Rap and Sexism

I am a big fan of rap music. Always have been since the early days of Afrika Bambaata and The Sugar Hill Gang. I think rap music and its influence on popular music of all kinds, as well as on world culture in general, are part of a the continuing contribution of black culture to the world. I also believe that some of the best rappers rap on subjects and issues that are deep and meaningful, and that they do have something important to say about social and other issues. Take a listen, a real listen if you don’t know what I’m talking about, to “In The Ghetto” by Two Short, or almost anything by A Tribe Called Quest, or ‘Jesus Walks” by Kanye West or even “Dear Momma” by Tupac. I could go and on. And if you doubt the influence of rap and hip hop on other forms of music, listen closely to Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Fergie, Gwen Stefani or any number of mainstream artists.

Now with that being said, that does not mean I like all rap music and artists. That would be silly. Any more than someone who likes rock and roll being expected to like all rock and roll songs or artists. Rap definitely has within it a segment, generally referred to as the gangsta or thug side, that is incredibly objectionable to me. I do not and cannot listen to that stuff. No doubt Imus and the others who are using this whole Imus affair as an opportunity to get on rappers and their awful language and message, have a point that there are those in the rap business who exploit and demean women. This segment oftentimes also condones violence and the ghetto lifestyle like it is something to look up to.

But while I disagree with and do not choose to listen to this vile stuff, I do not expect nor believe we can stop people from putting out this category of music, or some from buying it. Nor do I think we have the right to stop it. The difference between Imus and gangsta rap is people can choose to purchase what they want. It is a buying decision. And yet I think the public airwaves, radio or free television, are not the places for it to aired to the public, simply because it is indecent and does ultimately do harm to people, if only in a secondary way. Imus spewed his venom on the public airwaves. If he finds a way to make a living saying the same thing through the private market, then I have no issue. I don’t believe we as a society should police everything people say. As long as it is not publicly backed or supported, stupidity should be allowed.

I think this whole debate in the aftermath of Imus is good though. I just don’t want people to put all rap under this umbrella of degradation because that would be unfair and incorrect. Like everything else, there is good and bad in rap music. The bad, as much as I dislike it, has a right to exist as long as there are people who choose to support it. It just doesn’t have a right to be out there in the public space where anyone can inadvertently come across it. I do wish those men (and women) who rap about the degrading things they do (and put out the videos they do) would make smarter choices. But we, as a society, cannot force people to be smart or enlightened. We just have to make sure their stupidity is contained to appropriate places where those of us who prefer not to listen to it do not have to.

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