Legendary Gangster rapper Ice Cube. Source: wikipedia
I think it’s funny that there is a degree, quite a high degree, of hostility towards Gangster Rap. Gangster Rap follows a long tradition of boasting and violence which has been part of American culture for hundreds of years. It might be wrong, but it is hypocritical to not like it in one section of society but find it acceptable in another; in addition, it indicates a lack of understanding of American culture to act like gangs and gang violence are some kind of a new phenomenon in America; and, stereotypes dictate that people believe gangs to be the monopoly of Black and Latino youth.
Martin Scorcese’s “Gangs of New York” was a breath of fresh air in this regard. The movie took place in mid-1800s America, with good old Anglo-Saxon and Irish Catholic gangsters, committing the most heinous acts of brutality; and the fact is, the movie was based in fact. Bill “The Butcher”, one of the main characters in the movie, was based on real life American gangster William Poole, who was known for beating people senseless, gouging out eye balls, and having a deep hatred for immigrants; he was one of the original Nativists, the ones who wanted to keep America racially pure. So, his hatred and violence was deep and wide.
And the gangs always had colorful names: The Plug Uglies, the Dead Rabbits, The Whyos, and the list goes on. The gangsters also had colorful names: Bill the Butcher, Kid Twist, Louie the Lump. Today’s rappers with names like Ice Cube, Easy E, and Snoop Dogg simply carry on a tradition of flair and violence which is America.
Gangs in New York go back at least as far as the 1830s, as documented in the book “The Gangs of New York” by Herbert Asbury. But even prior to that, their style of brutality, the quest for status and power, the struggle against exploitation, goes back to the early 1700s, with the old school style of fighting unique to America known as “Rough and Tumble”.
But consider these two portrayals of pure gangster brutality. The first one is a song by rapper Easy E, called “Louisville Slugger”.
And now consider this scene from Scorcese’s “Gangs of New York”.
The same hate, the same disregard for life, the same cynicism and desperation.
America is built on the constant struggle for status, the threat of exploitation, the competition of divided and self centered so-called individualists, and the implicit love of violence; gaining no matter who is destroyed, every man for himself. In such an environment, out of pure need for survival, people will create gangs and resort to violence. Especially when they are given not much else to work with.
More down-home American violence.
There are plenty of examples of old school American violence to be found; including in the form of entertainment: Lending credence to the revelation that violence is simply a part of American culture, no matter what form it takes, no matter who participates, no matter what medium in which it is portrayed.
Featured Image Source: Christiaan Triebert, Flickr Creative Commons