Kenny Drew, Jr., is pissed off. In “What the F**k Happened to Black Popular Music?” the black jazz musician wonders if Ludacris, 50Cent, et al., aren’t “a sign of the coming Apocalypse.” “And if 50Cent was really shot nine times,” he writes in the normally staid All About Jazz, “why couldn’t one of those bullets have hit a vital organ? Who the fuck was shooting at him: Stevie Wonder? And as far as all these black rappers getting shot, how about a little equal opportunity violence here? Can’t somebody pop a cap in Eminem’s white ass?”
Drew insists that he’s “disgusted and sickened” by the “stupidity and negativity” of “this so-called ‘music.’” Yet his response is to swear, make fun of blind people, and wish that people would, you know, pop caps.
He’s rapping, in other words. He’s signifying . . .
Way, way down in the jungle deep
The badass lion stepped on the signifying monkey’s feet.
The monkey said, “Motherfucka, can’t you see?
You’re standing on my god damn feet!”
The lion said, “I ain’t heard a word you said.”
Said, “If you say three more I’ll be steppin’ on yo muthafuckin’ head!”
It’s not clear whether Drew knows that he’s the signifying monkey; if he did, you’d think he’d have a sense of humor about it. After all, he’s trying to beat those muthafuckas at their own game, etc. Instead, his rant just feels awkward & elderly:
Last, but not least, it’s time to address the musical quality of this bullshit, or more accurately, the lack of it. Way back when, when I first started studying music I was told that music had to consist of three elements: melody, harmony and rhythm. Rap music (an oxymoron similar to “military intelligence “or “jumbo shrimp”) has basically discarded the first two elements and is left with nothing but rhythm.
Since only one element of music is present in most of this crap it doesn’t even justify being called music. Our culture has been dumbed down to the point where your average dumb-ass American can’t tell the difference between a truly great musician and somebody who’s been studying their instrument for a week.
I can’t imagine that 50Cent gives two shits how you classify his crap or justify his rap. He’s rich. What are you? It’s true that what Drew’s talking about—the violence & misogyny & homophobia—is all there in hip-hop. It’s there on the streets, too, and that’s the point. And no, you don’t have to study an instrument. But it doesn’t take that much talent to learn three chords on a guitar and start singing country songs, either, and there’s a shitload of violence in them, too. Garth Brooks made a killing off a hit song innocently titled “Papa Loved Mama” in which a jealous husband takes care of his cheating wife by driving his semi through her motel room. (“Papa loved Mama, Mama loved men / Now Mama’s in the graveyard and Papa’s in the pen.”)
That would be an interesting conversation to have: Do we want all the ugliness of the world celebrated on Top 40 radio? But deciding that if you don’t like it, it’s not actually music, well, I defer to Ludacris: “Blow it out yer ass!”
IMAGE: Detail from Dreams of Eshu by Kiyotei