Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

K Sanneh on Hip-Hop Outrage

K does what he does–provides a smart metanarrative on the hip-hop debate:

You can scoff at Mr. Simmons’s modest proposal, but at the very least, he deserves credit for advancing a workable one, and for endorsing the kind of soft censorship that many of hip-hop’s detractors are too squeamish to mention. Consumers have learned to live with all sorts of semi-voluntary censorship, including the film rating system, the F.C.C.’s regulation of broadcast media and the self-regulation of basic cable networks. Hip-hop fans, in particular, have come to expect that many of their favorite songs will reach radio in expurgated form with curses, epithets, drug references and mentions of violence deleted. Those major corporations that Mr. Cooper mentioned aren’t very good at promoting so-called positivity or wholesome community-mindedness. But give them some words to snip and they’ll diligently (if grudgingly) snip away…

The strangest thing about the last few weeks was the fact that hardly any current hip-hop artists were discussed. (All these years later, we’re still talking about Snoop Dogg?) Maybe that’s because hip-hop isn’t in an especially filthy mood right now. It sounds more light-hearted and clean-cut than it has in years. Hip-hop radio is full of cheerful dance tracks like Huey’s “Pop, Lock & Drop It,” Crime Mob’s “Rock Yo Hips,” Mims’s “This Is Why I’m Hot” and Swizz Beatz’s “It’s Me, Snitches.” (The title and song were censored to exclude one of the three inflammatory words — proof that this snipping business can be tricky.)

On BET’s “106 & Park,” one of hip-hop’s definitive television shows, you can watch a fresh-faced audience applaud these songs, cheered on by relentlessly positive hosts. For all the panicky talk about hip-hop lyrics, the current situation suggests a scarier possibility, both for hip-hop’s fans and its detractors. What if hip-hop’s lyrics shifted from tough talk and crude jokes to playful club exhortations — and it didn’t much matter? What if the controversial lyrics quieted down, but the problems didn’t? What if hip-hop didn’t matter that much, after all?

The last time this debate raged, a lot of angry politicized rappers lost their contracts.

This time, K seems to suggest, it may be the Stop Snitching crew. Will we only be left with the MCs that want to keep the party live? Are we headed for more mindlessness? Or just back to hip-hop’s real roots?

A great, thoughtful piece.

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