November 26, 2005

Dennis Dale on Hip-Hop and France

Dennis Dale's Untethered blog offers an important analysis of rap music in the context of discussing its influence on the French riots.

Hip hop has its roots in African traditions of rhythmic chanting to extol the virtues of one’s self or clan above ones rivals. While this tradition has meandered along beneath the surface of the remarkable progress of African American music and was kept alive as an oral tradition, it would wait to become rap as part of the revolutionary DJ culture to spring up in the creative void left by disco’s exhaustion. Highly inventive DJs innovating the techniques which infuse popular music today, such as extended breaks, sampling, and scratching, and the nascent MCs who would improvise a rap over these extended breaks, would forge pop music’s most powerful genre since rock and roll.

Having come of age in the post sixties environment, hip hop was politicized early on, with some of its most renowned acts, such as Public Enemy, Nas, and KRS-1 invoking standard political boilerplate and cliche in their lyrics. Yet for all the political freight loaded onto it, rap remains a defiantly narcissistic art form primarily for young men to extol their sexual prowess and physical bravery, not very different from that early tribal chant. Rap is rebellion, no doubt about it. But what it rebels against isn’t a racist culture; what it rebels against is socialization—its stultifying, civilizing nature; what it seeks to replace it with is a clan-based ethos ruled by the physically strongest, cruelest, and most daring.

It is, above all, a deeply atavistic reaction to modern, egalitarian, democratic society. It shares with fascism its disdain for democratic institutions; though unlike fascism, which would institute ethnic nationalism and central authority in place of democratic or republican rule, rap has no analysis beyond a vague disdain for all that is unfamiliar to the narrow credo of the ‘hood; no designs other than the rule of the streets, race against race, clan against clan. As a political movement, and thankfully it isn’t truly that, it would be something worse than fascism; it would have to be classified as reactionary primitivism.

What one isn’t allowed to notice is how strikingly similar hip hop culture is to African tribal culture. The tradition of men procreating with various women who are then left to raise the children; the raising up and adulation of strongmen rulers; the clannishness; the recognition of power as a value in its own right and the disdain of weakness; the emphasis on personal ornamentation; the superstition and prejudice against the unfamiliar; the impatience with logical rigor; these are defining values of both hip hop and African culture. They serve to keep Africans uneducated and impoverished both in the mother continent and in America, and they may be doing the same thing in Europe.

The irony of all this, and it’s a larger discussion for another time, is that the expression of these values through hip hop on the stage that American commerce and democracy create has produced a level of wealth and cultural power for African people everywhere that was previously unimaginable; all while rap’s lyrical content can seem like an endless droning on the subject of America’s inherent evil. Now we have the irony of the system paying young men to denounce the system. Self caricature is the only place to go at this point. [More]

And here's his tribute of sorts to the late Ol' Dirty Bastard of the Wu Tang Clan.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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