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Gangsta Rap? What Gangsta Rap?

Sat., July 15, 1995

Let me see if I’ve got this straight.

C. Delores Tucker, a veteran of the civil rights movement, teams up with conservative cultural critic William Bennett to launch a frontal assault on gangsta rap. Bennett, founder of Empower America, praises “family, children, values.” Tucker, founder of the National Political Congress of Black Women, decries the “filth” that is “warping our children.”

Far be it from me to question their noble intentions. But there’s one teeny, tiny problem with their campaign.

There is no gangsta rap.

Not anymore. Not to the degree there was back when this debate mattered.

These days, the twin towers of gangsta, Ice Cube and Ice-T, spend more time making movies than music. Tupac Shakur, once one of the most notorious figures in the genre, disavowed the gangsta movement in an interview published earlier this year by Vibe magazine. Dr. Dre is quiet. Snoop Doggy Dogg has spent more time in court than in the studio lately.

“Gangsta rhythm has passed its peak of popularity,” says Arturo “The Rhythm Rocker” Gomez, a DJ for a Miami radio station. Bennett and Tucker, he says, are two years too late.

“To a great degree, the market is bored with the music,” says Havelock Nelson, who writes about rap for the music industry’s authoritative Billboard magazine. “Rap was always something that did what it had to do in one area and then moved on. People are listening more to Mary J. Blige, Monica, and Montell Jordan.”

Kids, he adds, “are responding from their own tastes, and their tastes are telling them this stuff is stale.”

That’s right. The gangsta phenomenon is on life support, yet here come 66-year-old Tucker and 51-year-old Bennett, rushing to save the children from rap thuggery. After that, maybe they’ll do something about that Elvis fella, who I hear has the girls all worked up.

It is to laugh.

It is also to sigh at the sad futility of it all.

Because the absurd mistiming of the Tucker and Bennett campaign points up much of what is wrong in our effort to counsel and protect children. We are, if you’ll forgive the buzz words, reactive instead of proactive. Indeed, while Tucker and Bennett obsess over gangsta rap, the kids are doubtless already hatching some new mischief we won’t notice until 2001. Remember: Gangsta rap came to prominence in 1987 with Ice-T, but public concern didn’t significantly manifest itself until 1993 with the usual suspects.

The fact is, pop culture is a Lamborghini. And our reaction is a city bus.

So maybe the smart thing to do is get out of the reaction business. Anticipate instead.

Certainly, we can’t predict what new affront lies ahead. But any moron knows that there will be an affront. There always is. So prepare.

I would have more respect for Tucker, Bennett and all the other would-be cultural critics if they understood this simple principle and acted upon it. It is a waste of time to begin counseling kids as they sample the outrage of the day. What we have to do is reach them in quiet times beforehand and teach them “then” that right and wrong are not useless abstracts. That one must learn to think. That respect begets respect.

And that love matters.

Being taught those things might not stop them from sampling the outrage du jour. But it may ensure that, physically and emotionally, they survive the experience.

There are no headlines in the teaching. No news story as sexy as a fight against gangsta rap. But neither is there the risk of looking as foolish - and as out of touch - as Tucker and Bennett do right now.

They are reading yesterday’s headlines as though they were breaking news, declaring war after the enemy has surrendered, insuring the china after the toddler has opened the cabinet.

The dead horse is pounded to glue, and one might reasonably wonder what the children are doing in the meantime.


Tags: column, music

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