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Hilburn's Defense of Rap--Fans and Foes React : It Needs No Defense

July 08, 1990

Mr. Hilburn, your defense of rap is admirable, but if your chief desire for rap is to produce a white artist of "Elvis-like talent and charisma who could translate the energy and style of rap in a way that might neutralize the issue of race," then we can do without your defense.

What you want is what WASP culture seems to perpetuate throughout modern history, that is, the co-opting of African cultural creativity, taking out overtly ethnic uniqueness, adding some arrogant European refinement (to make it palatable to the so-called civilizers of the land), and voila : Rap music devoid of all the anguish, frustration and disillusionment that produced it in the first place!

Rap is the musical equivalent of the voice of Abel's blood crying from the ground. It is the expression of both pride and protest of African-American youth. Rap music cries out from the wilderness to remind America that a good part of the wealth of this nation was, and continues to be, built on the deprivation and degradation of the African, and, though we labor in the midst of economic and cultural disrespect, rap affirms the dignity of our African heritage and serves as the voice of dissent in the land.

The violent image of rap artists, reflected in some of their dress and lyrical content, speaks to the fact that 400 years of forced labor is violent! The psychological damage of decades of social stigmatization through segregation is violent! The defamation of our character as a people through media and the educational system's intentional suppression of our many cultural contributions to America is violent! This violence is the fruit from the ground that white America's Manifest Destiny has sown.

The illusion of WASP greatness has infected most of the white population with a self-induced insanity that prevents a realistic self-appraisal in establishing the causes of racial turmoil in this country. As a result, any effort that speaks of our dissatisfaction over our forced social and economic peonage--be it through music, film or the written word--the so-called mainstream response is always the same: Will it promote bloodshed? Any perceived threat that rap produces in white communities is based solely on the guilt of ill-gotten gain and the fear of rebellion and revenge, as well as the steadily growing popularity of rap among white youth.

Lastly, Hilburn's statement that rap's most important message may not be in the music or words at all is to insult the very issue rap music brings to the forefront. Rap stands on its own merit and needs no defense. Without the message and words, there's no point to rap. Take it or leave it.


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