Gangster Rap, Going the Way of All Gangsters?

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50 Cent, or whatever his street value is now, may want to start counting his pennies.

According to Courtland Milloy and a University of Chicago study, rap’s decline continues. Post-Imus, its sales are still dropping and, even though young people of color still listen to it regularly, they simultaneously feel it’s over-sexed and demeans both black men and black women. Ray-Ray ‘nem want to keep listening to rap. But now that the shock value’s worn off, they just want the quality improved; soon, we’ll find out which gangster rappers are actual artists and which the posing, community-despoiling carpetbaggers who’ve ruined it for everyone.

Milloy veers slightly off track, though, when he frowns on the “Taliban-ing” of rap’s critics: protests, boycott calls, picketing and this week’s Congressional hearings. I’m fond of the First Amendment, but I think rap’s opponents are exercising exactly that (though picketing someone’s home does go too far) in forcing the rap community to respond to its critiques. If rappers get to say objectionable things, very loudly and designed for maximum outrage, why not Rev. Calvin Butts or C. Delores Tucker (very early leaders of the fight against rap’s excesses). I choose to believe that all our “shame on you’s” have something to do with what I choose to see as rap’s audience having had its consciousness raised by all our sermons.

Somthing else Milloy didn’t get around to is noting that, while nihilistic rap may be snuffing itself out, conscious rap may be on the resurgence. Others have noticed though, and cite the phenom known as Barack Obama for helping blacks with mixing tables and a yearning for attention notice something other than the butt sashaying past them at the bus stop. It seems that:

“Many of today’s more socially conscious rappers are putting the spotlight back on political issues and candidates – and their go-to guy has become Democratic contender Barack Obama, or “B-Rock” as he was recently dubbed by Vibe magazine. Rap artist Common, whose latest CD debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts earlier this month, brags that he’ll “ignite the people like Obama.” Talib Kweli echoes that on his latest release when he says, “speak to the people like Barack Obama.” Is there nothing the junior Senator from Illinois can’t do?

Soon, I’ll get to meet my new MoJo colleague and we can thrash out our differences over rap, but til then, I’ll bet that we can at least agree that talented rapping about black empowerment is a good thing.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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