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gangsta rap

Gangsta rap (1986- ) is the main form of hip hop music listened to by white Americans, who buy most of it. It is the sort of hip hop done by acts like Ice T, NWA, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z and Eminem. It is famous for holding women and the law in low regard.

Gangsta rap is a white form of hip hop. Sure, the performers are nearly all black, but who is the audience? Follow the money. It is not music by blacks for blacks, but by blacks for whites.

When it comes to race, America has changed hugely since 1950. So maybe whites at last can enjoy black music in and of itself and not in some form that has been changed for them.

But if whites are suddenly so colour-blind, then why does gangsta rap play to the worst images that whites have about blacks – as violent and oversexed? Is it because they are true? Is this what KRS-One meant when he said the essence of rap is to interpret the consciousness of the people? Or is it just what white people like to buy and hear?

Look at the cover of Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle” (1993), the album that made his name. It has a naked black woman sticking her head in a doghouse. This is just how white men have seen black women for hundreds of years: as animals, as faceless sex objects, as something to rape. It looks like something straight out of the Jim Crow museum. The minstrel show is back in town.

Gangsta rap did not create racism, but it has become its well-paid handmaiden. Helping white people everywhere feel good about themselves. And putting pictures in everyone’s heads about black people that will be there for a long, long time.

But what about all those songs about violence against the police? Surely they at least are “black”.

Blacks in cities have no great love for the police, it is true, but songs about killing them is not natural to black America. Music is something that comes from churches and clubs where such themes would be out of place. But they are not out of place for a 13-year-old white boy sitting in his room, hating how he has to listen to his parents, his teachers and the law. It is as old as rock music.

The themes common to gangsta rap – women as sex objects, drugs and violence – come from rock music by way of the Beastie Boys, not from black music.

The general sound and feeling of gangsta rap is so close to rock music that Jay-Z and Linkin Park, a rock band, could do a song together. It sounded surprisingly natural. Ice T, one of the founders of gangsta rap, even had a heavy metal rock band, Body Count.

Not all of gangsta rap is a coon show, of course. Tupac Shakur is an example. But too much of it is – and the rest of hip hop is not completely innocent either.

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White American music currently comes in four main forms: rock, country, pop and, I would argue, gangsta rap.

The glory days of White American music were from about the 1940s to the 1990s. Hip hop and especially the Internet is killing off what is left of it among white performers.

White Americans, because of their wealth and numbers, have had a huge effect on world music. But in a sense most of what they listened to in the late 1900s was a British form of black American music. Of the top 20 best-selling albums in America, 15 come from Britain.

To a large degree White American music is watered-down black music. The swing music of the 1940s came from jazz, while rock and pop came from rhythm and blues (R & B) and gangsta rap from hip hop. Some of its top performers, like Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Madonna and Snoop Dogg, modelled themselves directly on black performers. (Snoop Dogg is black, but his blackness is as studied as the others’, a black in blackface.)

Disco aside, before the 1990s it was rare for whites in America to listen mainly to black music. Which is curious because it was right there at the end of the radio dial the whole time. But whites in Britain did listen to it, enough of them, which is why there have been repeated British invasions. The British would copy black music, change it a bit, and then become huge hits in White America.

In the middle 1960s rock was still a white form of black music, but then in the late 1960s The Who and other bands started to change rock into something very different.

Some things to keep in mind about White American music:

  • The melody or tune is far more important than the beat.
  • The words do not matter that much.
  • Music is largely a private experience. It is something that comes from a machine, like an iPod or a record player, not from churches and dance clubs.
  • For the most part it is not meant to make you dance or move your soul. It is more like the wallpaper of your life.
  • Apart from anger, there seems to be little deep feeling in it.

Rock sounds terrible to the untrained ear, like the noise a machine might make. You have to listen to it for a while before you can begin to understand it and enjoy it.

Gangsta rap seems to be a form of White American music. Of all the forms of hip hop it is closest to rock and sells the best, mainly to whites. Its videos and words tend to play to the worst stereotypes whites have about blacks, like the old minstrel shows. It is no more a form of black music than were the coon songs of the 1890s.

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