"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, August 19, 2010


What the ƒµ©√ happened to Rap music?

Like most folks (and by 'folks,' I am referring to white, middle-class 80's teens living in the suburbs), my first real exposure to Rap music was Licensed To Ill (1986) by the Beastie Boys.  Sure, I'd heard Rap before then*, but it was something that was pretty much off my musical radar.  Think about it.  MTV never played music by black artists until Michael Jackson** broke through with Thriller (1984), so many kids back then weren't exposed to anything but the most sanitized of popular music.  This explains the popularity of artists like Duran Duran and Journey.

I dare you to buy this shirt and wear it in public.
It was easy in those days to dismiss Rap as some kind of novelty music fad like 'Disco' or 'Love Songs.'  It wasn't until much later that I began to appreciate the genuine talents of acts like Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Onyx, Ice-T, Geto Boys, etc.  Sure, Sturgeon's Law dictates that most of it is garbage, *cough-Vanilla Ice-cough* but the good stuff is really, really good.
Above: Urban Carnivorous Mammal

Where was I going with this?  Oh, yeah...earlier, as I was getting my daughter ready for a fun-filled morning of getting sand all over herself at the park, a show came on Discovery Kids called Hip Hop Harry.  For those unfamiliar with this abomination, it's a show featuring someone in a yellow bear suit with baggy pants and a gold chain so big that it could sink both Mr. T and Flavor Flav at the bottom of the Hudson River.  Kinda like Barney's half-brother who lives wit his moms in da hood. Harry and his junior posse sing, dance and learn valuable life lessons.  I tell ya, there's nothing like watching 8 year-olds of indeterminate ethnic origin kickin' it grade skool-style.

Hmmm. I wonder what turned thi$ guy...
Yes, it's as inane as you think.  What's next?  The Notorious A.B.C. Variety Hour? Snoop Dog Pufnstuf?  It saddens me to see yet another authentic American art form marginalized, sanitized, packaged and spoon-fed to our kids just because it's there to be exploited.  What's even worse, even Rap's best of the best have grown up, sold out and cleaned up.  Yes, I am looking at you, Ice Cube!

...into thi$$$ guy?

Now, I realize I have no business faulting anyone for digging themselves out of a terrible situation and becoming successful. Especially when I can't relate in any meaningful way to being a part of that culture.  But to shamelessly exploit a genuinely powerful and endlessly fascinating art form by dressing a glorified teddy bear like a gangsta is the worst kind of cultural pandering.

Of course, my four year-old loved it.  Just wait until I let her listen to my copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

Kurtis Blow Presents The History Of Rap

*Most likely Blondie's Rapture (1981) was the first Rap song I ever heard, but even thirty years later I'm still not sure that song actually counts.

**TRIVIA- Interestingly, the Late 'King of Pop' was born African-American, but was later converted to Caucasian!  He accomplished this amazing feat by sleeping in a specially-constructed 'whitening chamber' invented by Pat Boone.

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