Saturday, May 26, 2018

Wynton Wasn't Wrong!

“I don’t think we should have a music talking about ni**ers and b*tches and h*es... I’ve said it. I’ve repeated it. I still repeat it. To me that’s more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee.”

Wynton Marsalis

That quote from Wynton Marsalis on Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast “Cape Up” put him squarely in the sights of #BlackTwitter. He was absolutely obliterated. His criticisms of rap were dismissed as the rantings of a cane waving old man. The following day Marsalis wrote a 1,074-word Facebook post clarifying his position. This recurring conversation about rap has deeper social consequences than many of the folks attacking him seem willing to admit.

Criticisms of rap, no matter how reasonable, have a way of pitting people from different age groups, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds against each other. Many of Marsalis’s critics chose to attack him instead of the arguments he used to support his position. This is sad. His use of Robert E. Lee and Confederate statues was provocative, but his logic was sound. We should be morally and intellectually honest enough to admit that misogyny, homophobia, drug use, drug distribution, and soft genocide are constitutive themes in a lot of the music produced today. This doesn’t mean all rap.

I say this as a 43-year-old ordained member of clergy who listens to rap every day. I will always love rap: even though I can't stand a majority of the kids making it these days. For me, rap has always been about the beats. Good songs always have great beats, and great songs have great beats and great lyrical content. It’s possible to love a problematic genre of music and tell the truth about it. Rap is awesome, but there are artists and songs I don’t play in front of kids and polite company. This is true for movies as well.

There are so many negative artistic and literary representations of Black people that they seep into the consciousness of a society. This is damaging. Many of today’s rappers have more in common with actors and reality stars than the image they portray. Sadly, many of the kids listening don't always know this. Imitation is a form of flattery, but when Black children mimic the actions of their favorite rappers the consequences can be deadly.

Marsalis’s words parallel those of bell hooks and others who have critiqued rap from inside the Black community. No one has to agree or disagree with these criticisms but ridiculing them doesn’t make them go away. I don’t agree with everything he said, but I respect him for the way he explained his feelings. He didn’t go the Fox news route and try to diminish the community while distancing himself from Blackness. He didn’t coon or sellout.

What we are seeing in rap is the logical conclusion to the evolutionary path the genre has been on. I had a mixtape in the 90’s titled: Music To Do Drive-Bys To. It was as cd of freestyles over some of the hardest beats down south producers were making back then. I look back on that album and realize the problems with it. This doesn’t make me better than a kid listening to Lil Pump or Migos. A lot of the kids making music today were raised by people who exposed them to the same music I was listening to. As a community it behooves us to come to grips with the impact rap has had on too many kids. This is an important conversation that more parents and kids need to have.

I love a problematic genre of music. Our society is never giving up materialism or vanity, so those themes will always be reflected in art. Rap isn’t all bad. There have always been people rapping about systemic racism, poverty and the existential angst that comes with living in America. Kendrick Lamar and Future are the progeny of the genre that produced KRS1 and 2 Live Crew. As consumers of the art form and people concerned with our community, we have to he honest about this reality. Wynton Marsalis isn’t our enemy. He’s more of an ally than the record labels benefitting from Black pain and suffering.

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