Rap Music and riots – some convoluted thoughts, sparked by Chuck D…

Album cover - Gil Scott Heron, The Revolution will not be televised
As riots grip the US again, how influential is rap music?
In: What we think
As of midnight, thousands have logged on to iTunes to purchase Jay-Z and Kanye West’s highly anticipated collaboration album, Watch The Throne. And while the number of people forking over $15 bucks is rather surprising in the age of “free” music, it more surprising in these humbling economic times, when dropping $15 is somewhat of a luxury.
Under these circumstances, Watch The Throne is becoming much more than your standard who-ripped-the-track hip-hop conversation. Instead it’s becoming a dialogue on the increasing line between have and have-nots, a particular dichotomy that is illustrated well in hip-hop, where anthems on hustling to survive, have been largely replaced by hobnobbing in the Hamptons as the new measure of “swag.”
All this while the communities in which the culture was born are suffering some of the most troubling economic times in recent history. Last week, Public Enemy frontman Chuck D sent a message to Jay-Z and Kanye with his own rendition of the album’s first single, Otis.  Chuck D’s version, “Know This or Notice,” chides their lavishness, asking the two to take notice of the financial and social conditions of the communities that their music represents.
via newsone.com

I’ve been listening a lot to a couple of old albums recently. Pure co-incidence that I’ve re-discovered them as the riots have erupted, but I’ve developed a new perspective on them both because of them.

First up Dr Dre’s 2001 – for some reason it wasn’t on my Ipod and I searched out the CD when I moved a couple of weeks ago. It’s a vicious, offensive and brilliant album. Not one I’d play to the kids.

And secondly, loads of stuff by Gil Scott Heron.

And while I’ve been listening to them, I’ve been trying to work out if there’s anything in the music/culture which may have influenced the recent events.
Gil Scott Heron is overtly political – always has been. Dre always seemed to reflect the world he lived in. Yes, he glamorised and glorified it at the same time, but it wasn’t political per se. But it undoubtedly legitimises a form of behaviour, and reinforces/normalises certain behaviours – as well as making it somewhat aspirational.

So when I saw this piece – and listened to Chuck D (who always has been political), I started to have a bit of sympathy with his perspective. The glorification of bling isn’t a new thing, but it’s more relevant than ever.

No answers. But It’s certainly got me thinking about cause and effect…

Written by
Chris Reed
I set up Restless Communications in 2011 to create strategic and integrated campaigns for brands I believe in. Away from work I shout at Arsenal, listen to loud music, and walk my dog.
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