I was born to parents who were very much socially middle class, if not monetarily so. Because of this I had middle class friends, I did middle class things and I listened to a lot of middle class music, though my parents being the open minded sorts also had a lot of variety to the latter. The importance to this is that while I grew up I knew as some unknown middle class meme that Indie and Metal were awesome and rap was for idiots.
How little I knew.
Now after going through a sort of personal music renaissance in no small part assisted by my lovely flatmates I have learned some very important lessons, namely that it’s not about the genre, it’s about the quality of content.
Still, after reading a very interesting piece I realised that many people are held back by class based music tastes (the indie / rap divide and yes I know it’s far more complex than that.) Even if it’s not a matter they see as such, it is probably that they have an intimate knowledge of middle class music because that is what they listen to on the radio because of their parents and what not and the certain values they hold and ultimately won’t explore the deeper realms of another genre. Effectively they will know that U2 is kind of sucky but Bloc Party or The XX is cool (Shout out to Elliott Peoples yeah!). Whereas they won’t be able to tell the difference between 50cent and Public Enemy, This is a real shame for two reasons:
1. History has repeated itself: the music of the 1960’s was at first ignored by a lot of middle class kids who might have had anti establishment feelings, after all the early hippy music was the work of the sons of the post war working classes. Not all of it, but ever since the 1950’s rock and roll was considered dirty and low brow. It is a shame that rap has been tarred with the same brush.
2. Rap currently holds the chalice for offering a tune to resistance. It is no wonder that at in 1980’s America the counter culture was firmly in Rap (with honourable exceptions) and by the 1990’s in Britain too ,you know that time, when the indie music stopped being a bunch of Northern working class boys and turned into a leisure activity for middle class Londoners like me.
So now I shall defend rap, because even in a diminished state I would say that rap is an incredibly powerful force of resistance and adopting it will really make our resistance to American economic imperialism and general right wing devilry a lot more up to date.
So firstly to clear the air, yes, there is a lot of crap rap out there, there is also a lot of crap band music out there, they suffer the same problem which is the sanitising force of record labels and the marketing of music. Each genre is equally bad for different reasons, they can also be as good as each other, you just need to look, which is what this is all about really.
So before I actually go on to define some of the brilliance in rap music it is perhaps a good idea to look at what music is. What music boils down to is hitting certain pitches at certain times to develop a beat, you can expand beyond this as Orchestra’s do, or keep things real minimal, you can write good music with either. Because what is fundamental to modern music is that it is the communication of emotion. That’s the brilliance of music, you hit a few notes, maybe with some singing (though instrumentals prove you don’t need words) and people can feel a base sense of communication with the person, it is why there are so many people who develop almost cult like obsessions with bands, because it feels like the band is speaking directly to them. This is also why music is so powerful and threatening, because you can say so much more by communicating on the very base level of human feeling, something that not much else can do. Above all, it can be done with almost anything, those pitches aren’t constrained by any one instrument, they are esoteric and universal which is why it is pointless to ignore one whole genre of music.
So rap shouldn’t be ignored, but why should it be listened too? Because the medium itself is the zenith of what blues and rock started out doing that is to let almost anyone communicate powerful emotions. I say this because to rap you don’t even need to master an instrument; it’s about your mind and finding something to keep yourself to beat.
But what of substance?
Rap is what you make it, but it just so happens that the non-corporate rap, which is a large force of itself, is also a powerful embodiment for resistance. For a start huge amounts of it almost reverse what corporate power does. You know how the punks and stuff got made main stream when shredded jeans and studded jackets went on sale in stores? Well rap does the reverse by taking move soundtracks and all sorts of other sound bites and tears them apart, then revamps them and uses them to spit bars over. I mean fuck, that’s like taking the sanitising corporate structure then ripping bits off it and using it to savage them. No music genre since this has been able to turn it around so, and while yes large quantities of the rap industry are crappy sell outs, that’s how it is, it’s Sturgeons Law: “90% of everything is crap.”
But there is no point in listening to it if all they were rapping about was they are hard and get lots of women, that’s fair, I get that. It is a good thing then that the unsigned counter culture out there does nothing of the sort. Our counter culture of today is not spurned onwards by a hope for the future, it is rather a deep cynicism in the failure of our leaders to provide a better future, that our society is sick and is internally eroding and the many scandals that pervaded our system in recent years is testament to this. The true heirs of rap get this, their music is the perfect setting to those London riots, it’s about anger beyond sense, destruction beyond any reasons, it’s a: I’ll beat the shit out of you and throw you off your moral high ground how dare you idiots pass judgement on me with your hypocritical shell of a society. Listen to Meat Market by LDZ or Poison Penmanship by Rhyme Asylum. You may say they are just talking tough, but then you really don’t get were working people are coming from these days.
Still, if you’re not charmed by the esoteric ideas of resistance by existence and lifestyle, I will direct you finally to Immortal Technique. This guy has moved free of a label hundreds of thousands of his own records, and is well known on the East Coast as a talented free stylist. All his work is him rapping about the oppression of the third world and the Proletariat in general, class and societal issues with strong support for 3rd world industrial socialist principles. You want a living example of an anti establishment protest singer, don’t look for small venue middle class protest singers (not that they are bad or anything) look at a guy who was repeatedly thrown in jail before coming to his sense (his words) and now does all sorts of charity gigs, keeps his music totally independent of a label and puts vast amounts of money into land in Latin America, to understand the importance of the last listen to his music.
I would like to end this with a little quote by Ernst Fischer
“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it. “
Rap currently satisfies the first half of this excellently, it is with hard hitting imagery and coarse language able to show the sickness within our society. Perhaps if we become more open to this style of music the middle class can hope to add some vision of change within it too.
That is what I hope for anyway.