They're Outhere. They're here. But would you want your children to listen?
Is gansta rap all a white conspiracy? Daniel Jeffreys reports on the US's black liberal backlash, while in the UK Lloyd Bradley wonders why only white kids need protecting
Monday 31 July 1995
Yet the idea of the Outhere Brothers encountering the Obscene Publications Act remains little short of ludicrous. Whose definition of offensiveness are we dealing with: the young black kids who are gangsta rap's primary market, or the rapidly increasing new listenership in the vanilla suburbs? As with other similar carry-ons - over NWA, say, or Ice-T- it's only when the music moves beyond its black homebase to an audience of white kids that suddenly it's a menace and must be stopped.
Here in the UK, any black person who has so much as glanced at the gangsta rap scene will be aware of this double-standard of offensiveness. And of the unthinking insult it offers up - that we somehow have lower standards than "respectable" white people, and so won't be offended if our children bring this stuff home. Which is why the news that middle-class black parents in the USA are making noise about gangsta rap is Broadly A Good Thing. Quite simply because it advances the idea that more than a few of us live a good life instead of the Thug Life - and not because they're going to get anything done about anything by attacking it in such a simplistic manner. Most record company executives - black or white - would sell nuclear waste if they thought it would ship platinum. And gangsta rap wouldn't be there to sell, if black artists weren't ready to record it.
But if a kid shoots his sister because he imagines Snoop Doggy Dogg told him to, then that kid has got bigger problems than his listening habits. Gangsta rap didn't create the situation, it reflects it.
OK, maybe it also perpetuates it through glamorisation, but I spent several months in Watts almost 20 years ago and kids were shooting each other to a soundtrack of Philly, Funkadelic and Kool & the Gang. Surely the major concern ought to be that life - inside and outside the home - offers so little else that these children take the likes of Tupac Shakur so seriously.
They don't seem to in London, thankfully. The idea that what they hear is anything more than an act makes most black UK rap fans laugh. Even the most committedly hip-hopping teenagers will tell you it's a work of fiction. For evidence of gangsta's thespian qualities check out the ease with which major rap stars step on to the screen: Ices T and Cube, Will Smith and Tupac have all made films, while Queen Latifah and LL Cool J have their own sitcoms ferchrissakes.
Tell your average black kid that rap is corrupting their minds and they'll point out that it's thrill-seeking white folks who take the gangsta approach to heart, who seem to think that it can't be genuinely black unless it involves murder and/or misogyny, like back in the Seventies when the mainstream's self-appointed guardians of reggae only believed it counted if it was the heaviest dub with the most potent herb.
There's a widespread assumption that all black people accept all gangsta rap without question; that any young black kid with enough intelligence to find the shop by himself, and get served, is still too stupid to separate what makes sense - Kam/Public Enemy - from the senseless - Smif-N-Wessun/Duce Duce; and that the humour and irony which play a large part in so many of these records will only be recognised by buyers of the Caucasian persuasion. That such assumptions can still be made now, in 1995, is depressingly indicative of the way "they" look at "us" - all lumped together by the lowest common denominator. But the most astonishing thing is that anybody could perceive a couple of musical moppets like the Outhere Brothers as gangstas. Proof positive that, to many white people, we really do all look the same?
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