It dawned on me the other day that rappers like Ice Cube – pioneers of Gangster Rap – were not so much making commentary on Black America, or the ghetto or even just gangsterism, but were making a general commentary on American culture. You would have to consider the fact that gangsterism has existed in America for a long time, almost as far back as the inception of the USA.
The song that popped in my head when this semi-revelation occurred was Ice Cube’s “Man’s Best Friend”. Man’s Best Friend, of course, is a shotgun or a pistol or some sort of firearm. Ice Cube makes the point in the song that the average gun owner is not a Black or Latino kid in the ghetto or barrio, but, rather, a middle-aged middle-class white male. America is sort of a gun culture, a violence culture that has had gangsterism as part of the milieu since Billy the Kid or even before that cowboy’s era. I made the point before that Ice Cube likes to make his point in a microcosmic way to reveal something with more depth and breadth. Typically, while he might talk about the ghetto, he’s usually just talking about America and American culture; after all, American ghettos are America too and just a certain kind of reflection of America.
America is certainly a dog-eat-dog country; we compete for jobs, positions within jobs, businesses compete to take each other over or run each other out of business and there is no doubt that there is violence in the streets. The more desperate a person is for position or even just survival, the more likely it seems they are to use violence. Self defense is a prime concern too and the more advantage you have in that arena the better. American culture is a culture of self-interest and competitiveness, and these tenets are a part of the social and economic system and burned into the psyche of the average American.
So, gangster rap and Ice Cube’s commentary is all the more relevant to American society and, obviously, not just the piece of American society that is the focus of his material. Man’s Best Friend is the side arm that keeps him from being pushed out of position, that aids his survival and that puts him on top. This is true of rich and poor, Black, white, brown, yellow and red.
I think we would do well to look at this central issue, the core of the problem, and not just focus on the particulars of certain segments of society that we are quick to label or misconstrue. Because if this is a problem in our society, we will need to dissolve the core of the problem not just pick at it’s outer edges. The core of the problem is a nation-wide environment and approach that either requires or expands violence. This is what we must investigate and address.
I’ve been listening to Hip Hop music and exploring other aspects of the culture since the early 1980s, my teen years. I’ve seen it go through major changes. But there’s a common spirit underlying this Movement. Hip Hop Ya Don’t Stop!