In connection with my last post’s topic of slave spiritual transmutation and “adoption,” I thought I would look into specific examples in rap music. To me, the adoption of the slave spiritual by English Rugby is particularly reminiscent of the modern “adoption” of rap music by a large white audience. Although rap music appeals largely to a young-ish fan-base due to its upfront, rebellious, and “edgy” nature, for many white fans it holds an extra dose of “taboo” because it is removed from their typical reality. In his opinion piece, “The Real Reason White Suburban Kids Ate Up N.W.A,” Adam Ragusea addresses the various and somewhat problematic reasons why young, predominantly white, suburban teens react so strongly to hardcore rap music. Ragusea starts out by pointing out that a majority of rap sales are attributed to a large white audience. A more recent study referenced in the Atlanta Black Star article “When it Comes to Rap Music, Are White Boys really doing all the buying?” by Christina Montford, states that “closer to 60 percent of rap music consumers were white.” However this 60% of white, rap listeners only accounts for a small chunk of the total white population in the U.S. Montford points out that “Of the approximately 64 million Americans between age 15 and 30, about 73 percent of them are white. So if 60 percent of rap consumers were white in 2004, they represented a significantly lower number than their share of the population.” Nevertheless, this minor chunk of the white demographic shows a fierce attachment to the rap and hip hip industry.
According to Ragusea, this attachment stems from a sense of wonder. He describes his response to first encountering the sound and music videos of rappers like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube as “…watching something from my own country, and yet it looked like something from another planet — a world totally unrecognizable from my own.” Now older, Ragusea has come to terms with his adoration of the “frightening, confusing, and exhilarating” world presented by rap music. He coins it is as “ghetto porn,” strikingly similar to early colonial ideas of “exoticism” which turned the customs, values, and appearances of other non-European ethnic groups into spectacles. Their livelihoods and bodies were simultaneously seductive, alluring and repulsive. For Ragusea listening to rap music was a way of “experiencing the thrill of “otherness,” while remaining in the comfort of his own, safely-uniform environment. He also acknowledges that his participation in the rap and music industry placed him, “at the base of a commercial pyramid that was commodifying and exploiting an image of young black men…” This reminds me of rapper Yo Gotti’s song, “Errrbody” which addresses the modern representation of rap music and its exploitation. The song is more of a critique of the modern practice of upper to middle-class rappers taking on the persona of “trap”/”hood” hustlers in order to gain recognition and fame. However, the music video seems to address this same issue, but targets the predominately middle to upper-class white audience that seeks to imitate and “adopt” this same livelihood without a real understanding or consideration of it. When Yo Gotti addresses the “Errybody[s]” who “wanna be a dope boy…wanna be a coke boy” he is speaking to the multitudes that glorify the difficult life of someone who must struggle to survive. His video seems to be putting into visual effect Ragusa’s argument that “white people won’t fix racism by feeling too guilty to enjoy black culture,” however; there must be “a more nuanced, enlightened view of black culture and their relationship to it”.
- Adam Ragusea: “The Real Reason” – https://medium.com/@aragusea/the-real-reason-white-suburban-kids-ate-up-n-w-a-d3d3c8000cd6
- Christina Montford: “When it Comes to Rap” – http://atlantablackstar.com/2014/11/06/really-listening/
- Yo Gotti: Dope Boy –