Commentators are quick to condemn it for glorifying violence and misogyny. But do they hear the positive messages within the lyrics?
In the aftermath of the Don Imus debacle, everyone from conservative pundits to rap mogul Russell Simmons has pointed a finger at hip-hop, arguing that while Mr. Imus's rant was inappropriate, rap stars get away with such sexist and racially charged language on a daily basis. And sure, there are plenty of rap songs that celebrate homophobia, intolerance, and women-bashing. But to say that hip-hop comprises only those qualities is like saying that country artists croon solely about pickup trucks.
I grew up in virtually all-white McMinnville, Ore., and, save for the occasional minority scholarship I didn't qualify for, have never been discriminated against. Yet, thanks to the magic of MTV, I became transfixed by hip-hop at an early age – begging my mom for rides to the local record store to pick up releases by LL Cool J, Dr. Dre, and the Beastie Boys. In each album, I found something familiar and relatable. In the gangstas trying to escape the violence of Compton, Calif., I saw myself wanting out of a small, stifling farm town; their rants against the police reminded me of teachers and others who never took the time to understand my perspective.
The fact that I – a petite, well-educated blond woman – am rushing to defend rap music should at least make you think twice before condemning hip-hop as a genre that celebrates violence and sexism.
Never once did listening to rap make me run out and buy a gun or sleep around. Rather, I was empowered by Salt-N-Pepa telling me "fight for your rights, stand up and be heard/ you're just as good as any man, believe that, word" and impressed by Tupac Shakur's willingness to rap unabashedly about his love for his mama.
When I moved to Los Angeles for college, I joined other young intellectuals in classes on black pop culture and black literature, where I was often the only white student. I was inspired to study the lynching of Emmett Till after hearing him mentioned not by Bob Dylan, but in a song by rapper Kanye West.