RapConsideredHarmful

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Most attempts to paint rap and HipHop as harmful smell of racism and double standards (the same standards aren't applied to equally irresponsibly hedonistic and amoral rock and other genres of music.)

Nevertheless, I've tried to engage this topic. Feel free to ArgueAgainstMe if you've think I've got this wrong.

Quora Answer : Do you think rap music is brainwashing black kids?

Aug 29, 2020

To an extent.

I want to say I'm a fan of rap music. I think it's fantastic. I'm also absolutely opposed to racism, to white supremacy, to any justifications or excuses for white oppression of black people. And I strongly support BLM.

With all that said, I think it's obvious that hip-hop, despite some historical counter-examples of more communitarian and positive / conscious rap, has become a music that largely promotes and reinforces a particular world-view in which :

  • the paper-chase, money and success are everything. The only way to happiness, to sex, to self-fulfilment
  • you are worth nothing without this money and success
  • in particular, women want nothing to do with you if you aren't rich and successful (increasingly female rappers seem expressing their own empowerment and independence by denigrating men who can't afford or keep up with them financially)
  • wealth and success can only be achieved through individualistic endeavour. It's all about skills and personal ambition. No communal, political activity can do it for you. "I made it on my own" is the proudest boast. There are no stories of collective empowerment.
  • friends and associates who might have contributed to your earlier success will have to be jettisoned if they can't / won't follow you or celebrate you on your rise to success. If they criticise or don't cheerlead you they are jealous / haters who must be abandoned
  • pretty much anything is acceptable or can at least be forgiven on this quest for success. Drug dealing, pimping, violence are all valid. The ends (of personally getting rich to escape the oppression of racism and poverty) justify the means.

I don't think anyone can listen to a lot of hip-hop and not see these themes constantly. You can't watch hip-hop videos without seeing them constantly reinforced visually.

Sometimes these themes are treated "ironically" and we're invited to laugh at the stereotypes. But even then they are rarely repudiated altogether.

Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" is the only major anti-wealth / anti-consumption success I can think of in recent hip-hop, and it's likely that only a white rapper could get away with making a statement like that. He could trade off his white privilege to say it's OK to be poor.

It's VERY hard for someone black to say that, within black culture. Because an admission of failure is more or less capitulation to racism. Success is the only thing that can protect you against racism. So not "making it" is the same as letting them win.

Even conscious rappers today will play the game of pointing out their success. What credibility would they have if they weren't also personally successful? And they'll go right out and collaborate with other rappers who follow the script earnestly. The ideas cannot be escaped.

Now this is more than hip-hop. These ideas infect all of young people's pop music. But they often came in through hip-hop. Hip-hop's dynamism and creativity and energy has made it so influential and other pop musicians have adopted these attitudes exactly when adopting other hip-hop tropes.

Hip-hop has become the culture which most ruthlessly promotes this capitalist, individualist world-view. I like to point out that we're horrified to discover incels. But incels are basically just kids that take the message of hip-hop videos (and hip-hop influenced pop videos) at face value.

Does it "brainwash"? That's a clunky word which denies people have any agency.

But does it create a Weltenshauung or world-view which influences people's beliefs and behaviours? Undoubtedly.

See also : MTVAndCycleOfPoverty, TheWorldOfHipHop, Flyting

Something triggered a rant over on Quora :

Sure. I don't expect artists to be saints or even moral. I think my concern, partly triggered by Ross Simmonds answer about Jay selling drugs to "survive", is that rappers' autobiography used to be a sort of social commentary, describing the hardships of life in the underclass and, yes, celebrating the talent and dedication that could bring you out of that situation.

But it feels like, increasingly, this very very generic and clich├ęd narrative is just being used to normalize the idea that anything is legitimate in pursuit of personal wealth. I'm not anti-drugs. I'm in favour of decriminalization of all of them. But anyone who's selling crack in a poor community is recognisably doing harm there. So it's great to celebrate Jay-Z for escaping that culture and background. I think it's a different matter to celebrate Jay-Z for having that background. (Which Simmonds' answer veers very close to. As do many claims about being "real" or authentic in hip-hop culture.)

The "street-hustler aesthetic" isn't just telling us about people who were dealing, or stick-up kids, or pimps. It's telling us that these routes to success are acceptable and even admirable way to keep things ticking over while you're waiting for your music career to take off.

If it's OK to screw up other kids in the neighbourhood by pushing highly addictive drugs. If it's OK to abuse and sell the girls in your community. If the odd bit of personal assault is just a necessary step up the ladder to a triumphant personal biography, why should we complain about financial wizards looting companies and scamming people into long term debt? What's wrong with calling up armed police to beat OccupyMovement protesters? Why shouldn't the hustlers of the 1% do whatever it takes to maintain their position and push everyone else into penury?

The more you think about it, the more the hustler turned corporate executive narrative looks like being the most pernicious story in contemporary capitalism.

See link on ComposersVsMusicians