I am not a fan of rap music, which is defined by its aficionados as the music and poetry of hip-hop subculture. "Sub" not as lower, but as a vibrant element of America's cultural tapestry, as evidenced at the Grammy awards last week. Hip-hop and rap are mainstream subculture.
I understand the genre, as much as a '60s baby boomer can. I've studied its urban roots and respect the power of its message. I recognize the artistry of its practitioners and the relevance of what they say about black lives in a racially charged country.
I just don't like it. Melody-bereft repetitive rhythms, in-your-face bling and casually obscene lyrics rattle my teeth and make my brain ache, even as I acknowledge the talent of rap performers.
Did I mention lyrics?
Rap's words are not for a family newspaper. Over a span of 40 years, rap has relied on the basest utterances to create what now passes for art. Once raised to that status by the insular arbiters of all things artistic, oh-so-cool critics gave it a pass. Lyrics that celebrate misogyny, cop-hating, sexism, violence and even racism were explained away as expressions of real-life experiences, and therefore qualified as art. It follows that anyone offended by "art" is a cretin.
Listen to me. I sound like that 1950s Bible belt preacher who was shown in TV news clips smashing rock 'n' roll records with a baseball bat because rock music was "the work of the devil." Songs of that era often were forced off radio, but not directly by preachers; station owners did it. For example:
The Rolling Stones "Let's Spend a Night Together" (1967) was pulled by AM pop music stations I listened to in Connecticut. The overt message from Mick and the boys outraged establishment sensibilities. I thought it captured the hormonal spirit of what we callow youth were thinking.
The Drifters hit, "Under the Boardwalk," (1964) had two versions. In one, they sang "falling in love" down by the sea, under the boardwalk. In the version that was pulled from play, it was "making love" under the boardwalk. There's quite a difference. In the record that got air time, "making love," was replaced with "falling in love." Nevertheless, kids still got sand in all the wrong places.
Van Morrison's "Brown-eyed Girl" (1967) opined about "slippin' and slidin' all along the waterfall with you." In a later verse, the original lyric was "makin' love in the green grass behind the stadium with you." In the sanitized version, the "waterfall" line was reprised; the "makin' love" lyric was excised. I am certain there was more going on in the green grass than at the waterfall.
What's it got to do with rap? The contrast is stark. There was nothing overtly nasty or obscene about the cited lyrics of the Stones, the Drifters and Van Morrison. However dated it seems today, common decency that informed societal standards effected lyric bans. Rap's lyrics and message are without boundaries. Anything goes, no matter how indecent, obscene or violent. Times change. It's art, they say. I get it I just don't like it.
Zaleski retired in 2017 after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 241-5521.