"Hip-hop was a problem because an underclass that had been left to die didn’t, and instead created a music decrying their conditions that was vivid, troubling and beautiful, a declaration of existence in the face of those who’d condemned them to oblivion. It screwed up the narrative, and thus was born an anti-rap racism in which symptom became cause, laments of violence and deprivation becoming justifications for violence and deprivation. Anti-rap racists hear rap music as proof that black men pose a uniquely violent danger to the American status quo, even as the entire trajectory of that status quo suggests it’s the other way around. As theories of history go it’s both aggressively incorrect and depressingly unoriginal.
Disliking hip-hop doesn’t make you a racist any more than liking hip-hop makes you not a racist, and I’m sure there are plenty of Stormfront enthusiasts with Rick Ross in their iTunes. If you don’t like Jay-Z because you just don’t like the way he sounds, or you’re sick of his cloying ubiquity, or you wish he’d talk about something other than where he’s from for five seconds—hey, I’m not mad, I don’t like Bruce Springsteen for the same reasons. But if you don’t like rap music—a genre that contains multitudes—because of a self-satisfied moralism, or because you’re scared of it, or because you wish those people would stop talking about their problems and get out of your television and radio and kids’ bedrooms: well.
And I’m not just talking about the American right, I’m talking about all the well-meaning white folks who’ve told me how they want to like Lil Wayne but lo, the misogyny, the violence, the drugs. But, but, I’ll say: Bob Dylan aced misogyny; the Rolling Stones sang about violence; the Velvet Underground knew their way around some drugs. Yeeeah, but it’s different, they’ll say, elongating that “yeah” with conspiratorial inflection: you know what I mean. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.
Rap music doesn’t get unarmed kids shot to death, “it’s different” does. “It’s different” infuses “these assholes always get away” and gives solace to people who hear that sound bite and nod their empty heads in agreement. “It’s different” is the same logic that suggests a teenager’s skin color combined with the music he listened to means he had it coming, and it’s the same logic that lets a bunch of people feign outrage over a teenager’s use of the n-word to describe himself when they’re really just outraged that he beat them to the punch."
"In a way, Kanye’s entire discography is leading to this (probable) point—his first two records were about reaching the top, Graduation was about loving life there, 808’s and Heartbreak was how the top can fuck up your personal life, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was about growing restless at the top, and Watch the Throne found him and Jay-Z negotiating the idea of why there weren’t more black men at the top. And now, it seems, Kanye’s taking stock of the world as he sees it from upon high, and deciding that he doesn’t like what’s flashing in front of his Fendi frames. The fact that the biggest black entertainer in the country even made those two records and debuted them on the beyond-white bread Saturday Night Live is huge. This isn’t Das Racist razzing a few privileged white kids at Music Hall of Williamsburg. This is Kanye West going into a million white people’s living rooms and saying, “Look at the terrible things your people have done to my people and are still doing to my people. We are not going to take it. I’m so pissed right now I wouldn’t even be here if I didn’t have something incredibly urgent to say. Fuck you.” That’s a powerful act, something that you can put up there with things that Bob Marley or Tupac did. I know that’s outlandish, but one day we’ll be holding Kanye West up next to those guys, so we might as well start now."