Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Republican Machine vs. Common (the rapper)

I'm torn. One of my top 2-3 favorite rappers from the 90s (not so much from the 00s) is in the news and is being disparaged by my fellow Republicans. Whose side to take?!

If you haven't heard Common has been invited to the White House by Michelle Obama to participate in a poetry forum, or some such event. Common, as far as popular rappers go, is a relatively unconstroversial figure and, if anything, is something of a posterboy for soft, positive, 'conscious' rap. Still, even rappers of this archetype can't avoid the occasional use of violent, homophobic or misogynistic rhetoric, if only employed metaphorically.

Larry Elder posted a link to an appearance on Def Poetry Jam by Common in which he referenced carrying a gun and cop killing on multiple occasions within a single verse, and there isn't much room to interpret him metaphorically. Add the instances of such lyrics to the fact that he has voiced support of Mumia Abdul-Jamal and attended Reverend Jeremiah Wright's church and you can see why conservative commentators would consider the man to be an absolute menace. Ideologically, I actually share their concerns. I've always enjoyed Common as an artist (especially from 1994-1997) but don't necessarily share much common ground with him in terms of ideology. For me his most offensive work is probably his (non-violent, 'positive') song "G.O.D." in which he pronounces faith in a kind of Unitarian, new-agey, 'spiritual' God (the first line that springs to mind is: "Curiosity killed the cat-echism / understandin' and wisdom became the rhythm / that I played to". Yuck.), though that's admittedly a matter of theological difference and not something that should count against him being invited to the White House.

As far as mainstream hip-hop goes, Common is about as non-violent, positive and uncontroversial as they come. Yet, I have to concede, he is still somewhat violent in his lyrics and a bit controversial in some of his social stances. Hip-hop is a rebellious, urban culture though, so this is hardly surprising that even their most benign are still considered to be dangerous and controversial by conservative America. Does this mean conservative America needs to lighten up, perhaps come out of their protective shell a bit? Or is it a sad testament to the fact that even hip-hop's best are still not very good? Probably a little bit of both.

In any case, I have to side with my Republican comrades on this one, in the end, simply because this is an ideological issue, not an aesthetic one.

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