Since its inception, hip-hop has endured endless attacks – typically, but not always, wrongheaded – mostly because of references to violence and for celebrating a culture that devalues women. When a wealthy, white radio host used a derogatory term to describe members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team, other wealthy, white men rushed to his aid by inexplicably pinning blame on hip-hop. Perhaps the fever pitch of misdirected blame on rap music was reached when Congress devoted time and resources into hearings probing the genre, another hilariously off-kilter spectacle in which a body of old, wealthy white men who authorize war wagged their fingers at the use of indelicate language.
But perhaps the most ignorant and insulting knock against hip-hop yet – and that’s saying something – is this suggestion from a writer at TheLoop21.com that it in spotlighting the gritty, ravaged neighborhoods from which many rappers emerged, the artists are actually glorifying poverty. It’s a ridiculous premise in virtually every imaginable way – the most obvious being that acknowledging poverty and desperation exist and treating them as if they’re worthy of aspiration are far, far different things.
The author confuses one of the most celebrated notions in hip-hop – pride in one’s roots – as a devastating concept that forces those who make it out of poverty to act as a sort-of one-man welfare agency for his deadbeat friends back home.
“This mentality of dependence is encouraged and glorified by rappers and then forced back upon the potential breadwinners of poor communities. Athletes, politicians and even members of are own family are thrust into positions of sharing with the hood.”
This is about as logical as knocking someone who sits at his mother’s bedside during chemo treatments of enabling cancer.
In other ways, the author simply seems laughably unaware of most popular hip-hop – he makes the bizarre assertion that hip-hop should embrace self-sufficiency, which is essentially the equivalent of suggesting country doesn’t talk enough about pick-ups trucks and American flags. The braggadocio and swagger that exemplifies hip-hop relies on artists reveling in having taken matters into their own hands. Take this Kanye West line from “Bring Me Down”: “Made a mil myself, and I’m still myself, and I’ma look in the mirror if I need some help.” That type of back-patting is typical of an artist and a genre that rewards those who climb out “tha hood” but who don’t forget those who never made it.
Notably, the suggestion that rap glorifies poverty ignores what has been an enduring – and valid – critique of hip-hop’s materialism. Rappers have long touted their bling, be it cars, clothes, jewelry, houses, whatever, precisely because those things are big, glittering symbols that they have escaped poverty. There are certainly arguments to be made that an obsession with diamonds and Dom shows misplaced priorities, but it’s hard to ignore these rappers’ desire to distance themselves from having very little and what it represents.
Look, don’t get me wrong – much as I love hip-hop, it is ripe for critiques, and indeed, many brilliant ones have been made. It’s a complex community with characters ranging from Soulja Boy to Mos Def, and anything that big, crowded and noisy is bound to have its problems. But this assertion is patently ridiculous – and so blind to even the most obvious and celebrated hallmarks of the genre it purports to want to help that it deserves to get called out.