Jewish World ReviewAugust 14, 2003 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5763

Stanley Crouch

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Hip hop's thugs
hit new low | Black popular culture continues to descend. The most recent and monstrous aspect of it comes, as usual, from the world of hip hop, where thugs and freelance prostitutes have been celebrated for a number of years.

This new development is observable in the work of Snoop Doggy Dog, Jay-Z and 50 Cent: the elevation of pimps as cultural heroes. That's beyond degraded.

A black executive in the world of popular music said to me a few years ago that the number of Negro performers who have actually become millionaires through hip hop sales is surely not even 100, but the price that their influence has extracted from black communities across this nation numbers in thousands upon thousands who have been murdered or beaten up or terrorized. After all, the celebration of thugs and thuggish behavior should not be expected to bring about any other results.

There are, of course, those who will say that all young people, not only in America but overseas, are in love with gangsters and thugs and the rebelliousness that thugs represent. That is why we find ourselves faced with white and Asian young people who suffer from the same abysmal taste and exhibit the same lack of social skills seen in the black and Latino gangster.

But it seems to me that if all those other people were serious about being thugs and gangsters, there would be an appreciable rise in their neighborhoods of the murder, gang violence and urban terrorism that so-called urban communities - code for black and Latino - are the victims of, day in and day out.

The truth is something else. When a small but extremely dangerous number of black and Latino young men imitate the behavior projected in gangster rap recordings and videos, they go far beyond the surface obnoxiousness that is common to most American young people.

This obnoxiousness has a strong tradition, coming from 50 years of rock 'n' roll in which adults and authority are looked upon as the ultimate enemies of teenage fun.

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But with white kids, the point is irritating their parents, not becoming a member of a violent gang. Most of those parents are now Cher's age and are not at all bothered by noisy pop music turned up too loud. That is exactly what they grew up on, even if the style was different.

Those white parents can, however, be disturbed by racial epithets and the misogyny so rampant in gangster rap. Basically, that's enough for obnoxious white teenagers.

With black teenagers, we have another problem, which is that street behavior is defined these days as being "authentic" and "not trying to be white." Those who take that seriously have been committing intellectual suicide for years by aspiring downward.

No other ethnic group has ever judged its authenticity by the lowdown ways of its scum. But in the poisonous wing of gangster rap, anything is possible.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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