WHITE RAPPER FAQ Part 2
This is a follow up to this post here: http://aamerrahman.tumblr.com/post/53978736048/white-rapper-faq
1. ARE YOU SAYING WHITE PEOPLE CAN’T LISTEN TO RAP?
Stop projecting your anxieties onto me. You’re white. You can do pretty much whatever you want. It’s a sweet deal.
2. IF SOMEONE LOVES A CULTURE LIKE HIP-HOP, AREN’T THEY ALLOWED TO BE PART OF IT? BLACKFACE WAS ABOUT MOCKERY. WHITE RAPPERS LOVE HIP-HOP, THAT’S WHY THEY MAKE RAP MUSIC.
Blackface wasn’t just about mockery. It was an industry, a structured form of entertainment that allowed white people to benefit from their projections of black culture. A key element was the ability to define blackness to a white audience and profit from this performance. This whole issue is as much about the economic dimensions of white rap and its relationship to an audience as it is about the basic intentions behind it.
A white rapper like Iggy Azalea acts out signifiers which the white majority associates with black culture - hyper sexuality, senseless materialism, an obsession with drugs, money and alcohol – as well as adopting clothing, speech and music – as a costume that they can put on and discard at will. It’s a cheap circus act.
3. WHY ARE YOU BLAMING THESE WHITE ARTISTS FOR BEHAVIOUR THAT IS REGULARLY CELEBRATED BY BLACK ARTISTS?
Supply only exists to meet demand. In fact, the hyper-sexual, materialist and misogynist trends we see in mainstream rap are a manifestation of the desires and imagination of a majority white consumer base. In other words, these are the images of blackness white people want to see being reproduced for their entertainment and consumption.
This white fanbase has demanded increasingly fetishised images of black and brown people for almost 3 decades now - I mean seriously, I recently heard two white radio hosts (a man and a woman) discussing how much they wanted to touch Nicki Minaj’s ass to see whether it was real or not. Like some kind of modern day Hottentot Venus. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_hottentot).
But while they are fundamental part of the shaping of commercial rap and its problematic imagery, white people take none of the blame. The economic structure of the music industry dictates that black people do not control the production of rap music, but must simultaneously be held accountable for its problems and answer for all of its shortcomings.
3. WHY IS IT OK FOR AN ARTIST LIKE SCRIBE (FROM NEW ZEALAND) TO RHYME IN AN AMERICAN ACCENT BUT NOT SOMEONE LIKE IGGY AZALEA? THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THAT IGGY IS WHITE AND SCRIBE IS NOT.
Scribe and Iggy Azalea are not simply ‘different’ because of the colour of their skin. Race is not just some cosmetic difference between people. In this case it is the door to a discussion about class, history and culture.
Hip-hop was created and pioneered by people who had directly suffered colonisation, slavery, intergenerational poverty, criminalisation, drug epidemics, racial profiling, demonisation by media, over-policing and mass imprisonment. Hip-hop has always naturally resonated with people around the world who have experienced similar things – just look at the rise of Arab/ Muslim Hip-Hop in the last decade (and across the 3rd World in general).
Scribe has actually grown up in a community directly affected by racism and poverty. His American accent is in no way the type of appropriation being exercised by someone like Iggy Azalea, who basically impersonates her idea of a black woman for fun.
So if you participate in a culture built heavily on people’s experiences of racism but you have never experienced racism yourself, tread lightly. Basically, everyone take a page out of Brother Ali’s book. Last time I saw him live, he took a whole chunk out of his show to genuinely talk to the mostly white crowd about privilege, racism, colonialism and their part in it. If you simply take from a culture without giving back to its legacy, or at least consistently acknowledging the people who pioneered it, you are a thief.
This ‘post-racial’ and ‘colour-blind’ idea that Hip-Hop ‘belongs to nobody,’ that ‘anyone can rap’ with no strings attached is basically to deny and delete the history of a culture. Only an incredible sense of arrogance and white entitlement could lead someone to the conclusion that Hip-Hop’s roots as a rejection of violent oppression and racism are suddenly irrelevant, especially when those conditions still exist today.
6. YOU CALLED YOUR POST ‘WHITE RAPPERS FAQ.’ DID YOU REALLY MEAN ALL WHITE RAPPERS? WHAT ABOUT MACKLEMORE/ AESOP ROCK/ (INSERT CONSCIOUS WHITE RAPPER HERE)?
My first post was specifically about artists like Iggy Azalea and Kreashawn. Of course there has always been a spectrum of white artists in Hip-Hop who engage with the art differently with different levels of respect and self-awareness (see Brother Ali above). However, simply being conscious does not give you immunity to criticism or the right for people to question your presence and intent. Regardless of how ‘conscious’ a white rapper might be, all the points in (2), (3), (4) and (5) still apply.
Also, for everyone who keeps screaming ‘Macklemore!’ at me, please explain this:
7. WHAT ABOUT EMINEM?
I specifically didn’t talk about Eminem because Harry Allen (Public Enemy’s one time ‘Director of Enemy Relations’) wrote this amazing piece in The Source 10 years ago:
Everything in that article is still 100% relevant and true, and yes - Eminem opened the door for all of this.
8. RE: FALLON/ TIMBERLAKE ‘HISTORY OF RAP’ - OH, SO YOU’RE SAYING THAT BLACK THOUGHT AND QUESTLOVE ARE TOO STUPID TO KNOW THEY ARE PART OF SOME MINSTREL SHOW?
No, I’m saying that capitalism means people have bills to pay and they end up in compromised positions. It also means that talentless people are regularly rewarded over those with genuine ability. So instead of being truly celebrated as a genius and being able to program his own 24-hour music network, a pioneer like Questlove has to play drums on Jimmy Fallon’s show five nights a week.
Imagine how much smarter your kids would be if they grew up watching Questlove TV instead of MTV.
* EDIT: Yeah, I photoshopped Elvis’s face onto Eminem. LOL.