Rap/Hip Hop and Irish Music
First off I want to let everyone know who this is. It’s your friendly neighborhood bodhran player, Garry Walker. And yes, I’m that guy who wore a cloak and had ROCK music as my entrance theme. I’ve read a couple of posts on the thread about "being hated for Irish music part 2" regarding rap music and I wanted to talk about what to me are some offensive perceptions of rap and hip hop by some Irish musicians. I’m an emcee and a producer as well as a black Irish musician who has experienced racism in Irish music. Here’s some stuff to keep in mind as we talk about why these negative perceptions exist:
1. All popular music is not rap music. For example from what I’ve heard it’s gotten around that my entrance theme was some kind of hip hop which it was not at all. It was a rock song, which is the furthest thing from hip hop, and incidentally it was by Maroon 5 which is 5 white guys. I may be black but I listen to and enjoy all kinds of pop music as well as Irish music. I run a record label that includes hip hop, electronica, spoken word, and rock to name just a few.
2. Both Irish and hip hop/rap music were born in cultures that were experiencing extreme racial oppression. Both become like a way of life for the people who participate in them, and become like a cultural identity rather than just music, even for people who come to these genres outside of the culture.
3. Irish dance people say that tap dancing is the result of cultural interchange between Irish immigrants to the American South and the black people that they met there. At that time Irish people and black people were both the lowest rung in society and were oppressed and discriminated against.
4. Irish and hip hop songs have a lot of the same themes: love, death, wealth, pining for someone who’s dead, immigration (from Ireland to America or from a poverty-stricken place in America to New York or Hollywood), promiscuous behavior, etc.
5. Cyphers and jams vs Irish music sessions: Both traditions have spontaneous music gatherings for fun and socializing. In hip hop somebody starts a beat (beatboxing, which is vocal, or instrumental) and people freestyle which is rhyming words and phrases off the top of your head. It’s a way to put away the politics of the music and have fun, just how in Irish music sessions there is a low-pressure environment where individuality is celebrated and players can appreciate each other’s contribution.
So why is there such a negative connotation attached to rap and hip hop? Here’s some of the ideas I’ve come up with, but I want to hear your opinions, even, maybe especially, if you are someone who looks down on rap.
1. Let’s be honest: black people to this day are seen as morally corrupt, threatening, and to blame for a lot of problems in this country. And hip hop was created and is dominated by black artists.
2. The experience of black people in this country has certain consequences for artistic expression. There is anger as well as hope, and many of us experience or witness violence as a part of our life. Music has always been a way for every culture to strike out against the government, the status quo, and to express a wide range of emotions and experience as a voice for the community. Irish music was once forbidden under the Penal Laws; even now Irish music can sometimes be seen as a symbol of Irish nationalism, which has been a violent struggle.
3. I somehow doubt that this is the biggest concern of a lot of white people who dislike hip hop, but there are some negative images of black women in some hip hop. I don’t support this and I won’t allow anyone on my label to perpetuate antifeminist sterotypes. There are many artists who have great music that is very popular that kids listen to who don’t support this either, like Will Smith, Common, Kanye West, and Dead Prez. And anyway, have black women suffered more from negative stereotypes in rap or from "welfare reform" perpetrated by white republicans?
4. Furthermore, even an artist like Jay-Z, who may have a lot of things to say that people wouldn’t agree with on some topics, should not have all their work discounted. For example his latest single, 99 Problems, talks about how to deal with racism and the police. He states all the rights given to anyone in this country when the police stop you, and talks about how to deal constructively with cops that are out to get you. Sadly, this is important and useful information for black teens. Unless you have experienced being black in America you have no idea of the fear that one lives in of cops from day to day. Or unless you are a Catholic in certain neighborhoods in Northen Ireland.
5. Eminem: He is the most prominent rapper in hip hop, one of the most controversial, and he is WHITE. He has some of the most violent, misogynist, and homophobic lyrics out there. Could a black artist even get away with saying what he says without having hip hop outlawed altogether? However, his sheer skill, lyricism, and talent cannot be ignored. It is a whole other debate whether music that is artistically good can be divorced from distasteful associations, the classic example being Wagner’s popularity with the Nazis.
Traditional Irish music has been associated with Irish nationalism for a long time. One could argue that there is a certain political agenda in promoting Irish language and culture, and that insistance on hardcore traditionalism has more to do with politics and what the music symbolizes culturally than art. It might sound silly to politicize Irish music and dance, but there are those to whom it is no joke. Hip hop music is a cultural movement that sometimes makes political statements; in some circles, even playing Irish music is a political statement more powerful than words or lyrics. Black Americans and Irish people have a lot in common historically, and it seems that Irish musicians aware of the historical context should be the last to criticize rap and hip hop.
So now I want to know what all of you think about any or all of what I’ve said. I hope it makes sense and feel free to ask me to clarify things.