Positive Rappers

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I’m writing now just to give due props. Napoleon Maddux is an intelligent, insightful, and positive emcee, and accordingly, he deserves our praise for that. This might sound like a fairly uncontroversial proposition, but it’s honestly an issue that I struggle with, and here’s why:

On one hand, when I’m just clowning around or on my commute, I’ll bump tracks like Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s” , U.G.K.’s “The Game Belongs to Me” or something from T.I., and I really enjoy them. I write them off as “hot tracks” that get your head bobbing, and I’m not bothered by the lack of substance and/or promotion of immorality because I don’t ultimately endorse any of it–I’m just there for the beat and the style, I’m not listening to ponder the world’s dilemmas.

I find some support for this care-free approach to hip-hop from its early days. Old school emcees weren’t really rapping about third world debt relief or warrantless wiretaps, they were just popping shit, saying anything to get your ass moving. So does Rich Boy. Ditto for Lil’ Jon.

Moreover, there is an unconditional facet to my love for hip-hop. I’ve never endorsed the “Hip-Hop Is Dead” argument. When Pimp C remarked that hip-hop needs Laffy Taffy as much as it needs Nasty Nas, I agreed to a certain extent (though choosing Laffy Taffy is probably a poor example). To me, it’s always evolving, and because I love hip-hop so much, I want to absorb every permutation of the artform and enjoy it like a parent enjoys whatever it is that their offspring choose to pursue as a career. Like any parent would attest, this isn’t totally unconditional, but it’s pretty open-minded nonetheless. So when the Whisper song dropped, I listened and bumped for a while. When Lil’ Jon blew up, I bumped, and I still keep an ear open for his unique sound. The message is utterly ignorant and morally reprehensible, but it’s all still hip-hop to me–and at the end of the day, it’s just a song to get asses moving, so who’s really harmed?

But on the other hand, it’s hard to look at the sorry state of urban America today and say that the criminal, gangster culture that these artists promote is utterly innocuous. The fact is that it’s not, and for someone like myself who considers urban renewal–particularly urban education reform–the civil rights issue of our time, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the kids, who lack better role models, end up admiring these rags to riches dirtbags.

I’m also moved by the criticisms of black intellectuals. Torrance Stevens, a contributor at BlackProf.com, writes here about what he calls “The New Knights of the KKK”

“It really is the best dream of the Knights of the KKK – I mean have people they despise and deplore do their dirt for them. To make it simple, they continue to encourage the stereotypes and promote self destruction to the extent that it has reached pandemic proportions. I hear songs that proclaim the manliness of killing and shooting another. I hear songs that encourage women to be unfaithful to their commitment to their men. I hear songs that give confidence to the ill importance of school. There even seems to an inordinate amount of songs that target “baby mommas” and how delightful it is to receive sexual gratification from this select bevy of women. And last but not least, songs that proclaim the material riches that you accrue are more important than anything else – in particular if they are displayed on one’s car.”

Stevens adds:

“Please folk, especially my men in the entertainment industry, lets try and check ourselves and decide what type of legacy you desire to leave for your kids and others, one of self-enhancement, or one of self-destruction by a new invisible empire.”

But it’s also heartening to know that I’m not alone in this state of tension. Paul Butler, also of BlackProf.com, writes about his inner-conflict over Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s”:

“Any black person who practices the politics of respectability would say [“Throw Some D’s”] sets Negroes back ten years… So every time this song comes on the radio I crank up the volume. When the chorus comes around I shout out at the top of my lungs “throw some d’s on that b.” (they bleep out “bitch” on the radio). Yes, I hate myself afterwards. But the flow is frigging irresistible.” (emphasis added).

This is one of those things for which I have no answer, so I write only to capture my thoughts at this particular moment in time; and to offer Napoleon and the rest of ISWHAT?! my unqualified appreciation for their effort to strive for the best of both worlds: fun music that is also socially conscious. Being from the ‘Natti, they know as well as anybody that the hood needs it right now. Props.

peace…

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One Response to “Positive Rappers”

  1. Workin « Trading Tapes Says:

    […] across all media outlets on the message(s) that spew forth from popular hip hop music. Kyle & I have been on top of this before Imus and as a hip hop fan, I’m encouraged by the all […]

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