R. Justin Shepherd | PART-TIME PUNDIT


Read a Book: Six disclaimers
12.July.2007, 9.13 pm
Filed under: commentary, music, race

I’m a sucker for clever social commentary, especially when it comes wrapped in parody that, at first glance, is offensive. Not offensive for the sake of offending, but offensive for the sake of waking us up.

And it’s hard for me to know what to say next. A white male blogging on race and culture… well, needless to say trouble lurks ’round every corner. But I saw something today* that woke me up… or, rather, shook my sensibilities in such a way that I couldn’t help blogging about it; in fact, it’s been stuck in my mind for hours now, and it’s probably not going anywhere.

When I was about 14, I went to youth camp—it was here, oddly enough, that I first heard “Gangsta Rap,” specifically Dr. Dre’s classic “The Chronic.” A huge marijuana leaf graced the cover, and the thematic material included gang violence, lurid misogyny and gutter sexuality, and illegal drug use. Some 10-15 years later, much of popular rap music is still dealing with the same subject manner, often in a glorifyingly carefree way. Some argue that it’s “reality;” others (to borrow a term from a different genre) “noise pollution.” Meanwhile, Bill Cosby grabs headlines for speeches encouraging “the black community” to stop glorifying violence, drug use and misogyny… urging parents to act like parents, urging children to pursue their educations and to stay away from drug culture.

Complicating the situation, for me anyway, is the fact that plenty of mature, professional black people enjoy gangsta rap—not to mention all the white male teens and twentysomethings who revel in it. Some of my black coworkers listen to it, yet they’d never see themselves as “hoes” or argue that life on the street is fun and edifying. They’re awesome people, and if I—or anyone, for that matter—ever said or implied that they matched the gangsta rap stereotype, I’d be cursed/slapped/fired/ostracized, and for good reason.

Yet the stereotype pervades, in large part because of rap music. Black Entertainment Television**—pretty much the only nationwide cable network devoted to black culture—plays this kind of garbage at all hours of the day: half-naked women, gawking and flailing in pornographic bliss, set to the beat of an 808 and to the words of some man talking about his conquests and his rims and his crimes and his sex appeal. It’s sad, and it’s infuriating, and yet the black community—no, wait, America—keeps buying it.

And that’s where the parody comes in. A rapper/poet named Bomani Armah put together a rap video that takes deadly aim at the pervasiveness of misogynistic, violent, ignorant rap music and at the masses that let themselves listen to it day in and day out. It’s totally offensive—in fact, just watching it makes a white guy feel a little guilty, as if he’s eavesdropping on a conversation he wasn’t invited into—yet it’s somehow amazing, and it’s got the power to start a major discussion on race, class, ethics and socioeconomics.

Anyway, I think I’ve said all I can say. Below is the video, which is animated. But first, a few disclaimers. I urge you, SERIOUSLY, to consider these things before you push play.

  1. If profanity is a stumbling block for you, don’t watch it. There’s a LOT of profanity. Nothing sexual or gross about the language, but it’s filled with cursing. And while I’m not in the habit of broadcasting such stuff, I think it’s worth it for those of you who share my fascination with such parody/commentary.***
  2. If you haven’t seen a rap video in the past few years, you won’t understand the visual component. There’s lots of booty shaking and bling-blingin’, a bit of raunchy sexuality, and the images move a warp speed. Be prepared.
  3. If you haven’t heard a rap song in the past few years, this one will seem really repetitive… you may think, “Who is this guy? Why can’t he write more than ten words per verse?” Yet this is exactly what passes for music these days… There are plenty of good rappers out there, don’t get me wrong. But most of the crap they play on radio and TV sounds exactly like this.
  4. I don’t necessarily agree with all parts of the message.
  5. I don’t necessarily disagree with all parts of the message.
  6. In a purely spiritual sense, there’s nothing particularly edifying. However, there’s a lot to think about: For the target audience (black youth, mainly, and other rap listeners), a message that’s rarely been offered in such a radical medium; and for others (like me), an opportunity for reflection on subconscious prejudices, assumptions, and direct/indirect advancement of stereotypes.

Okay. So you got this far: Here it is. (If you’re disappointed… well, sorry.)

*Thanks to Adam for pointing me to this.

**Black Entertainment Television has, in fact, aired this video on a number of occasions.

***Does the music sound familiar? It’s possible you know it as what it originally was, which is a classical piece (the composer’s name escapes me). But the actual arrangement that’s been sampled and looped is the theme to “Judge Judy,” a show which at once glorifies and exploits minorities, immigrants and the American lower class in general. Which, in my opinion, makes the video all the better.

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5 Comments so far
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Lol. Thanks, Justin. This was good. Dan Greeson and I got a kick out of this tonight. Of course, the same could be parodied in much of “white” country music…

Comment by kevinburt

Nothing makes an artist feel better than being understood, this is a great blog. Hell, being misunderstood feels good as well, you should check out some of the comments on the youtube posting. Thanks for bringing attention to my work.

Peace

Bomani
“Music is the Language of Spirits”

Comment by Bomani

Very interesting. It’s definitely a world away from “school house rock”… definitely some thought provoking references to varius stereotypes, particularly ones dealing with sexuality… thanks for posting!

Comment by adriane

After watching like a thousand times it appears to me that all its didactics are directed toward men. Wonder why women’s shortcomings weren’t also addressed.

Comment by Derek

[…] was deleted by the YouTube copyright team. But ten more popped up in its place… the post, Read A Book: Five Disclaimers, is now updated and the video works […]

Pingback by Copyright infringment «




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