Rap Music Apologetics: A Case for the Michael Boltons of this World

 If Rap’s opponents could see the value it brings, how it keeps people moving, how it gets them excited, they might not be so quick to dismiss it.

 

Suburban kids weren’t supposed to like Rap. It is loud. It is violent. It is rude. It’s overly materialistic and demeaning to women. Rap music was an urbanite’s genre; everyone’s better off if they just listen to their “own” music.

The complaints and cases against Rap are very much a part of why it became so successful. By the early 90’s, Rock n’ Roll had been very much commoditized, thusly stripped of its power to be subversive. In the void entered Rap, coming one step closer to the commodification that sterilized Rock n’ Roll. In an effort to keep Rap potent, protected from the numbing mainstream, Rap was, in a way, off-limits to non-blacks; think of Office Space’s Michael Bolton rolling down his window and turning down his Rap music as a black man selling flowers approaches his vehicle.

Talib Kweli, a collaborator with Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, and Kanye West, amongst others, says that, “[t]he vast majority of my subject matter focuses on black self-love, black self esteem, black self worth.” In saying so, he appears to agree with the sequestration of Rap and Hip Hop to black communities only.  However, he goes on to say, “[My work] translates to other communities because if you’re a human being, it doesn’t matter what color you’re talking about. You’ve been through some sort of struggle and you can apply it to your own life.” In saying so, Kweli opens up the doors for fans like Michael Bolton.

While the Michael Boltons of the world don’t have problems on par with those found in inner city ghettoes, they do have problems. The Rap music blasting in Bolton’s car allows Michael to get some of his rage out of his system, rage from rush hour, rage from his job, and rage from everyday boredom, borne out of the mind-numbing suburbs.

Opponents of Rap generally spew the geezer’s tale: that music was better in their day, that the new music is excessively violent and vacant. Others claim that Rap is an opiate for the masses, a form of escapism that should be avoided. If, for one day, Rap’s opponents could see the value it brings, how it keeps people moving, how it gets them excited, they might not be so quick to dismiss it.

In whatever way Rap lacks prestige, it will have it later. Rock n’ Roll was once subversive, Blues was once subversive; now they’re considered classic genres. As Rap becomes more commodified, some new form will take its place. By then, we’ll be geezers too, talking about how good Rap was yesterday, and how bad music is today.

 

Photo–Flickr/Dexarts

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About Blake Pynnonen

Blake Pynnonen is a writer, student, and educator, living and working in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He writes for GRE Question of the Day . He has previously taught English in Korea, where, on the plane ride over, he started learning the language.

Comments

  1. Great piece on rap music, thanks so much for writing this.

    I’d argue that as the industry becomes much more stratified and complicated, some hip-hop and rap has achieved classic status and thus lost a lot of its subversive power. I think about artists like Common, who built a career out of subversive and anti-authoritarian kinds of material. Now, he’s more a relic of people who fetishize “true hip hop” and tend to be middle-class. Not to say he isn’t amazing (and I could draw the rap/hip-hop distinction but it seems unnecessary) but that he’s simply fallen in with an old guard. In that void, newer rap has come about to represent that subversion. Just a thought.

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