The Turd Blossom’s Groundless Attack on Common Sense
I had planned to write a column about the fact that Snoop Dogg and Bob Dylan are more similar than you think (stay tuned for that), but the controversy over the rapper Common being invited to the White House’s poetry event is too insane not to comment upon.
Perhaps it will always be too much to ask for old white men to hear anything but “Fuck tha Police” when listening to rap. But this is not 1988, not even 1998 – the rap game has changed.
The same anger that finally erupted in Watts in 1992 allowed anti-establishment rap to thrive 20 years ago. But that fury has subsided and today’s population much prefers rhymes about cars, clothes, pimps and hoes.
Rap is not the intriguing, contrarian genre it once was – it’s pop music; it’s big business.
But Karl Rove still felt it necessary to attack the White House for extending an invitation to a “thug” like Common.
I will try and leave the covert (or maybe not so covert) racism out of the Common invitation discussion. Too many people stop listening the moment racism is brought up in an argument; our country has committed to the post-racism narrative.
So, let’s look at other reasons why Karl Rove calling Common a “thug” is absolutely groundless.
The radio rap market has called for rappers to talk about glamour, girls, and gang life if they want radio play. Dead Prez, one of the most talented rap groups out right now, will never become superstars – their lyrics are revolutionary in a time when revolution does not sell.
But Common is one of the few contemporary rappers that has escaped the market’s devastating stylistic trap. He has found a way to rap about inequities in society and means with which to escape poverty and still have his music played on the radio.
His distinctive flow, as well as his friendship with Kanye West, has let him reach the top and stay on top of the hip hop scene without fitting the contemporary rapper mold.
For Rove to call this man a thug is absolutely unconscionable – but should we really expect anything less from a man whose boss used to refer to him as “Turd Blossom.”
Calling Common a thug is as outlandish as calling Bob Dylan a hick. Yes, Dylan put out an album called “Nashville Skyline.” Yes, he did have some duets with Johnny Cash. Yes, he even wrote a track about working on a farm.
But it’s clear as day that Dylan isn’t a hick. Some of his music sounds like Dixie Diddies, but Dylan’s lyrics and style raise him above country bumpkiness.
The same can be said about Common.
But Common is not a thug. He is an articulate, deep-thinking musician, who happens to rap.
Many of the arguments conservatives made against Common were based upon his lyrics. A May 11th Foxnews.com article mentioned the rapper’s use of anti-W lyrics (“burning Bush”) and a song he wrote in support of Black Panther Assata Shakur as reasons why he was unfit to perform at the White House.
In response to this brand of argument, Jon Stewart had a hilarious segment in which he recited violent Johnny Cash lyrics and then showed Bush giving Cash the National Medal of Arts to demonstrate the media’s double standard.
But the lyrical double-standard is much farther reaching than just the media.
The fact is, hip hop is the only musical genre in which the artist’s past and the truth of his lyrics are of paramount importance to both critics and the average listener.
Not once was John Lennon attacked for claiming to be a walrus and an egg man, though he was clearly a human from Liverpool. On Sticky Fingers, Mick Jagger told incredible and gritty tales of heroin use in a Southern accent, though we all knew he was a Brit. And Paul Simon falsely claimed that his name was Al, but as they say: all’s fair in love and South African-inspired folk-rock.
But for some reason, truth is all important in rap; if you want to be great, you have to have “street cred.”
A simple Google search will lead to discussion boards concerned with the question: “Were the members of N.W.A. actually gangsters?” 50 Cent’s music is talked about less than his bullet wounds. And Lil Wayne’s gun possession charge will almost undoubtedly help him sell records.
Many people listen to rap for a window into another world or to mirror their own experience, and because of this, unlike any other genre, rap lyrics are read as autobiographical.
But the truth expectation is not fair. Just like other musicians, most rappers create narrators through which they deliver lyrics. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust and Christopher Wallace became the Notorious B.I.G. but only the latter is believed to have done everything his lyrics claim.
The beauty of music is that it allows its listener a respite from reality; why should rappers be forced to simply chronicle their own lives while Kris Kristofferson gets to tell hitchhiking love stories that may or may not have ever occurred?
Like all musicians, rappers should be judged based upon the quality of their music; gunshot wounds and felonies should not excuse repetitive beats and uninspired rhymes.
But even with the unfair expectation and the extra scrutiny rappers face, Common remains a great choice for the White House poetry event.
His rap deals with the troubling situation in the inner-city, but also tries to inspire youth to escape the ghetto. And more importantly, he has an intriguing flow and a great talent for rhyme and diction that place him among the great poets of our generation.
It’s unfortunate that this controversy got the media attention that it did. Clearly, Rove hoped to take some of the shine off the Obamanator and, sadly, his groundless attack on Common succeeded in doing just that.
I would say, “Shame on you, Karl Rove,” but it has become pretty clear that he does not experience that emotion.
For further reading on the fact that rappers, even supposed “thug” rappers, create narrators through which to deliver their lyrics, read about Prince Rakeem who became Wu-Tang member RZA.
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