; I don’t care who you are; ever criticize ME! I'm NEVER wrong! Again, the blame is with everyone else, so go change them, not ME. With this type of attitude, there is no hope for the industry, only disrespect or even the threat of violence for anyone who does try to help with constructive criticism, which of course to them is not help at all. Either such a person truly is above correction, in which case, he is not human; or if he is human like the rest of us, yet will never accept correction and see what he can change in himself to improve the situation, then there is no way anyone will change. They will just continue to worship themselves, and try to kill anyone who gets in their way.

Ice T, in his "Race War" says:

People gettin killed in the street
Blood on your feet, the ends don't meet
And who they gonna blame it on, me?
Try the media

Try the P.D.
Try your TV
Try your quest for wealth
Anybody but yourself
 

All of this is certainly true, but it is not either ALL one side, or ALL the other side! Just because "the system" may be doing things wrong that prolong the problems, and ignoring their part in the blame, doesn’t mean that all of the rappers are innocent, and should blast any criticism; just like the problems of the rappers (or blacks in general) don’t mean that the system is innocent. Basically, the rappers are now apart of TV and the media, as well as having a quest for wealth. The executives might control and profit the most from it, but then they all are apart of the same system, and trying to get as much as they can out of it. In the deaths of well known rappers where others in the industry are suspected; is that the fault of the P.D. or media as well? Even in a hypothetical scenario where the system somehow got these people to do it; they still complied, for whatever gain was in it for them!

But both sides in these types of debates always try to prove it is all the other side's fault. And that is why none of these socio-political issues ever sees any kind of resolution. We should not be like the other side. If they can't see their part in the blame, (and we call ourselves "the Righteous"), then we should truly be bigger and willing to improve ourselves.

 

In connection with this, another double standard is that we on one hand claim the cops hound us too much, but when they don’t come and solve our crimes (even that we do to ourselves) we actually hold that against them as well! KRS's new "Kill a Rapper" is a decent message style rap suggesting that the system basically does not try hard enough to solve the murders of rappers like Biggie, Tupac, and now, Jam Master Jay. This may be true (though they seem to have fingered some suspects for JMJ right the same month the new album with this rap came out), but then if they caught all the culprits in these murders, (plus all the other shootings of rappers where there was not death), what would it be, but basically more arrests of black men, most likely connected to the rap industry some way. Or instead of arrests, it could end in gunfights with the suspects being killed by the cops. Or maybe brutalized.

However, with all of this, don’t they complain the system is out to get us? That too many of us are arrested, and we are basically being singled out by the system? So it's like they’re damned if they do, damned if they don't! Do you really want them to catch our killers, or do you want them to just leave us alone? Again, we're giving a mixed message.

 

Recently, when a claim of "Hip Hop is Dead" arose by one rapper, I thought it was finally a wake-up call from within the industry, questioning "like yo; what are we doing"? Instead, this "death" is just being blamed on a particular style of rap from the south (including the likes of Ludacris), which is said to be "cheapening" the quality of rap; rather than all of these other issues. You even hear many hip hop fans claiming it is all "bubblegum", now! This style is no less vulgar and misogynistic than the rest of rap, and just as much what all the critics are complaining of; but it seems to focus more on rhythm and dance. Again, this is continuing to deflect blame elsewhere. (Recall, they told Tucker not to "judge", so why is it OK for them to judge another form of rap, now?)
Word was out that KRS was trying to lead a new "Stop The Violence" movement marking its 20th anniversary for 2008, but it apparently never arose. I was happy to see I was not the only one that felt that it was contradictory. On the allhiphop.com blogs, several other fans were saying the same thing, especially regarding some of the other artists he is gathering this time (Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, etc). Some even provided lines of their raps, or their brushes with the Law, and say they hope these rappers would "stop the violence" by stopping rapping about violence! Everytime an older person would criticize rap, KRS and others would alway fire back that America was violent before rap, so why blame them? True, but again, we can be a force to try to counter the negativity in society (like the old raps), or just go along with it. If you're going along with it, what is the purpose of "Stop the Violence" campaigns? Now, even rap fans are seeing this point! So it's not just the "borgeoise" older columnists and other "house negroes", fellas!

 

As much as he, (and Run before him) may have influenced the "hard core" style that has gotten so much attention, ironically, they are not really considered "gangsta", and never really got into misogyny, which is the focus of most complaints today. KRS is considered one of the "intellectuals" of rap, as we saw in the quote above. However, he does appear to defend the gangsta style. He says gangsta rap is not the problem, only lack of "consciousness". Perhaps, this is what is supposedly wrong with these new southern styles they are claiming are killing hip hop. (Even though the lyrics of this other style seem to be little different, morally, than anything else). But in the rest of rap, you still have both gangsta and consciousness.
Again, it was the addition of "consciousness" to the ego formula that created the "hardcore" styles from which "gangsta" emerged. Yet there are still problems causing all of the alarm from the older critics such as Tucker, newspaper columnist Stanley Crouch, and others.

The remedy is not simply adding more consciousness to a gangsta theme, because that causes hypocrisy (complaining about what others are doing wrong while you’re celebrating something outright self-destructive), and therefore leads the people whose attention you're trying to gain dismissing you and not hearing the message. So such a mixture is NOT "conscious" at all, but only exacerbating the problem, and continuing to be apart of it. So with or without consciousness, the "gangsta" mentality IS a problem. REAL "consciousness" would finally lead us past that stage of our reaction to the hard facts of living in this society. Going back to consciENCE as well as consciousness, like the old raps had; instead of this "anything goes" mindset! Just taking their own advice against the "stereotypes" of blacks would be more conscious!

 

Also, dealing with ISSUES rather than attacking people! In the early 80's, I remember one [long forgotten] message rap exclaiming "We got actors running for president; what the hell is wrong with our government!" In the late 80's, Public Enemy was the closest to this, but the messages were more general (like "M.F-ing" Elvis and John Wayne for their racism).
But in the 90's and 00's, how would rap address people like then mayor Giuliani, who once justified ignoring us with “well, they’re alive, aren’t they”? We get some rap basically "imagining" him being shot. What did we have to say about other popular political figures like Rush Limbaugh, who has made a career of dismissing every cause associated with the people of color around the world, continues to mock us, and has gained a wide voice and influence in American conservativism? "get that pig with an axe" the free Mumia rap said! So while the enemies of the Black cause use their rhetoric to sway people ideologically, and actually gain ground, the most we can ever come up with is some violent ad hominem (which we can't even make good on)!

This is the problem, folks! What about the ISSUE? What about the stuff they're saying that offends us so? Why is what they are saying or doing so offensive to begin with? Can we even address that intelligently in the raps? As I mentioned before, when someone responds violently, it could be truth they do not like. And that is definitely what conservatives say about us! Can we even make the effort to THINK and try to prove that this is not the case? If not, we prove the opposite case to everyone! The black revolutionaries of old may have said some things like that, but at least they could actually answer specific things the racists were saying about us. Especially Malcolm. This is one of the things I meant by the rappers copying only their violence and leaving the rest of the message out. The Old School messages also made the points without resorting to threats. So we DARE to even compare this message today with them and call it "conscious"?

So people hear that stuff; you think Limbaugh and his fans even cared? Nobody actually went and chased him with an axe, and even if they did, he probably would have bodyguards. Or been armed himself, being that conservatives like him are so big on "the right to bear arms". If someone tried to shoot Giuliani back then, he would have had a special police detail guarding him, and you KNOW what they would have done!
So all this language does accomplish, is that it just proves to them that we are nothing but violent criminals without even a decent cause, and hence confirms everything they say about us to the world! Even if someone did kill one of these leaders, all that would do is create a martyr for their cause! "See, we're the good guys, and they're the big bad villains who killed one of us for 'standing up for the truth'!" None of their rhetoric debunked; so it looks like they really were killed for standing up for "the truth", because we had no answer but to kill them!

Meanwhile, do these threatening words actually raise our consciousness, and lead us to actually do something to make positive changes? NO! So it continues to play right into the "ill plan" to degrade and destroy us!

 

Also, if such “power” (“might makes right”) is proof of one’s worth, then this would seem to exonerate the very white power in the world many of these rappers resent. There are plenty of conservatives who will gleefully point to the lasting power and achievements of Europe and America over Africa, native America, much of Asia, and even the Arab world and Communism as proof of “the West’s” superiority! Why does that make them “devils”, as the Five-Percenter religion that influenced much of modern hip-hop claims, but when blacks do the same things on their own level (the streets), it is justified? White conservatives and the leaders of business even justify their actions on the "jungle" philosophy ("strongest survive") as well. For instance, he will point to "the force of the market" to justify the alarming economic gap between the CEO's and workers, while prices rise, and jobs, benefits and services are cut, or at least have to be fought hard for. Landlords can say the same thing to explain why they allowed the ghetto to become the way it was, but yet there is suddenly plenty of money now to build the city back up (while at the same time pricing all of us out). They'll then tell us to stop "whining" about it, because that is the way life is (what's "real"), and it's not fair. Either we pull up our bootstraps, or sink.
That's how they apply "to stay on course means to RULE with force" as KRS once rapped regarding the streets.  It's the same "might makes right" attitude. Theirs is sociopolitical and international, and the rappers found the "might" that is more available to them, which is physical and in the streets. But it's their own brothers they are killing.
Instead of helping one another survive as a community, the focus of rap became the "jungle" principle of the self climbing to the top at the expense of others.

So if “what’s real” is all about physical power, then we basically confess that this is “the man’s” world, and we’re just squirrels trying to get a nut, then! We are trying to beat the man at his own game, but he is still at the top pulling the strings. So we always end up losing, with our own people getting the worst of it somehow (the victims and relatives in these physical power struggles in the streets); but made to feel we have gained something in the little pacifiers we are thrown (e.g. the money and popularity of being a rap star or criminal).

So you 'think you’ so bad'; but the police are going to show you they’ badder! And so will politicians who shape policy. 

 

VH1’s countdown of the 22 greatest rappers of all time (chosen by the viewers), was basically all about the "bad boys" (and girls), from Run to KRS and the more negative 90’s rappers. The top two spots were of course reserved for the martyrs of hip-hop, Biggie and Tupac. Doug E Fresh and others hosted the show, but were nowhere on the list. Neither were the actual pioneers, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambataa, the Sugarhill Gang or even Kurtis Blow.

 

McWhorter is right that blacks had much more to be frustrated about in the past than they do now. I add that even in the seventies, there was still much despair. That things have gotten better is evidenced by a comparison of the blackouts of ’77 and ’03. Yet, rappers who are millionaires and not giving much back to the community are still living the ghetto life, and pitching all this anger at the “system” (which to me, they are just as much apart of, now).
Thuggery and violence were originally blacks’ way to have power amongst themselves in a larger society where they were powerless. The rappers now have the best of both worlds: the white man’s money and trinkets, while still being the tough thug who’ll beat you down and take you out. This shows they are just as decadent as the white society they so eschew. Some black religious ideologies say “well; the white system, or 'Babylon' is going down”, as the Mumia rap said, but if that’s true, then we would go right down with them!

And many of the rappers got the worst of both worlds as well. Yet it is not Flash’s “Message” that started all of this. It was the egotism and aggression that made total narcissism, violence and misogyny the next logical step.

Meanwhile, racism has shifted to a more defensive ideological stance, with violent at the same time as narcissistic rap among other things being proof to many that concerns of the black community are invalid today, (and among some, perhaps never valid!) Unarmed men can be gunned down by plain-clothes police, and the defense wins the case with “If he had only done what they said, this wouldn’t have happened”.  (And we miss little, but significant subtleties like this, while focusing on hanging the officers, whether it was accidental or not, or fighting for more debatable causes like Mumia). While racism has changed its approach, the approach still used by rappers and others is still a direct, confrontational method left over from the Civil Rights days. If we don’t change this method, we only look like violent reactionaries stuck in a past that has since changed, which is again what people claim. I wonder if we even remember that only a decade ago, some social commentators even tried coming up with a "Bell Curve" theory, taking a direct stab at blacks, resurrecting an age old racist "genetic" premise, to of course, suggest tax dollars were being wasted on us. I heard not a peep from rap about this either.

May we have some new messengers to challenge stuff like this?

 

1 (http://tradermike.net/movethecrowd/archives/2003/06/22_greatest_mcs.php)

2 (http://www.hiponline.com/artist/music/k/krs-one/)

3 http://www.vh1.com/shows/events/hip_hop_honors/2004/index_flash.jhtml?siteArea=17

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