Rap, not Rand.March 17, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Posted in British Politics, Music, Art, Etcetera, U.S. Politics | 6 Comments
For whatever it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing to see the Republican Party rediscover its low-spending, small-state past. For one thing, nobody will be able to claim in either 2010 or 2012 that there’s no difference between the major parties, and I’d like to think that a focus on fiscal responsibility will, for a time at least, extinguish the power of the fundamentalist fringe. Sure, in the aftermath of the stupendous financial mismanagement of the Bush years, all the rhetoric coming out of Camp Elephant sounds hilariously hypocritical, but I suspect they were doomed to around 12 months of ridicule no matter what they said.
But one slightly more surprising consequence of all this political & economic change has been the explosion of interest in the Ayn Rand novel, Atlas Shrugged, which is staunchly defended in a piece by Bella Gerens which has been doing the rounds . Being one of those damned collectivists, there’s obviously not an awful lot I can relate to, but it’s still an excellent piece of writing.
On the topic of Ayn Rand: I suspect I’ll see the inside of a casket before I try to start Atlas Shrugged, but when you consider that my list of Books To Read Before Death only grows longer by the year, that’s not too much of a slight. Beyond that, I’m not going to pass comment on something I haven’t read, except to note that this book, like Orwell’s 1984 , is just a work of fiction.
Nevertheless, political fiction has a rare ability to make ideology come to life. When done right, it can turn abstract theories into practical scenarios and force readers to confront their established ways of thinking. Rand did libertarianism a great favour by novelising its key concepts, and there are plenty of people who describe themselves as libertarian today because of that book’s influence.
But the problem with Kids These Days is they don’t have the attention span to read anything longer than a Twitter feed, so how does a libertarian persuade the ‘Yes We Can’ generation to change their slogan to ‘Tax Is Theft’? As foolish as it might be to give a helping hand to a political foe, I think I have the answer: get ’em listening to Gangsta Rap.
Yes, I am being serious. Whilst it’s suffering from a creative and commercial decline at the moment, hip hop remains one of the most listened-to musical forms on the planet, and reaches people far beyond the reach of most politicians, nevermind novelists. What’s more, the genre is full of themes which are suspiciously similar to libertarian ideals.
First, rap celebrates individualism. Rappers use the personal pronoun like hairdressers use a pair of scissors, and most songs speak of overcoming great adversity, celebrating triumph or just simply being ‘the shit’. Rap is about agency, not structure, and the message that anyone can make something of themselves if they work hard at it .
Rap is also idealised as the freest of free markets. In The Battle, rival MCs square off and verbally attack each other onstage, and the crowd roars its approval for whoever does the best job of destroying his/her rival. This old footage of Eminem shows how he overcame the white jokes by simply being far superior to those doing the taunting; towards the 3:40 mark, he splits his enemy in half by ad-libbing “everybody in this fucking place will miss you if you try to turn my facial tissue into a racial issue. Nobodys hearing you, you’re a whack liar; there, all your white jokes just backfired“. For anyone not au fait with rap, that’s quite exceptional lyricism, and shows that freestyle battling is one of the truest forms of meritocratic art. On stage, talent is all.
Gangsta rap is one of the few art forms where success is celebrated in song and entrepreneurship is sacrosanct. As Jay-Z reminds us, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” The Re-Up Gang speak of their recent past when they rap about a “million dollar corner from the school of the hard knocks, built an empire off of hard rock. The phrase “mind on my money & my money on my mind” is so often-used that it might as well be a cliche, and rappers regularly use sales figures to slap down their less successful rivals, like when Jay told Mobb Depp that “I sold what your whole album sold in my first week”. In gangsta rap, commercial success equals influence, validity, even virility.
There’s more: rappers can speak from first hand experience about the wretched war on drugs, as many made their millions from rapping about dealing them. And then there’s a fondness for the Second Amendment, and protecting their hard-earned property by ‘any means necessary ‘.
Individualistic, meritocratic, proud firearm owners, sworn enemies of the War on Drugs and possessing a mixture of social liberalism and personal responsibility – for a libertarian, what’s not to like?
Sure, the hip hop community, like the wider black community, is heavily affiliated with the Democratic Party, and some of the rappers mentioned in this post worked very hard to elect Barack Obama President. But if libertarians really wanted to try to expand their movement into some unlikely places, they could do a lot worse than appropriating some of the motifs and messages prevalent in thousands of million-selling rap songs.
There is one problem, however; what the hell rhymes with ‘libertarian’??