Is gangsta rap, with all its violence and alleged sexism, merely a form of modern reportage--a newspaper of the street, as its proponents typically proclaim--or advocacy journalism of a particularly cynical and odious sort? That's the age-old (or 5-years-or-so-old, anyway) question that recurs throughout MTV's "Gangsta Rap" special, premiering tonight.
An opening crawl for this MTV News-produced half hour warns that the show "contains violent imagery and excerpts of some videos that are not shown on MTV." Indeed, non-fans who carp about MTV's lax standards and practices may be shocked to learn how many gun-toting, pro-payback anthems the web turns down that do show up on The Box and other outlets.
Given the bias you'd expect toward the youthful audience, MTV News once again does a surprisingly good job of objectively framing a moral debate, allowing defenders and detractors a reasonable voice.
"Hip-hop historian" Bill Stephney boils down much of the prevailing message to this: "Nobody cares about me, so why should I care about anyone else?" The result is a virus-like rage that turns fascinatingly visceral--and, ironically, of course, crosses cultures--in the right creative hands.