Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Rap RIP?

Two articles caught my eye on the CNN website yesterday. The headline of the first asked, "Has Rap Music Hit a Wall?"; the other was, "Delivery of Kanye West's Meal Costs $3,900." Taken together, I think they offer an interesting look at an important issue.

My musical tastes are pretty varied, ranging from classical music to classic and contemporary country, soft rock, some hard rock, and a wide variety of international music. The one style of music I have never been able to stand, though, is rap, which has always struck me as nothing more than skull-splitting, pounding base driving shouted, grunted, violent, racist and misogenistic lyrics. The very "culture" (if I can use the word in this context) of rap and hip-hop, with its grindingly negative treatment of women and whites and its glorification of drugs, violence, and thuggery, poisons relations between the races and the sexes. At a time when America's black citizens are struggling to overcome a legacy of discrimination and poverty, one has to wonder why so many young people have chosen to glorify a musical style that's seems to glorify offending the largest number of people.

But that seems to be changing. According to the first of the CNN articles I cited, the allure of rap music and culture seems to be slipping. The article quotes rap insider Chuck Creekmur, who runs the web site Allhiphop.com, who says he got a message from a friend recently "asking me to hook her up with some Red Hot Chili Peppers because she said she's through with rap. A lot of people are sick of rap ... the negativity is just over the top now."

The negativity is just over the top now. This seems to sum up the problem with rap and hip-hop culture. You can only take so much of poorly-dressed, thuggish louts shouting violent and intolerant lyrics over a bass track. The CNN report goes on to note that rap music sales are slipping, with sales down a staggering 21% from 2005 to 2006, and that for the first time in 12 years no rap album was among the top 10 selling albums of the year. One can only hope that good musical taste and a growing sense of respect for others has begun to fill the cultural void that was rap.

The other article told the story of a dinner for rap star Kanye West, ordered from a restaurant in Wales for delivery to his affair in New York at a cost of almost $4,000 - not counting the travel and accommodations for the restaurant's head chef who will accompany the food for final preparation and serving.

Some overpaid and self-centered stars of music, movies, and television give us outrageous examples of excesses of behavior and consumption; others take stands on social and political issues and try to make the world a better place. Not paying much attention to the swamp of rap and hip-hop affairs, I don't know what else Mr West may do with his money and his time. But I think it's offensive that anyone would spend that much money on a dinner that would, according to the story as reported, cost about $17.50 if bought at the restaurant.

Conspicuous excess isn't a characteristic only of rap and hip-hop stars, of course - you can find examples in any musical, theater, or movie genre. But combined with an in-your-face style that maligns other races and sexes, it has to make one wonder just what such people really stand for, and whether they respect anyone or anything.

Rap is dead...one hopes. Happily, there's a world of real music out there to replace it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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