the cause of violence

3 09 2007

Today the New York Times ran a pretty fascinating little piece on Colorado Springs and its music scene. Surprise, surprise: Police are blaming gangsta rap and hip-hop music for a spike in homicides in the area (there have been 19 already this year, compared with 15 in 2006).

I know what’s obvious, here: You can’t blame any form of art for what people choose to do in the long run. Just as the idea that listening to Linkin Park was a primary factor in the Columbine shootings of 2001 was purely ludicrous, the analogous conclusion that the glorification of drug hustlin’ and gun totin’ in rap music directly causes actual drug hustlin’ and gun totin’ in modern society is equally deranged.

As the Times article rightly addresses:

Others here say the police are focusing on hip-hop instead of addressing the growing pains of this largely white, conservative city, home to the evangelical groups Focus on the Family and New Life Church.

There’s something to be said about the fact that Colorado Springs is in so many ways just a ticking socio-political time bomb waiting to explode from the extreme antithetical forces at work here. The article extrapolates:

Since 1990, the metropolitan area of Colorado Springs, which sits south of Denver, has swollen to nearly half a million from 397,000. Though outright racial tensions, which led to marches here in the 1970s and ’80s, are largely of the past, there remains a sense of benign neglect toward minorities, said Dr. José J. Barrera, former director of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. That neglect has translated into a chasm between the city and its minority youth, Dr. Barrera said.

Bingo. The police are right to note that there’s something wrong with Colorado Springs. Blaming all this on gangsta rap is far and above one of the easiest solutions. But cutting down on the number of rap shows in the area (as scary press linking the music to homicides has effectively done, cutting the number of concert-goers at one venue from 700 on any given night to 300) is not going to stop anything. Seriously: What kind of person, feeling alienated by their country for whatever reason, goes to a rap concert and suddenly realizes that the answer to all their ills is a drive-by shooting? Homicide cases are far more common within ethnic groups (i.e., you’re far less likely, if you’re White, to be murdered by someone who isn’t), and homicides victims are disproportionately of ethnic minorities. Press releases about rap cultivating murder act only as further scare tactics for rich, White Americans who are already unjustly terrified of Black teenagers on killing sprees.

So to recap the obvious: Colorado police are delusional. And thank God the New York Times had the common sense to publish an article that rightfully concluded:

After the show, the crowd tumbled out of the club. Young men politely chatted up a group of women. A couple tried to coordinate a ride home. Two men exchanged solemn stories of prison.

The only sign of trouble was a flat tire on someone’s customized sedan.

What maybe isn’t so obvious to liberal readers of this article is that corporatized gangsta rap is actually a pretty big problem in America. It is unfortunately true that too many youth, victimized by institutionalized racism and classism in this country, idealize the lifestyle of drug dealers and ho hustlers, and a lot of the reason for that is an omnipresence of this kind of music. Corporate music producers exploit these ideals because they are known to sell. The saddest part of all of this is that the initial social and political cause behind hip-hop music is too often lost in the airwaves; Public Enemy-style Damn-The-Man music is at an all-time low since hip-hop was first assimilated into mainstream musical media in the ’70s and ’80s.

There are still hip-hoppers fighting the good fight, combating major domestic issues in America today; In These Times did a great cover piece on political hip-hop last year called “Bigger Than Hip-Hop,” for example, which chronicles the leagues of musicians who attend the National Hip-Hop Convention every year, rapping for social and political change. Local rappers in urban cities also make waves with gruesome tales of what it means to be a minority youth in America today (Immortal Technique famously comes to mind).

I’m personally very keen on this rapper from New York called Cause, too. I’m including a few MP3s in the hopes that rap artists like this will come into their own in the coming years.

MP3: Cause – More Than Music

MP3: Cause – Click Clack