Yesterday Jonathan Guthrie, the City Editor of the Financial Times, wrote a front page opinion piece that attracted a great deal of comment. The piece, titled “G-Dawg splashes out tax cuts like P Diddy with Dom Pérignon in his blingiest giveaway”, dissected George Osborne’s Autumn Statement with the aid of a range of hip-hop references. Mr. Guthrie’s words have been thoroughly dissected by Alex Hern of the New Statesman, but the most startling moment was when he observed that “as an art form, rap is loud, gestural but lacking in substance.”
Rap, of course, isn’t the only art form that gets loud and gestural from time to time – after all, Luciano Pavarotti was pretty good at belting the tunes out – but I felt that Mr. Guthrie had short-changed the genre, to put it mildly. Saying that rap lacks substance is like walking into a bookstore, catching sight of Pippa Middleton’s new book, and walking out declaring that there is no good literature to be found in the world.
Rap isn’t so much an artform as a culture – much more so, I think, than rock, for example, which I have always viewed much more as a means of escapism. The type of rap of which Mr. Guthrie writes – the sanitised, materialistic dirge that is pumped out over the airwaves, as opposed to the thoughtful societal critiques that are rarely granted mainstream airplay – is unrepresentative of the artform and the wider culture.
The wider problem with Mr. Guthrie’s article is that it stereotypes a group of people whom a very large proportion of the readers of the Financial Times are unlikely to encounter. And that can have very dangerous effects. In my view, one of the problems with the current Government is that many of them have never experienced the deprivation of those whom they are governing, and so they do not understand the pressures that they are experiencing as a result of these cuts. They are applying a weight that the people cannot take. Ironically, with his caricature of rap, it is this same lack of empathy that Mr. Guthrie has served to encourage.
A further irony is that, for any rapper to enjoy enduring respect, their rhymes must have substance. (Incidentally, there are many rappers who could provide brilliant analyses of the damaging effects of the Government’s austerity policies.) It was rappers such as Lowkey and Akala who were among the first to comment on the nuances of the Arab Spring. It was they who first questioned whether Omar Suleiman, with his notorious past, was truly a fitting candidate to rule the new Egypt. It was they who questioned President Obama’s extensive use of drones, a full two years before the broadsheets caught on. It was Wretch 32 who, for years prior to the UK riots, was warning of the possible causes of social unrest. Mic Righteous and Kendrick Lamar are proving today that rap can be journalism set to music. These are people who know what they are talking about. They are be listened to, if not consulted, just as you might consult with business leaders or others who frequent the seats of Newsnight. I do not see why they are being ridiculed.
Whilst rap is often derided for its negative elements, I think that these are unfairly emphasised. Rap, at its best, tells the stories of the voiceless and the disenfranchised, of the human cost of societal and economic inequality. It tells stories of which the readers of the Financial Times would do well to take note.
I have put together a mixtape for Mr. Guthrie, and for others who believe that rap is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. So I sat down one afternoon after work with Giordano, a good friend of mine, and we compiled the following collection of tracks, spanning the last twenty years; though, in truth, we could have chosen thousands of others. Given that this mixtape is something of an announcement in defence of rap, I have called it “The Autumn Statement”.