Friday, September 20, 2013

Will The Future be Nice?

A high school-age American rap recording artist called Earl Sweatshirt recently interviewed for  The New York Times Magazine, when asked about his trip to Toronto opined that: "Canadians are weirdos..they are so nice - overbearing nice" and "Toronto is like a city of grandmas".  Apparently this young man's mother is a law prof at UCLA. That may explain why he recognizes our niceness. However that he equates it with folk of his grandparents age and finds it 'overbearing' speaks volumes about the current hip hop culture's take on life.

Rap as a form of black people's poetic social commentary with some rhythmic musical accompaniment, is not the first. Calypso preceded it by many years, as did blues. Calypso is softly ironic and the blues often melancholic. Neither however are abusive or rude and any misogyny in them is usually gentle.  Rap is often almost the antithesis. It's curt and tough, and very in-your-face.  Unlike calypso and blues, its practitioners are almost always young and so without much life experience. The gap between their world view and those of older popular music lovers seems to me greater than that between our generation's fathers who were brought up on swing and Frank Sinatra and ours on Bill Haley and the Comets, the Doors and the Grateful Dead.

It's fashionable to say that older people have always found the tastes of their young perplexing, but  the aggressive negativity and insulting innuendo of today's rappers is unmatched in  our Western history. Even the roughest punk or heaviest metal rock songs never matched the shear insolence of today's rap.

So what can we expect as the youths who listen to rap get older. Will they just end up like the once-rebel Pete Townsend of The Who?  The young Townsend sang that life after 30 wasn't worth living and yet now in his 60s is producing another version of his ever popular stage musical, Tommy and comes across as a nice polite English gent. Or is the protest in rap of a meaner and more sinister type than in the rock music of the 60s and 70s, and so as rappers age their staccato monologue style of speaking and frequently nihilistic viewpoints become the new normal for older folk?

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