by Brook Gardner-Durbin
It’s been a rough month for rap fans, “Compton” or no. Keith Richards, the legendary fossil and co-frontman of The Rolling Stones, dismissed both artists and fans of the genre in an interview for the NY Daily News, saying “What rap did that was impressive was to show there are so many tone-deaf people out there.” He went on: “All they need is a drum beat and somebody yelling over it and they’re happy. There’s an enormous market for people who can’t tell one note from another.”
This came shortly after news that rapper Tyler the Creator was being denied entry to the UK for his scheduled tour. According to his manager, he’s been banned from the country for three to five years. The Guardian reported that the UK government sent him a letter saying “The Home Secretary has reached this decision because you have brought yourself within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviour by making statements that may foster hatred, which might lead to intercommunity violence in the UK.”
With these actions, the Richards and the Home Secretary have added their names to a long and undistinguished list of rap haters, and it’s well past time the genre got some respect. Rap is not a spring chicken, still wet behind the ears. For context, these baseless attacks are coming 42 years after DJ Kool Herc started deejaying block parties. It’s been 40 years since DJ Grand Wizard Theodore accidentally invented the “shigi-shigi” of a disk jockey’s scratch on a record (he was trying to stop a record spinning so he could listen to his mother), 36 years since The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” became the first rap hit.
“Straight Outta Compton” is older than some instructors on campus, “The Chronic” changed popular music forever before most core-class enrollees were born and “Illmatic,” were it alive, would be old enough to buy alcohol. Children born the day The Notorious B.I.G. died are old enough to be freshmen here at MSU and those born the day Jay Z released “The Blueprint” can drive.
Simply put, hip-hop has been around long enough that it deserves respect. It has established, at this point, that it is not a simple flash in the pan. With roots going back far further than the term “hip-hop” — coined by Lovebug Starski 41 years ago — rap music has paid its dues and should be treated as a legitimate, established art form.
I can understand the urge to dismiss rap as musically simplistic, or to look at some of the lyrics and conclude it poses a legitimate threat to the public welfare. The genre certainly has its share of regrettable releases — from the disgustingly misogynistic or materialistic to the homophobic, violent or simply stupid. If all I listened to was the radio I would probably dismiss the genre too.
That, however, would be as big a mistake as judging all films by “Transformers” or “Twilight,” or pooh-poohing all books after reading “50 Shades of Grey” or, well, “Twilight.”
There are hundreds of albums with gorgeous production. Pete Rock and CL Smooth, DJ Premier and countless other hip-hop producers have a long history of creating intricate tracks by combining samples and live recording — innovating techniques that are commonplace today.
Looking at the UK’s claims that Tyler the Creator’s lyrics pose a serious threat to the health of the country, it is clear that the argument holds no water. This is a case of anti-rap prejudices prevailing over any logical case.
After all, the artist had visited the UK for both pleasure and other tours numerous times since the offending songs were released — on 2009’s mixtape “Goblin” and 2011’s “Tron Cat” — without incident. Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, meanwhile, inspired two men in Boston to attack a homeless man, and yet remains cleared to land. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church and the Ku Klux Klan are allowed to fly to England, and Neo-Nazi rallies take place in the streets. Clearly, this is not actually about any legitimate fear a six-year-old song will incite hatred between communities.
Mr. Richards and the Home Secretary, like an ignorant freshman, are in dire need of a US 101 class. There, hopefully, they could learn that there are multiple ways to look at a given issue and that just because they don’t understand something doesn’t mean it is not art. Reading their comments, it’s hard to keep lyrics from my mind. More specifically, Jay Z’s famous question from “Renegade”: “Do you fools listen to music/ or do you just skim through it?”