Hip Hop Confessions
i feel guilty sometimes. you see, there are certain things that our sterotype radar permits us without any nagging. for instance, it's fine for me to listen to pop, metal, punk rock, etc. these are some genres that i enjoy partaking in. however, there is also rap or even hip hop (i think i understand the difference between the two, but talking about it is neither the point of this post, nor is it really even important). this is where i sometimes hear a little voice that says, "uh...what are you doing?" the point is that sometimes my sense of stereotypes tells me i have no right. having grown up in a wasp-y, middle-class family, in good neighborhoods, sometimes i hear this voice in my head that tells me i shouldn't be listening to rap because i can't relate to the things that hip hop or rap artists relate in their songs, nor could i appreciate the value of them. of course, some of this was relieved when eminem got big, but he still talks about a life that i could never relate to. so what right do i have?
here's the thing...a few years ago i went to go see public enemy. now, as far as i was concerned, this was one of the biggest musical experiences that i would have possibly in my entire life. those of you who aren't interested in rap won't relate to this, but...it's...public...enemy! they've never been to my town before and probably never will be again, thanks to certain legal troubles that some of the members of the group have had. earlier in the year, run dmc did a show here, too. i missed that and i would be damned if i was going to miss public enemy. i mean, if you've ever seen "do the right thing" (and you definitely should...any interest you might have in movies BEHOOVES you to see that movie)...if you've ever seen that movie, you know the power that public enemy has to sweep you up into a world you've never experienced ("we've got to fight the powers that be!").
so i went to the public enemy show, wondering what the atmosphere would be like. now, like most good people, i hope and pray that i do not have a racist impulse anywhere in my entire being, but know that there may be a few that come up unexpectedly that i have to fight off. that said, i wondered if i would draw some stares, assuming i would be one of only a few white folks at the show. boy was i wrong. first of all, there were a lot more white people there than i expected. secondly, if any of the black folks (or even people of other ethnicities) had a problem with me, as a white guy, being there...well, i wouldn't have been able to tell. the atmosphere could not have been more comfortable. i didn't feel like an outsider at all, i felt like i belonged there.
i think the idea is that, whether you share similar experiences with an artist (be it music, film, or otherwise), the point of their artistic expression is to demonstrate the point of view that their experiences have informed/influenced/created. now, most of you may be saying, "duh!". but that kind of concept is not always as easy to apply as it otherwise might be. the fact that eminem has had the experiences that he has had probably did something to earn him some respect, but i think most of the respect he's gotten in hip hop has to do with his talent or skill to be an effective storyteller.
while i could never necessarily understand what it is to experience the violence, poverty, or even just desperation that hip hop artists describe in their music, i believe that it is possible to be closer to some sort of empathy or appreciation for that point of view if i listen to their music than if i don't. as far as i'm concerned, that compels to me to listen to it, and hear what they're saying. do i have a right? i don't know!...
i'm white, and i listen to rap.