In the Sunday Times, David Segal likens conservative talk radio hosts to gangsta rappers. Segal identifies four common elements: ego, haters, feuds and verbal skills. [For starters: I’d estimate about half the rappers identified as “gangsta rappers” are no such thing. Among the mis-identified: Jay-Z. Ja Rule. Eminem.]
Although no explanation for these common elements is provided during their discussion, a reasonably savvy reader should be able to detect a common reason for at least three…old fashioned, patriarchical codes of masculinity. Big men boast, they lead, they protect, they fight, and they take all comers. As least as far as this argument goes, gangsta rappers and conservative radio talk show hosts are as much alike as cowboys, action movie stars, MMA fighters and my butcher.
Then Segal argues:
Once you subtract gangsta rap’s enthusiasm for lawlessness — a major subtraction, to be sure — rap is among the most conservative genres of pop music.
We are meant here to overlook the obvious fact that these lyrical descriptions of lawlessness (he means, I think, drug dealing, pimping, stealing, vandalism and murder) are fictional. That’s easy to do, since we’re already aware that one of the main things that differentiate rap music and radio talk show hosts is race. We’re quite accustomed to assuming black men are lawless, so ignoring the race differences between these two groups of performers takes no effort at all. And what Segal means by “conservative” is actually “bourgeois”: “exalting capitalism and entrepreneurship.” Putting aside the mis-identification of these traits as conservative (he could have equally well said “Protestant”), what gets washed away here is how much more difficult it is to be financially successful as a black person–especially a black recording artist–in America than it is to make gobs of money winding up Iowan grannies on the radio. As Spike Lee and others have been eager to point out, America’s promise of meritocratic self-improvement has been systematically denied to those of a darker hue (c.f. Dalton Conley). No wonder there’s a chronic preoccupation with success…
Moreover, Segal argues:
rap has an opinion about human nature that is deeply conservative — namely, that criminals cannot be reformed. The difference is that gangsta rappers often identify themselves as the criminals, and are proud of their unreformability.
I will not annoy you with the LONG list of rap songs in which the protagonist finds god, a good woman, or just the common sense to put away a criminal lifestyle and employ those skills in the work of entertainment. But this may be the point at which I can suggest what I think is a true similarity between rappers and talk show hosts: both know and understand the rules of media engagement and use hypermasculine tropes (posturing, verbal aggression, fear mongering) to make oodles and oodles of money.
Segal resolves his argument in the dumb-ass (that’s a technical designation) trope of the summer:
The suspicion boils down to another question: Can people listen to highly provocative words (and in rap’s case, irresistible beats) and still be civil?
The relentless preoccupation with civility in the wake of Kayne’s outburst, and Serena’s (etc.) is making many of us agitated. The problem is not a decline in civility, IMHO, but the use of a moral panic around the decline of civility to distract from the truly uncivil way in which we treat the poor, ethno-racial minorities, women, working class men, etc. If you want to worry about incivility, why don’t you think about health care for a minute, buster.
Or I’ll bust a cap in your ass.