Although I participated in a token amount of media icon worship when I was in my teens, there were a couple of reasons I didn’t take it to an extreme.
One, I had already taken it into my head that I wanted to be a professional musician. Two, I had parents who loved music – I mean, really loved music – so I was raised on a steady diet of classical, jazz, blues, Afro-Cuban, calypso, West African, as well as AM and FM pop and rock music. In such an environment, it was difficult to hold to a fad for too long. I started teaching myself piano when I was about six, and now play five instruments. I’m currently working on the sixth.
Growing up in the metropolitan New York area, I associated freely with different kinds of people (actually, this is more or less unavoidable in New York). A fair number of these were impoverished black people, but more importantly, culturally impoverished black people.
Here’s the difference: Lots of people are poor. Some are fortunate enough to have been exposed to values which enable them to endure their poverty with dignity and to use their God-given talents and the opportunities available in our society to render their poverty academic – meaning that they may die poor, but their children probably won’t. Economically impoverished, but not necessarily culturally impoverished.
Others – and this is particularly true in large cities where entitlement programs and class envy are firmly entrenched – become drawn into the mindset which is fostered in such an environment. Within a generation or two, faith, family, belief in education, ethics and personal responsibility become alien concepts. Culturally impoverished as well as economically impoverished.
While it is undeniable that black culture has contributed immeasurably to American art forms, like the questionable values that abound in urban areas, questionable art forms also have their genesis in these cultural tide pools.
As a child, I used to play games with other kids. Now, during the course of play, kids sometimes sing songs and recite rhymes. Hanging out with many of these culturally impoverished black kids, occasionally I would hear (and occasionally participate in) a form of rhyming that, ironically, had its roots in jazz and Southern blues.
It was base. It was profane. It was gratuitously spiked with a degree of violence and sexual innuendo inappropriate to the age of the kids who were reciting it.
It was rap.
We’re talking about 5 to 10-year-old kids, by the way. Back in, oh, around 1967. The only difference was lack of production. No synthesizers, drum machines, sampling or loops. But it was the same thing nonetheless. Lots of black people will know what I’m talking about, though I doubt that many will admit to it.
Years later, as a semi-professional musician frustrated with the degree to which I perceived I would have to compromise my artistic integrity to avoid living in a Maytag box while working in the music industry, I made a passing – but prophetic – comment to a bandmate: “Before you know it, people are going to be making millions spouting that foul-mouthed crap we used to hear out on the stoop – and we’ll still be trying to get our foot in the door.”
Contrary to what multiculturalists would have us believe, rap is no more a substantive or integral part of black culture than pimpery or drug addiction. Despite the fact that the entertainment industry would have us believe that this “art form” is innocuous and even valuable, the gesticulating, unhygienic illiterates in rap music will be idolized and emulated by our kids. Those whose parents do not have the presence of mind to curtail their exposure to them will be lost.
Rap is garbage. It has always been garbage, one of the lowest forms of so-called “art” born of a culture that labels urine-immersed religious icons and public sex acts with root vegetables as art.
As much of a capitalist as I am, I hate to admit that, in the end, we have to follow the money. Record company executives, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who favor the bottom line over the kind of world their descendants will have to live in are far more to blame than a handful of undereducated, foul-mouthed, marginally-talented thugs who were born into a society that had long since abandoned its values.