Saturday, August 18, 2007
The Lingering Bullshit Of Don Imus & The Nas/Virginia Tech Controversy Aka Bill O'Reilly Is A Racist Fuck
Don’t get it twisted, I love hip hop. I must have been whacked on the head or something when I was child growing up in the “mean” streets of Shaker Heights, Ohio because I wasn’t attracted to the whiny melodramatic ranting of modern rock music like so many of my peers but rather the menacing thump of an 808. It made me different. Hip Hop just connected with me. I was the nerdy kid in glasses who could freestyle his ass off and not only recite the 9 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in official order but debate the relative merits of Cappadonna and Street Life in inclusion as an official member as well.
I used to get personally offended when I heard some opportunistic politician or professional media asshole decry hip hop as violent and misogynistic because the treatment of their target was simplistic, lacking in nuances and usually showed a complete disregard for the actual facts. I would passionately defend hip hop to my teachers, parents and even sometimes my friends who didn’t understand the music and the culture around it. Recently though, I find it harder and harder to defend the music. Not because I don’t love the music as much as I did when I was younger but because the nuance of it as all gone. A song like “Fuck The Police” certainly qualifies as being violent but the song has many layers of nuance in the song’s message that complicates the story. If you were so inclined, you could read it as a song that as an immoral call to murder police officers like the F.B.I., Tipper Gore, and every other politician with a constituency to scare in the late 80s did. You could also read the actual intention in the song was to expose and protest racist cops for beating on and harassing poor black teenagers in the ghetto. That makes things complicated and that's where great art arises. However, Its a whole lot harder to defend 50 Cent when he completely rejects the notion of the art itself and actively maintains its a business to the point he will throw anybody and everybody under a bus for his own financial gain.
However, there has been one story in recent times that has gotten me mad again over the treatment of hip hop in the media and one that we must take as a reflection as fans of the music because it speaks more to state of the music as well as the music is perceived by everybody else. That story, of course, is the proposed boycott of Virginia Tech concert because Nas was asked to perform. Why? Because Nas is supposed “violent” lyrics since he is a “gangsta” rapper. Parents of the Virginia Tech victims, various uninformed commentators, and Asshole Racist Supreme, Bill O’Reilly, have screamed bloody murder at the inappropriateness of Nas performing at a vigil for murder victims because he is in the words of O’Reilly a “gangsta rapper” and according to one of the parents who organized the boycott “indicative of the moral decay of society.”
This is ridiculous on a number of levels. The number one reason, of course, being is that Nas is not a gangsta rapper. As anybody who has a passing familiarity with Nas can attest to Nas’ catalogue is way too diverse and complex to be shoved into one particular box. He is just as likely to make a song about drug dealing, murder, and crime as he is to make a song about conflict diamonds in Africa or the love he has for his wife. Nas has long stood as one of paragons of just what hip hop can do. His catalogue and artistic credibility although not completely flawless should speak for itself. Hip Hop fans everywhere treat “Illmatic” as if its the Holy Bible translated into Hip Hop form. When Nas as his creative peak and chooses to rap about the violence, it transcends the standard and cliched “I’m just reporting the reality of the streets” defense because he not only reports violence but comments and brings a detailed and nuanced context of what the violence does. In my mind’s eye, its appropriate to have somebody perform at a concert against violence who explicitly deals with and makes music about the violence in a mature and adult way. While Nas on occasion has veered into exploitation of violence in the past, his overall track record is so diverse that it simply mitigates his supposed sins.
What bothers me the most about the controversy is what this says about the way people view hip hop in the media today. Don Imus in his all his ignorant glory was able to deflect his own bigotry miraculously after the Rutgers Women’s Basketball scandal onto hip hop although by all accounts Don Imus is not nor has ever been “hip hop.” The media always looking for an easy target looked at the artistic decay hip hop has gone through in the last millennium and decided to pounce on it like hyenas tearing into the flesh of a wounded gazelle. Its true hip hop has become more simplistic but Nas who by all accounts in perhaps hip hop’s greatest living artist and emcee should be above the discussion. His last album dealt with the same issues that the media is tearing hip hop apart for now.
All of this leads me to one conclusion, in the eyes of most people hip hop is still considered utter trash and despicable despite 30 years of rich history and artistry. To most people, hip hop equals violence and there is no difference between somebody like Nas and somebody like 50 Cent. When Bill O’Reilly took Nas to task on a recent show of his, there was an assurdness in his voice that Nas was evil and corrupter of society simply because he raps instead of plays the guitar. He cherry picked a few lyrics from Nas’ worst album and assumed that was the sum of all of his music. This isn’t just an anomaly of one or two racist commentator on Fox News or a couple of politicians trying to scare up a few more votes but rather to me the norm. I feel most people do not respect or bother to understand the culture.
What scares me the most is that in the face of hip hop’s dwindling sales, the numerous and stupid petty crimes that rappers get involved with, and the endless vilification of the genre that hip hop perhaps is on its way to its proverbial death. If hip hop doesn’t sell and its facing the endless wrath of powerful people what's the incentive for labels to put out any hip hop music. Its just not worth it. Plenty of genres have died out in the past. What makes Hip Hop any different than Disco? Hip Hop artists and fans need to seriously reflect on the state of the music and think to themselves why is it that everybody says we are violent, sexist sociopaths and more importantly what we can do to fix it. Hip Hop’s got a major image problem and its not going away if we don’t do anything to change the way people perceive us.