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Taking on Hip-Hop

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: music, hip-hop, culture, race, class, arts, Keith Goetzman,

Thomas Chatterton Williams

Criticizing any aspect of hip-hop culture is a task fraught with danger. If you’re white, you might be called a racist. If you’re black, you might be called Bill Cosby. And if you’re over 30, you might just be called old.

Author Thomas Chatterton Williams—30 years old, black, and a fan of hip-hop music—is unafraid to enter the fray. His book Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture, recently released in paperback, lays down a strong critique of the disturbing messages behind the beats. Marc Smirnoff of the Oxford American interviewed Williams in a Q&A with the baiting title “Is Hip-Hop Evil?

Writes Smirnoff:

Williams contends that thug-life fantasies are sold because they are profitable commodities—follow the money, follow the money—not because they capture the totality of the black experience. These fantasies distort reality in order to confuse children and get their money—in so doing, hip-hop is toying with heavy consequences. 

Here are some of Williams’ most provocative lines from the interview:

• “[In hip-hop] the material side of life has been so overemphasized, so glorified over the intangible, over the intellectual, over the spiritual, even over the artistic. This is a shame. This is why Jay-Z can say, ‘I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars’ and his listeners, far from being offended, actually respect him all the more for it!”

• “So many have been taught to define themselves and one another as niggas and bitches, thugs, goons, hustlers, pimps, dealers, gangstas, hoodlums … If you believe, as I do, that how you describe and present yourself has any correlation with how you feel about yourself, then it’s hard not to see some self-hatred going on here.”

• “Even in the upper-middle classes, it’s amazing the degree to which blacks buy into an idea that intellectual development is not cool. … And that is why Barack Obama said we must ‘eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.’ It was incredible that the president had the bravery to address the issue, but he can’t do it alone. Too many of our black academics—and white academics—today are content to spend their time making the case on television that rappers are really our modern-day philosophers and bards. What I wish they would do instead is make the case that all of us should be reading more philosophy and literature.”

Source: Oxford American 

Image by Luke Abiol, courtesy of The Penguin Press.