Is rap to blame for the riots?

Twitter is currently throbbing with righteous indignation at David Starkey’s appearance on Newsnight last night in which he blamed the riots on the fact that everyone is acting like blacks these days… I didn’t watch the full clip till later, and rather thought it was one of Twitter’s occasional over-reactions. After all we should know what to expect from Starkey by now… But even by his standards it’s bad.

There’s an interesting response here from James Easy, who is himself black. I don’t agree with him, in that he’s trying to argue that Starkey was actually trying to make a more nuanced point, that it’s about the adoption of gangsta culture by white youths, copied from black youths… Well if that’s what Starkey meant that’s what he should had said, rather than implying that black culture = gangsta culture.

There is part of the debate about whether rap music is in anyway to blame for the riots which seems to have been started by the unlikely figure of Paul Routledge, writing a few days ago in the Mirror. He says “I blame the pernicious culture of hatred around rap music, which glorifies violence and loathing of authority (especially the police but including parents), exalts trashy materialism and raves about drugs.”

Now I don’t know much about Paul Routledge’s musical tastes, but I think it’s fair to assume that we’re not likely to find much rap music in his record collection. (For those who don’t know him, he’s a defiantly Old Labour 67 year old Yorkshireman, and one time biographer of Gordon Brown. I’d predict he’s a trad jazz man).

And I confess, I’m not enough of a rap music fan to be able to take him to task with any authority. A quick scan through my iPhone shows that I’ve got  some Public Enemy, the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Fun-da-mental, N.E.R.D., some Dr Dre stuff, some early stuff like Planet Rock, The Message and White Lines, the godfather himself, Gil Scott-Heron, Michael Franti + Spearhead, but not a whole lot more. Oh, and Eminem, a lyrical genius and the only person whose records have ever made me cry laughing. And Beck… who almost certainly doesn’t count. So I think it’s fair to say that neither of us really know what we’re talking about, but on the” Clueless about Rap” scale he’s probably scoring a bit higher than me… he certainly doesn’t cite any rap music in his Mirror article.

One of the recent comments on this YouTube clip of The Message is ” i like this and respect it but im glad shit got gangster lol”… Perhaps there’s a huge gulf between the sort of rap I’m familiar with, and what young people today are listening to, and perhaps that means Routledge is right. But I’m still pretty sure his piece isn’t evidence-based, it’s just yet another paid-by-the-word, written to deadline, knee-jerk reaction from someone whose not really in a position to opine.

There’s been an article in riposte to Routledge in the Guardian, quoting the likes of Professor Green (never heard of him, but he’s got several  hundred followers on Twitter so I am assuming I should have…) and Lethal Bizzle (I know him. POW…). It’s worth a read, and is a better response to the criticisms levelled by Routledge and Starkey than anything I could manage.

For what it’s worth, my view is that blaming rap music for the riots is a bit like blaming punk or reggae for the riots in the 1980s. It was the soundtrack. But it wasn’t the starting gun.

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  • Quietzaple  On August 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Nah tis the fault of the bones which you’ll find referred to Midsummer .. Dream, a Tudor work by some hack Sharkey rates.

    Nedd Ludd picked up on it before he destroyed several Industrial Revolutions and taught it to innocent black folk who became incensed rioters addicted to smart sportswear.

    Glad to have clarified the matter in the absence of a wide ranging inquiry which as we know would have been no substitute for half baked re-readings of the Dully Maul’s guide to immigrant parenting.

  • thebristolblogger  On August 13, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Routledge is just making a slightly more guarded – albeit identical – version of the Starkey argument.

    They’re both using ‘black culture’ as a code for black people who they want to blame.

    The biggest consumers of this ‘black culture’ are white kids from the suburbs anyway. So how come they’re not rioting?

  • Luke Bozier  On August 13, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Rap music has matured somewhat over the last few years. In the 80s & 90s there were times when the genre glamorised violence and the mistreatment of women, but since it has become more commercial and listened to more widely, the lyrical content of the music has changed a lot. Witness the latest joint album between Jay-Z & Kanye West; lyrics centre around philosophy, the state of society, how to raise one’s children in modern America and the meaning of going from having nothing (poverty) to being highly influential multi-millionaires.

    I understand the knee-jerk reaction some people have to rap music, but it’s (mostly) unfounded. There are some positive black male role models in the hip-hop world, and they’re not to be overlooked. If many of our young are influenced by rap, we should see rap as a big part of the solution rather than vilifying it.

    So Kerry, I agree with you!

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