I've just finished reading prison psychologist John Schwade's "First Person" piece [The Independent, June 26] about speaking to a group of police officers on violence in hip-hop lyrics, and I have to admit I sympathize with the title character--the "hip-hop cop" who did something "indefensible," telling the author to basically give him a break--that it's just music and it doesn't make all that much of a difference.
Let me say right off the top that I am not a psychologist, sociologist or law officer. I'm a 40-year-old white guy who knows little about life in the black community, and my interest in this article comes mainly from the fact that I'm a "music geek" who tends to bristle at any suggestion that popular music itself somehow hurts people and/or that some sort of censorship might be a good idea. I am somewhat less familiar with contemporary hip-hop than most other current musical forms. Still, I put down the Indy today thinking oh boy, here's someone else who wants to save society from the horrible, destructive influence of the music and movies and TV shows and video games that "corrupt our youth."
Thanks, but no thanks.
I mean, haven't we heard this before, about a million times, ever since there's been a popular tune playing in people's heads? For ages, there' been music (and literature and art and film and TV) that was just as shocking and upsetting to some folks in its time as today's gangster rap and death metal. Yes, I'm aware that persuasive arguments can be made about the alleged connection between inner-city gang warfare and certain hip-hop artists and record labels. But there are laws against gangs, and laws against the violence they perpetrate. There aren't, and don't need to be, laws against music.
What bothers me most about Mr. Schwade's piece may be the part about how a majority of hip-hop music is sold to young white men (so he says--what's the source for this statistic?), and how this music is supposedly going to teach them how to deal with women and minorities in their adult lives. First, this is about the closest I've heard anyone in the media (at least the progressive media) come to saying that violent rap lyrics become a bigger problem when white kids hear them. Second, I'm having trouble with the analogy between the aforementioned young white men and their (big stereotype here, folks) ex-hippie fathers, who supposedly cut off their long hair and climbed the corporate ladder. If their fathers were taught how to live by the pop music of their youth, then why don't we live in some sort of post-Woodstock hippie utopia? Could it be that for the most part, it was just music, and ultimately didn't make all that much of a difference?
I came of age in the late 1970s and early '80s, and Joe Strummer didn't turn me into a socialist revolutionary, and Lou Reed didn't get me to try heroin, and Joey Ramone never convinced me to beat on a brat with a baseball bat. Which is not to say that their music wasn't, and still isn't, very important to me. It just didn't teach me how to treat other people.
What's my point? Maybe it's that I think young people of all races might deserve a little more credit for being able to think for themselves. And that sick, crazy, screwed-up people will look for violent inspiration and find it, whether it's on BET or in the Bible. And that although there are a whole lot of mixed messages out there (flip to the back of the same issue of the Indy, and there's a plug for a death-metal showcase at an area rock club, plus a favorable review of a film about rape and sadomasochism), perhaps killing the messenger isn't the answer.
Mr. Schwade quotes quite a few snippets of hip-hop lyrics that we're all supposed to be "offended" by, so let me tell you what really offends me. I'm a big fan of the singer/songwriter Nick Cave, and I especially love his 1996 album Murder Ballads, a collection of both original and cover tunes in which numerous unfortunate individuals bite the dust in creative and grisly ways. Particularly memorable is his remake of the R&B chestnut "Stagger Lee," restored to its more primal incarnation as the expletive-laced tale of a sociopathic thug who revels in an evening of murder and sodomy down at the local bar. The album jacket features a beautiful painting of a tiny cabin in a snowed-in woodlands, which is completely ruined by a black-and-white square wedged into the bottom right-hand corner: "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics."
Now that's offensive.
--MARTY CASSADY, HILLSBOROUGH
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