"Those who are esteemed umpires of taste, are often persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether they are beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and sensual. Their cultivation is local, as if you should rub a log of dry wood in one spot to produce fire, all the rest remaining cold. Their knowledge of the fine arts is some study of rules and particulars, or some limited judgment of color or form which is exercised for amusement or for show."
--Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Selected Essays. New York: Peoples Book Club, 1949, pp. 253.
In a recent study conducted by Virgil Griffiths, a PhD student in California, Hip-Hop music listeners are portrayed as unintelligent and intellectually deficient. The independent study, titled "Music That Makes You Dumb," found that those who listen to Lil’ Wayne, T.I., Kanye West, Jay-z and Ludacris (the usual suspects) are, essentially, dumb. On the contrary, listening to Beethoven, U2, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows and Sufjan Stevens displays intellectual sophistication. Excuse my coarseness: BULLSHIT! We’ve been through this before. We need not pretend otherwise. For how long do we entertain these barrages of insults, before responding back?
From the early days of Hip-Hop’s christening, to this very moment, there have been those—and they are certainly in no short supply—who have tried to diminish its cultural value, and render it unworthy of critical evaluation. Their primary aim is to discredit Rap music as an art-form, by focusing squarely, and disproportionately, on the more negative elements it produces. Those detractors claim that Hip-Hop culture/music cannot be celebrated with the kind of scholarly discipline other music genres enjoy, because of its unorthodoxy and irreverence. Every conscientious musicologist is aware of this trend, as it concerns Black music. For those who think this uncritical obsession with Black art began with Hip-Hop, think again.
As far back as the early 20th century, critics of Jazz music were questioning its validity. An article dating back to August 1921, published in Ladies Home Journal, asked the question: "Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?" It began with the eerie suggestion that "an entirely different type of music might invoke savage instincts." The writer sought to qualify her argument, with claims that Jazz "disorganizes all regular laws and order; it stimulates to extreme deeds, to a breaking away from all rules and conventions; it is harmful and dangerous, and its influence is wholly bad." Sound familiar? Deriding it as "an influence for evil," the article went as far as laying some unfound scientific foundation for its indictment on Jazz: "A number of scientific men who have been working on experiments in musico-therapy with the insane, declare that while regular rhythms and simple tones produce a quieting effect on the brain of even a violent patient, the effect of jazz on the normal brain produces an atrophied condition on the brain cells of conception, until very frequently those under the demoralizing influence of the persistent use of syncopation, combined with inharmonic partial tones, are actually incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, right and wrong." It is imperative that Hip-Hop listeners are aware of this history, for it helps provide some context to the endless excuses given by those who regard Hip-Hop as musically insolvent.
Hip-Hop, since its inception, has worn a cloak of suspicion, and this makes it even more challenging to accept the sudden interest it has accumulated over the last decade. Those who, three decades earlier, characterized it as another variation of “Jungle music,” are the same suits who, today, sign the checks of many successful Hip-Hop artists. More than the question of legitimacy, however, Hip-Hop has been heavily criticized for its alleged anti-intellectualism stance. It is said to covet ignorance, unlimitedly. It’s most vocal antagonists are skillful in examining the extreme elements in the culture, and using those unfortunate seeds as the general evaluation of the fruits it bears.
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