Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rap stars as minstrels

Wynton Marsalis made the comparison in a recent interview. I think he's right, but that most people wouldn't really understand why. Black face minstrelsy wasn't all about demeaning blacks pure and simple. Lots of themes within it had to do with blacks in the South supposedly having a happy existence living close to nature in freedom. The life of blacks in the South was unlikely romanticized by some minstrels, providing an imaginative outlet for whites unsatisfied with their own lives. Rap stars do a similar thing, although the life they present is dystopic in many ways. The core of it, though, is idea of the happy gangster doing drugs, having lots of women, and fighting and being tough. All the rest about struggle and the like have secondary importance in mainstream rap, are there more to legitimize what's going on than to contribute to it. The gangster rapper of today is the embodiment of the happy black in the South in today's world, and he dresses the exaggerated part and speaks it too. Trying to keep it real, no matter what his actual background may have been*. Acting gangsta'. It's all entertainment for frustrated male white kids, and has the effect of legitimizing the worst impulses they already have and making it so that they have no qualms about acting like even bigger assholes than they already are.

*You know, like having a business degree from Morehouse College in the case of Sean "Puffy" Combs.

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