Thursday, 1 September 2011
Is hip-hop to blame for the riots?
During my bank holiday's slumberous morning in bed I read Libby Purves' opinion piece in The Times entitled 'Of our 99 problems, rap lyrics are a big one', and was very interested by the internal debate that began in my head surrounding the idea that hip-hop might be to blame, in part, for the appalling behaviour we've seen in recent weeks. But let's be clear from the outset - I'm going to try steering clear of any outrageous statements here of my own, but in and amongst all the various outrageous and opposing things being said at this testing time, I believe there are strands of truth which we need to pull out from these people's comments, without the obvious backlash of being seen to endorse the whole message.
So, for example when David Starkey announced on newsnight that 'whites had become black' there may well be some truth in that, in the sense that many white teenagers in Britain have adopted the language and conversational style that finds its origin in Black American culture, and that has been most obviously exported to our fair shores by the likes of Jay-Z and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But of course, the other thing he communicated was that he considered this to be a form of degradation for these white teenagers, and thereby implied that white culture is better than black culture.
And that's why Piers Morgan called him a 'racist idiot'. Which was generous of him.
The problem is that David Starkey made an interesting point, which I have some sympathy for, but then blew it up with an unacceptable one, which I have no sympathy for. So, what happens is everything gets thrown out together - the truth, and the lie - and one assumes a dangerous position when trying to claw back and make acceptable again, the truth in what was originally said.
But let's try and do that.
I am a hip-hop producer. I am hugely influenced by a lot of MOBO (Music of Black Origin) - hip-hop, rnb, soul, jazz, funk. Albums by The Roots, Common, Marvin Gaye, Lauryn Hill, Stevie, Miles and 'Trane sit happily alongside my U2, Massive Attack and Stravinsky. I love the culture of freestyling, dj-ing, boom-bap beats and amazing energy hip-hop has.
But there's plenty of hip-hop artists that I don't like, nay, even detest, for their lyrical content.
There will be plenty of people in the hip-hop community who will feel rather abused by the backlash to their genre, with, dare I say it, in many cases, white journalists and commentators pointing the finger at the genre and accusing it of feeding the rioters with role models who promote and provide a justification for the violence we've witnessed.
Whilst I feel for the fans, as I myself feel partly abused by this sweeping accusation, let's be honest - when 50 cent preaches "get rich or die trying", irony aside, he's not exactly helping sway the argument in hip-hop's favour. I'm sure we can think of many more.
I cannot find a reasonable excuse for this kind of mentality and I would definitely go as far as to say I think these kind of songs and attitudes are partly to blame. But hear me out - I would also say that you can find plenty of other bad messages in other parts of the music industry. Take for example Beyonce, or Rhianna, or Britney gyrating in underwear, or duct tape (lol), or er, nothing - and tell me they don't either promote or at least give in to the idea that sex sells and that women are to be used for this purpose alone. ("Slave for you", anyone??)
The real problem is that we have a music industry that is rotten in many places. And rot comes out all over the place. And I don't believe that the rot is benign and doesn't infect other things. It has to. We're all influenced by things, and we all replicate and repeat what others have done. I see it all the time when I work with upcoming musicians whose voice is rather too obviously just a copy of the artists they love. That goes for whiney singers thinking they are emulating Thom Yorke as much as it does for obscene rappers who talking about things they barely understand.
So, is hip-hop to blame for the riots? No, not hip-hop. Because hip-hop is a genre of music containing thousands of artists, of whom many make valuable artistic contributions to our world. But there are some prevailing attitudes within the genre, such as the objectification of women, the glorification of violence and the pursuit of monetary wealth, and a good number of hip-hop artists who promote these attitudes who I believe should definitely do some serious rethinking, and get real about the influence that they could be having on their listeners.
And Britney's writers should as well.