Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Community Destruction - The Hip Hop Version

Masculinity and the fact of maleness are a regular part of this website, as has been evidenced by earlier posts. In hip-hop is a genre that specifically speaks to adolescent boys (and sometimes older) and sends penetrating messages to them. The messages are often contradictory and have changed considerably as the genre has evolved (from Nas' "Got Yourself A Gun" to Kanye West adorning himself in women's clothing, the genre has come a long way).

Let's go for some real talk - with just about every predominant rapper has been some sort of history with weapons or violence. This doesn't just go for Tupac and Biggie, who were murdered at the height of their fame, but also for Eminem (whose case history is storied), Nas and Jay-Z (both involved in stabbings and weapons possession cases), Dr. Dre and others.

Is this representative of the problems of criminality in the black community, which has epic rates of incarceration that surpass any other group, including itself in prior periods of American history? Probably. I don't need to remind readers, however, that America is a chaotic, violent place, with crime happening at rates other countries couldn't hope to compete with. The rampages at places like Columbine and Virginia Tech are great illustrations of this.

It's not merely the morally degraded getting in on this game. Brother Ali, one of the greatest conscious rappers, a devout Muslim and devoted parents, has openly bragged about keeping a snub-nosed .38 while taking care of children. Eminem's tough talk seems to spawn not just from personal anger from his being bullied for a great deal of his life (along with family issues involving his mother and absent father) but also from his protection of his daughter Hailie and his two other, adopted daughters. These aren't bad guys but instead good people who decided that taking a tough pose was simply necessary to dissuade predators from touching their children or messing with them.

Deep within this issue may be the community bonds of our society. The institutions that typically build community are, if not completely wrecked, severely hurt in this country. Churches have become anonymous megachurches instead of intimate communal gatherings, public institutions are better inclined towards career advancement than building relationships and old public institutions like local candy shops, theaters, groceries have been taken apart and replaced with Wal-Mart, Target, RedBox, iTunes and all sorts of equally disengaging community substitutes.

Of course, I am writing as someone diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, so my vision may be skewed, but I have noticed community and social disconnect among people that are supposed to have way better social skills than me. They also get into fights and don't seem to have relationships so much as extended one night stands. It's a hyper atomized society that America is living right now and it's about as healthy as a hole in the head. No matter what cases your favorite rapper catches, the worst points of hip-hop are more representative of bad trends in American society, rather than an illustration of some rogue element of society that we can all feel righteous over.

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