Beastie Boys

Neal Boortz was talking about this article on his show this morning. McWhorter details How Hop Holds Blacks Back.

But we’re sorely lacking in imagination if in 2003—long after the civil rights revolution proved a success, at a time of vaulting opportunity for African Americans, when blacks find themselves at the top reaches of society and politics—we think that it signals progress when black kids rattle off violent, sexist, nihilistic, lyrics, like Russians reciting Pushkin. Some defended blaxploitation pictures as revolutionary, too, but the passage of time has exposed the silliness of such a contention. “The message of Sweetback is that if you can get it together and stand up to the Man, you can win,” Van Peebles once told an interviewer. But win what? All Sweetback did, from what we see in the movie, was avoid jail—and it would be nice to have more useful counsel on overcoming than “kicking the Man’s ass.” Claims about rap’s political potential will look equally gestural in the future. How is it progressive to describe life as nothing but “bitches and money”? Or to tell impressionable black kids, who’d find every door open to them if they just worked hard and learned, that blowing a rival’s head off is “real”? How helpful is rap’s sexism in a community plagued by rampant illegitimacy and an excruciatingly low marriage rate?

I listen to rap, but I don’t take it seriously. Maybe that has served me well. Part of that might be from being white. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the first two rappers that come to mind when I try to think of who has said, “c’mon, it is just a song” are Eminem and the Beastie Boys.

The Beastie Boys are interesting in and of themselves. They started out doing comedy, because that was the only way for a white group to get play. Later on, to break through the novelty, they went thug (and even that had a lot of comedy.) Later on, in the late ninties, they are down to doing what they have always done: write songs.

When it comes to beats well I’m a fiend
I like my sugar with coffee and cream
Got to keep it going keep it going full steam
Too sweet to be sour too nice to be mean
On the tough guy style I’m not too keen
To try to change the world I will plot and scheme

from Intergalactic

That isn’t exactly thuggish. Eminem, since his first album, has been disavowing the literalness of his lyrics to anyone who listens.

But all they kids be listenin’ to me religiously, so I’m signin’ CDs while police fingerprint me
They’re for the judge’s daughter but his grudge is against me. If I’m such a fuckin’ menace, this shit doesn’t make sense B
It’s all political, if my music is literal, and I’m a criminal how the fuck can I raise a little girl?
I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be fit to.

Sing for the Moment
Earlier, he summed it up best:

You motherfuckin chickens ain’t brave enough
to say the stuff I say, so just tape it shut
Shit, half the shit I say, I just make it up
To make you mad so kiss my white naked ass

That last one was from, appropriately, Criminal. Wouldn’t it be sad if the only hope for turning rap into something productive was white rappers? That seems to be the most defeatist angle of it all.

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