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Years ago, a rap music fan described me as a “hip hop scold of the highest order.”
My sin against the music was calling out rap artists for their constant use of the “N-word,” casually insulting women as “bitches,” and denigrated gays by using the word “f*****s.”
I said the language was damaging to Black culture, especially young people.
I even went on Oprah Winfrey’s show to call out rappers for their racially profane, violent songs. Also appearing on the show was the rapper Ice-T, who rose to hip hop fame with explicit lyrics. He dismissed my criticism of rap lyrics, even when it depicted outright sex abuse, such as shoving a flashlight into a woman, by saying it was not rape and “the girl might have liked it.”
Oprah Winfrey poses backstage with her Cecil B. DeMille Award.
Ice-T must have won the argument because rap music has continued to grow. It is now the number one music genre in America.
It sells to young people globally, Black, White, Latino and Asian. But the bulk of the audience is mostly young, White males attracted by adrenaline pumping fantasy domination of women and fearless embrace of ‘gangsta’ rap,’ with violent young men boasting about gunning down rivals.
Now ‘gangsta rap,” has grown even more deadly, evolving into “drill music.”
Yes, that is “drill,” as in “drilling” people with gunfire.
And make no mistake, the person doing the “drilling,” is a young Black man firing at another young Black man.
There are real world consequences coming from these celebrations of Black-on-Black violence.
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Look at the current spike in murder nationally. That trend is often discussed as a threat to everyone. But that is shameful avoidance of the reality that most of the bloodshed is among young Black men and in Black communities.
Eric Adams speaks during a Feb. 15, 2022, press conference (YouTube/ New York City)
(YouTube/ New York City)
After a spate of shootings in New York, Mayor Eric Adams made the connection between ‘drill’ music and young Black men murdering each other. He said it is “alarming,” to see the popularity of the genre.
“We pulled Trump off Twitter,” he said, “Yet we are allowing music, displaying of guns, violence. We’re allowing it to stay on these sites.” Adams said he plans to convene social media firms and “tell them that you have a civic and corporate responsibility.” The mayor met with some drill rappers on Tuesday.
But for now, the staccato gunfire beat that defines drill music as a subset of Hip Hop grows louder and more influential.
It is not just the music. These days there are music videos to go with it.
On the Internet, for example, there is a steady stream of websites, even YouTube updates about violence in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods, equating violence there with war zones in Iraq.
There is “Chiraq News,” “Chiraq Central,” and ‘War in Chiraq,’ which is run by a guy in new Jersey and according to a recent book had a quarter million subscribers and 94 million views in its first two years.
Obviously, the market for this music goes way beyond the desperate, poor Black people doing the shooting.
The music and its videos give “privileged consumers…intimate, yet safe opportunities to interact with the ghetto and its stereotypical residents,” to satisfy “voyeuristic desires,” wrote sociologist Forrest Stuart in his 2020 book “Ballad of the Bullet: Gangs, Drill Music, and the Power of Online Infamy.”
Stuart’s ethnography is an in-depth look at “drill” music’s impact on one violent Chicago neighborhood. He finds Black boys with limited job prospects dreaming of a record contract as they play to the white appetite for Drill music by offering the voyeurs a thrilling view into life among ‘authentic,’ Black people which means Black people as savagely violent.
He cites the late Black scholar Bell Hooks’ essay “Eating the Other,” in which she makes the case that the upper classes find delight in voyeurism, coming into contact with “others,” poor, violent Black people.
FILE – Rapper NBA YoungBoy performs onstage during Lil Baby & Friends concert to promote the new release of Lil Baby’s new album "Street Gossip" at Coca-Cola Roxy on November 29, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
The Black boys in Stuart’s book work hard at producing the music and videos to feed their audience. They show acumen in deciphering the algorithms of social media platforms as well as how best to compete for the attention of their audience.
These are bright young people who have been failed by their public school system and have every reason to conclude that in the current economy their hope of striking it big as a recording artist is better than the low-paying, dead-end jobs available to them. So, demonstrating ingenuity and drive, they have found fertile ground in producing violent music for social media.
Stuart sees parallels to early 20th century “slumming,” in which well-to-do Whites frequented nightclubs in Black neighborhoods to indulge in “racially charged, stock images of poor Blacks – as hyper-sexed, soulful and naturally rhythmic.”
He sees the drillers catering the same White fantasies as older club owners who intentionally hired “entertainers who were skilled at acting out racialized stereotypes.”
Of course, there is a cost to these entertainers.
Most of the young men in Stuart’s study can’t walk the street for fear being attacked, drilled by another young driller or ‘gangsta’’ rapper as they “diss” each other with threats in their songs and some build on that image as an authentic criminal by killing one their drill rivals.
And there is a cost to young Black people listening, watching, and emulating these artists. Here are other young Black people achieving fame and some even getting rich by playing to the worst stereotypes of Black life. These are poisonous role models.
FILE – Rapper NBA Youngboy attends Young Thug’s birthday party at Tago International on August 16, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Photo By Prince Williams/WireImage)
The biggest star of this disturbing scene today is a rapper named “YoungBoy Never Broke Again [NBA].”
The Wall Street Journal reports he has “posted 11 music videos that have each racked up more than 100 million YouTube views in the past two years.”
His rebellious, criminal life story is part of his appeal. Prosecutors have said he is a “danger to the community.”
He gained attention with a “rap beef,” with another rapper in which they threatened to kill each other. As early as 2016, YoungBoy – whose real name is Kentrell DeSean Gaulden – was arrested in connection with a drive-by shooting in Texas. He later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a gun.
In 2018 there was a warrant for his arrest for assault and kidnapping. In 2019 he was tied to a shooting in Miami. And in 2020 he was accused of gun and drug distribution which led to a “high-speed chase,” by federal agents.
According to TMZ, on March 22, 2021, Gaulden was arrested by federal agents executing a federal warrant. Officers attempted to stop a vehicle with Gaulden in it to serve the warrant when Gaulden took off on foot. After a search that involved using a K9, Gaulden was found and booked on federal criminal charges. As reported by Rolling Stone, on October 26, 2021, he was released from jail on a $1.5 million bail.
FILE – NBA YoungBoy performs during Lil WeezyAna at Champions Square on August 25, 2018, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
(Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)
The 22-year-old is a high school dropout who has seven children with six women. He is known for songs title “Mind of a Menace,” “Bandit,” and “Until Death Call My name.” On one recent recording, “Colors,” he raps, “My momma know I’m a demon seed,” and brags that the record industry doesn’t like him because “I’m thuggin’ and I’m dangerous.”
The rapper’s life choices have “heightened his outlaw aura,” in the words of New York Times reporter Joe Coscarelli.
One of the rappers’ managers said he is line with other rappers who build their fan following as rebels who “break the rules, they do it their own way and the people pick that. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.”
Well, there are people who can stop it. It happened when police unions and politicians pressured record companies and radio stations against the threat being celebrated by N.W.A.’s late 1980s rap song “F… tha Police.”
The song was on Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time but there was widespread criticism.
But there is no similar blowback today for drill music.
There are no civil rights groups marching against hip-hop’s damaging words. There are no unions, in the mode of police unions, to stand against diminishing Black culture.
Instead, there is silence.
Black men who brag about killing other Black men, who denigrate Black women, are excused as engaging in a money-making exercise that produces ‘Crazy Bank,’ profits. Critics are dismissed as stuck-up white people or bourgeois Black people, both out of touch with the beat on the streets.
There have been moments of Black protest and the excesses of hip-hop.
At Spelman in 2004, the historically Black women’s college, students forced Nelly to cancel an appearance at the school over his song “Tip Drill.” The drill in that song referred to a man “drilling” into a woman.
In 2005 Essence magazine launched a “Take Back the Music” initiative. In an essay published in 2002 in Essence the writer Joan Morgan pointed out that given the high percentage of absent Black fathers there were many young Black women who were not equipped to “handle this onslaught of sexually degrading content … as women we cannot abdicate the responsibility we have to our children.”
Morgan concluded that Black female hip-hop fans can no longer close their eyes to the damage being done by buying “into the music’s most cliched disclaimer – that rap’s content is intended for mature audiences.”
Essence has also noted that Snoop Dogg, the famed rapper, was selling outright porn tapes. One of his X-rated videos, “Snoop Dogg’s Hustlaz: Diary of a Pimp,” was the best-selling porn tape in 2003.
The clear message from early rap through today’s drill music is that young Black people can find riches by rapping about gang violence or by joining a gang. Both involve being trapped in an identity where racial consciousness somehow does not extend to songs of love for family, community, the value of schools or building business.
Instead, it is full of paeans to those who are imitating gang members in jail without belts by wearing their pants low to show their underwear, who wave wads of cash, and drink fancy cognac at strip clubs.
Some leading Black voices have raised these points in the past.
The controversial Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, exercised some influence with rap musicians and held a summit 20 years ago for hip hop entertainers.
Farrakhan spoke of deep regret at seeing rappers “being used by the enemy so that [Black people] will destroy each other.”
The late Stanley Crouch, a celebrated music critic, once wrote that rap had turned the image of young Black men into a damaging caricature of a “money-moving, gold chain-wearing, illiteracy-spouting, penis-pulling, sullen, combative buffoons.”
Harry Belafonte, the late singer, once described the rappers as “caught in a trick bag because it’s a way to make unconscionable sums of money and a way to absent yourself from any sense of moral responsibility.”
Today, rap is so successful – dominating a wide spectrum of popular culture from fashion to sports, and music — that such critics are in hiding. The genre and its excesses are accepted as a fact of contemporary life.
Most people seem to turn a blind eye to its failings and offer a pile of excuses for its negative impact on Black people and the ugly stereotypes it perpetuates in white minds.
Snoop Dogg just performed at the Super Bowl.
But make no mistake, rap and drill music is part of America’s racial problem.
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