Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How Hip-Hop Makes You Stupid

I don't even know where I was going with this one... I will need to re-read it and give it some though, but it has been sitting as a draft for a couple of months now. I want to tie it into a trend toward de-socialisation where we as a culture define our relationships more through the media which we consume and less through actual emotional and intellectual interaction. Rather than generating and communicating ideas, we are encouraged to consume and regurgitate...

Anyway, the following is still a work in progress:

I imagine that even those who have no interest whatsoever in the current popularity of the so-called “urban” music scene (which is paradoxical for finding its greatest popularity in the suburbs) are familiar with many of the names and faces involved with Rap and Hip-Hop. While they are ostensibly musicians, these personalities pop up in television and movies, on the covers of magazines and in every nook and cranny of current-events media. Many people, whether or not they have ever listened to or even heard the mad rhymin’ stylz of the likes of P. Diddy or Eminem have formed a negative impression of the entire trend. Some believe that Rap music, especially “Gangsta Rap” can be help directly responsible for most, if not all, of society’s ills.

Here in Canada we have a federal politician by the name of Dan McTeague suggesting that rap star 50 (pronounced “Fiddy”) Cent be barred from entering Canada from the United States to perform a few concerts.
“Ridiculous,” say Mr. Cent’s supporters, “Just because he has a criminal record and promotes drugs, violence and misogyny?” Well, in a word, yes. Many Yanks have been denied entry for less.

Here in my hometown, Toronto, Ontario, many local voices are suggesting that our so-called “Summer of the Gun” (too many shootings to count and forty-something deaths – including one killing at the funeral of a teen shot to death the week before) might be a result of the influence of Gangsta Rappers. I don’t think that there is any merit to re-hashing that chicken-or-the-egg debate. I don’t know whether rap music makes listeners become criminals any more than I know whether Ozzy Osbourne inspires lonely teen boys to commit suicide.

What I do know is that Rap makes you stupid.

Now, having said that, there are going to be a bunch of people saying, “But I listened to “Cop Killa” back in the day and now I manage a bank.” Sure. But you were probably smart to begin with. And maybe you got out before the damage was irreversible. It’s like those guys I keep meeting that think that marijuana should be legalised. Their arguments frequently involve a bit of name-dropping and they seem to feel that because a few rather clever folks managed to make some sort of a contribution to society despite being potheads that they should be allowed to smoke up all day. The difference there, though, is that those famous people did more than just smoke dope and talk about how stoned they were. They just went about the business of doing stuff. Robert Louis Stevenson was pretty looped on laudanum (opium mixed with water) most of the time and was able crank out a couple of decent books. If you tried it, you are more likely to find yourself sleeping in a bed soaked with your own urine.

See the problem is that anybody that smokes pot or mainlines Rap music through their headphones is successful not because of these behaviours but in spite of them.

Pot smoking mostly stunts your mental and emotional development. It makes you stupid. So does Rap music, but for different (yet related) reasons. Here, then, is:

How Rap Music Makes You Stupid

Have you ever watched a young man on a bus or in a mall bobbing his head to some inane beat that leaks out of his headphones (and I love those crazy over-sized DJ style ones… that is the kind of fashion that you look back on and ask, “What was I thinking?”) and wondered what kind of pleasure he could possibly derive from that seemingly pointless activity? Well, the answer is quite simple; he’s been brainwashed. Literally.

I will explain.

Humans have used rhythm and repetition as a spiritual tool in religious ceremony since before recorded history. Rap and other urban music styles are so intently focused on rhythm and repetition that even melody is sampled and reduced to a rhythmic element. The lyrics of a rap are secondary to the rhythm and clear communication is often sacrificed in order to keep the beat. This is evident in the frequent forced rhymes and awkward metre of many rap songs. Every aspect of the creation of rap music is forced to serve the beat. Indeed, the creative process most often starts from the beat and works up.

When ancient cultures used rhythm and repetition in ritual, it was intended to render participants receptive to religious instruction. In ceremonies designed to commune with a higher power, celebrants would use rhythm, chanting and dance to transition themselves into a trance-like state of heightened awareness. In such a state, the mind is open to receive communication either through mystic channels or, as in the example of hypnosis, through more corporeal means. A shaman, for instance.

When this ancient conduit of communication is opened by urban beats in the form of rap music, there is no epiphanic experience waiting to fill these hungry mental receptors. Rap music tends to provide a message of materialism and miogyny. Waves of self-aggrandising lyrics that promote the performer as a branded product and present an implied (or often simply stated) endorsement of a culture of drugs, violence absent of moral or social responsibility. One brutally irresponsible example that is, along with its creator, enjoying some not inconsiderable popularity of late is "Gold Digger" by Kanye West. In his chart-topping ditty, Mr. West describes a situation wherein after eighteen years of paying child support (money that is allegedly spent on the lavish lifestyle of the eponymic Gold Digger) a man finds out that he is not the father of the child. If this scenario is meant to paint the woman in an unflattering light, it has failed to make this song a cautionary tale and succeeded only in reinforcing, for me, the image of irresponsibilty that might be at the root of most of the deepest social problems in our culture today. My concern is illustrated nearly daily on the Maury Povich Show. With regular segments devoted to presenting the results of paternity tests (after delving into the sad, ignorant, pathetic little lives of the guests, naturally), the tragic human drama plays out on the television. Time and again the male (I won't say man...), upon finding out that he is not the father, will jump up, pumping his fist in the air or even running out into the seats for congratulatory high-fives from the male audience members. See, the problem here is that if they had never put themselves in the situation where they might have thought there was a possibility that they were the father, there would never have been any doubt. Our culture seem to be swinging so far away from basic moral responsibility. I am not a prude - sex is great and I encourage everybody to do it at least once - but if you feel that you need to have unprotected sex, you need to be willing to accept the consequences from genital warts to eighteen years of financial obligation (and that is the very least you can do). That sense of removal from responsibility tends to extend to a lack respect and consideration for society as a greater whole.


I think I might be wandering away from the point here... but it still comes back to Rap.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Accidentally Hilarious?

I hate to make light of what is the story of a tragic accident, but this is pretty funny right here.


Sadly, the headline relates to the story of a mother and child who were killed when their car slipped into a CANAL. Perhaps when the editors at the Toronto Sun compose their headlines they should have a newspaper box handy to see how it will play on the street.

I just hope that if their is an inquiry into the accident they don't announce, "CANAL PROBE," or the public might think that aliens were abducting folks around town...

Oh, I apologise for this one. The whole thing. Sorry.