I ran across a blog post on the Wall Street Journal that was a bit…interesting. Thomas Chatterton Williams expressed what I would imagine a lot of people were a little upset about. In his interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Barack Obama expressed (as he has before) his tastes in hip-hop. This seemed to draw the ire of Mr. Williams.
What’s on President Obama’s iPod? A wide range, he told Rolling Stone magazine last week, from the jazz of John Coltrane to the ballads of Maria Callas. And more: “My rap palate has greatly improved,” Mr. Obama noted. “Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I’ve got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert.”Expert or not, that’s the wrong message for the president to be sending black America.Does Mr. Obama like Lil Wayne’s “Lil Duffle Bag Boy”? In that song, the rapper implores young black men to “go and get their money” through round-the-clock drug hustling. And with Lil Wayne, it’s not just an act: The rapper is currently serving a one-year term on Rikers Island after being caught in New York with drugs and guns stashed in his Louis Vuitton overnighter.
Wrong message to Black America? WHAT?
Naming thuggish rappers might make Mr. Obama seem relatable and cool to a generation of Americans under the sway of hip-hop culture, but it sends a harmful message—especially when, in black America, some 70% of babies are born out of wedlock.…For so many black Americans, Barack Obama is appealing and promising precisely because he represents a powerful, necessary alternative to Jay-Z’s version of blackness.
So hip-hop is the reason 70% percent of black Americans are born out of wedlock? Is there a hidden subliminal message in “All I do Is Win” that forces baby-making because if there is I’m not hearing it. I can hear Rick Ross’s arteries collapsing but I can’t hear THAT; nor have most of my hip-hop listening black friends who have not had any children out of wedlock (The now universal judging-tone on out-of-wedlock children is a also annoying, but lets save that for another posts). What Williams and many people seem not to understand is that Rap music to a lot of people is just that: simply music.
I look at gangsta rap music the same way I look at a Harry Potter book. Both wildly entertaining but both, for me? Based in a land of myth. Would I like to bust a cap in a mutha f****’s ass if he steps to me incorrect? Sure, sounds delightful. Know what else I’d like to do? Cast spells. Play a high flying game of Quidditch. A President that enjoys rap music doesn’t send the wrong message to Black America. It actually includes a lot of them in the American narrative in a way that has been completely absent up until this point.
I’ve never looked at a President and thought “I think there’s some things we have in common.” I never thought of it as an incredibly negative thing, it just was. But with a President who name drops Jay Z, I feel connected to the White House and the whole American story in a way I didn’t even think was possible. I didn’t receive a message of “It’s okay to sell drugs.” If anything the idea that our brilliant, highly educated President enjoys rap music shows the complexities of Blackness. A little jigga doesn’t make you ignorant.
But I did a little research and found the website for the book Mr. Williams is peddling. Here’s a bit of the description.
Like many young men in America, Thomas Chatterton Williams grew up in awe of Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and the parade of bling-bedecked rap stars he saw on Black Entertainment Television. Williams emulated their lifestyle – sporting chains and expensive designer clothes purchased for him by his girlfriends, who were themselves little more than accessories to Williams. He and his friends roamed the streets, maintaining their status by intimidating passersby. In public, Williams lived the thug life exalted in his favorite rap anthems, yet at the end of the day, unlike many of his peers, Williams went home to a haven of learning and intellectualism–a safe, enriching environment filled with literature provided by Williams’ father, known as “Pappy”.Williams describes how he managed to juggle these two disparate lifestyles–”keeping it real” in his friends’ eyes and studying for the SATs under his father’s strict tutelage. Pappy grew up in the segregated South and hid in closets so he could read Aesop and Plato. He envisioned for his son a lot in life greater than his own, and encouraged Williams to read and educate himself, and to embrace the opportunities that had not been available to Pappy’s generation. As college approached and the stakes of the thug lifestyle escalated, the disparity between Williams’ street life and home life threatened to undo him. Ultimately, Williams would have to decide between hip-hop and his future.
Oh, so Williams had some trouble growing up, huh? Apparently all because of hip-hop. So obviously since he was so easily drawn into doing dumbshit that’s why the President’s shout out is so damaging. Guess what? I listened to Biggie growing up too. You know what I took from his songs? Awesome ways to use metaphors. I was a 15 year old kid in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and instead of “thugging” after listening to hip-hop I wanted to be a better writer. I don’t claim that my story is the overall narrative of blackness and hip-hop but then again I’m not on the Wall Street Journal talking shit about the President.