“Rap Is Crap”: An Observation of Race, Culture, and Music

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Dominique Hunter

“Rap is crap.” I hear this phrase from time to time and I’m sure most of you have too. Rap is crap. But really, is rap music terrible?

The two red flags I look for when hearing any statement of opinion are: 1. Does the statement use polar language? and 2. Is the opinion stated as a fact?

Today, after a beautiful rainy day here in the desert, I opened my porch door to let some fresh air in. I was sitting on my couch, surfing the web, as they say, when I heard an older man cry out the n-word. “Are my ears deceiving me?” I thought “Perhaps I’ve been watching too much of Tarantino’s flick Django Unchained?” I dismissed it, and  peacefully returned to my web browsing. “That rap shit is such crap!” His voice trailed off, but I caught enough to get a gist of what he said. Now my ears stood at attention, as if to tell me, “Yes, we heard correctly indeed!” I stopped and listened for a minute, but my cheerful neighbor preoccupied himself with a different distressing matter: the train at the other side of town “SHUT THE F*** UP TRAIN.” What a pleasant old man. I sure do hope the train heard his suggestion.

At any rate, his obnoxious, unsolicited opinion startled me. I, as a woman of color and mixed decent (my father is European American and my mother is African American and (Pawnee) Native American), have experienced many variations of racism in my short life. I have been called the n-word-once I told people I was black, since most people don’t realize this (not even black people), partially because I look like this):

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I have even been threatened to be murdered because of my race, particularly by being cut in half by a chain saw. Classy. So why is this knucklehead’s opinion of my race and “rap music” having such an effect on me?

One reason is probably related to the above mentioned film I saw this past week (yes, it took me five days to watch Django Unchained: it’s nearly three hours long!). Watching it over several days, however, allowed some time for the content and my relation to the story to sink in deeper than it might have in one setting. My grandmother was born in Uniontown, Alabama in the 1930s. Though the Emancipation Proclamation had been proclaimed and the Civil War had been fought decades earlier, not to mention it was the general belief in the north that slavery was a by-gone era of American history, many black people still lived in fear and servitude (in different but still degrading forms) under the tyranny of white supremacy. Her mother, my great grandmother, was considered by D.C. to be a free woman. None-the-less, as a young mother, she had to leave her family and sneak up north in the back of a mule wagon, and over the next several years brought her entire family north to Buffalo, New York. Her aunties were slaves, legal slaves. They were whipped, raped, and dehumanized. Their family members were hung or beaten to death for attempts to run-away or even at the slightest suggestion of disobedience.

In 2014, with a black president, and many  African Americans in successful positions, and with my attentions, and education, currently focused on tribal sovereignty and cultural/racial issues in Native America, I can admit, that I have become complacent and neglectful in concern to my black brothers and sisters. With this movie so fresh in my mind and with recent tragedies such as the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, and now Michael Brown, the comments of my loud mouth neighbor disturbed me past the nature of his racist remarks to the grotesque emotion of fear. Usually I acknowledge these types of comments as belligerent racism, and go about my day, leaving the ignorant to their own self-destructive devices. But fear was an emotion that I had not felt from such experiences in a long while. After reassuring myself in the truth of my place and purpose in the universe, it has left me in the perfect state to reexamine these types of experiences and in relation to others and, most importantly, in light of my own being.

So, back to this man’s second comment: Is rap truly crap?

This phrase obviously raises both of my red flags: the polar language suggests that all rap (belligerent and positive) is indeed crap. And of course, this guy’s opinion is not fact. No one’s is.

For instance, I do not particularly care for most forms of modern country music, but I don’t go around calling out white people and using racist or abusive language just because I don’t listen to Garth Brooks.

And as far as the accusation goes that all “rap” or hip-hop music is about “money and hoes,” let me humor you with some suggestions of extremely intelligent and innovative artists with some genius story-telling abilities as well as some dope beats: Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Common, Deltron 3030, Gangstarr, KRS-1, MF Doom, Mos Def-and the list goes on and on.

We like what we can relate to. This is also, very commonly, akin to what we are raised with, whether it is ideals, values, religion, or even music. Conversely, we often, at least initially, dislike what we cannot relate to. So it’s not surprising that if you grew up in south L.A. you can relate to Tupac more than to Kenny Chesney. Likewise, if you were raised on a ranch in Texas, you can relate to the stories of country music, but might not even understand the terminology used in hip-hop culture.

And this is not to say that race or upbringing always dictates likes or dislikes. For instance, there are Indigenous DJ’s performing at hip-hop shows across the Phoenix valley and also shining Native faces seen scattered throughout Blake Shelton concerts. And unlike some may assume, this isn’t such a straight forward division of Rez Natives and Urban NDN’s.

I was giving an acquaintance a ride home one day, and as my Pandora playlist was going in the background, they turned and said “Wow, you really are a black girl aren’t you?” I shake my head. Since when do you need to be black to like Erykah Badu?? And second of all, even if I didn’t, does my race magically change!? And I cannot stand when I say something that is slightly representative of the culture I grew up in and it is exaggerated by those around me as they begin to mimic me in this cheeky little “Shaniqua-ish” voice.  Wow people, really? Likewise, when other people start exaggerating my use of the word “like” in casual language-seriously I will walk away from you.

What b.s.

Racism has been an issue since the dawn of man, and is showing no promise of making a complete turn-around any time in the near future. There have always been racists and there will probably always be racists (or whatever type of -ist). And as my momma always told me: “Assholes come in every color.”

I guess for right now though, I offer this as a quasi-solution to these cultural differences, particularly in music: if you’re busting eardrums as you drive down a busy street and waking mothers to crying babies: turn it down. And if you don’t like what you hear on the radio, turn it off. Otherwise, do us all the common courtesy and just be quiet.

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