Flat White

Gangsta rap and our African crime wave

2 January 2018

10:29 AM

2 January 2018

10:29 AM

In 2007, the then minister for immigration, Kevin Andrews, banned from entry into Australia famous gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg on the basis of failing the character test. At the time, the action provoked some bemusement. But the minister had properly observed a causal relationship between gangsta rap and the tendency for antisocial behaviour in a particular cohort of recently arrived refugees in Australia, namely all too many young males of South Sudanese descent.

Unfortunately, once Andrews lost the immigration portfolio, the ban was lifted and Snoop Dogg was able to subsequently tour Australia. This was unfortunate because the causal relationship between gangsta rap and the type of youth behaviour that is increasingly featuring prominently in the news was not widely recognised at the time.

Bronx lawyer Mark Kressner filed suit in 2007 against the US record companies for “fostering a persona that needs violence and confrontation for its authenticity.” Acting on behalf of a man assaulted by famous rapper Busta Rhymes and his bodyguards, the lawyer was “suing not just Rhymes and his entourage, but the record companies that … encourage and reward the rapper’s behaviour.”

Charis E Kubrin is a rap scholar who is the Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine. In a paper entitled “Gangstas, Thugs, and Hustlas: Identity and the Code of the Street in Rap Music”, Professor Kubrin examines the intersection between gangsta rap, the street code it seeks to express, and the violence that is a part of this on the street and also in the lyrics that aim to reflect this.

Detective Superintendent Patrick Boyle, an expert on street-gang culture, has noticed in the youth in question “an obsession with US gang culture, from the wearing of the red and blue of feuding LA gangs the Bloods and Crips, to spraying 187 – the penal code for homicide in California – on walls.”

American society is one that attaches a lot of meaning and significance to the concept of race, refusing to treat it as a superficial physical characteristic and instead elevating it to the level of ontological significance, such that one does not so much have an appearance as one is that very appearance. This appearance thus constitutes one’s “identity”, governing the way one walks, talks, thinks and acts.

Indeed, so pronounced and deeply ingrained is this sense of racial feeling in the United States that abstract nouns are routinely modified by adjectives, such that a vote, music and culture can be matter-of-factly described as being “black” or “white”, disconcertingly seeming to make a connection between behaviour and physical attributes determined by genes.

Perhaps accordingly, one distinct aspect of rap and hip-hop has been its insistence on colour-coding itself to maintain it as a specifically and distinctly “black” art form and means of expression. So much is this the case, to such an extent is this form of music jealously maintained as the exclusive patrimony of “blacks”, that when “white” rapper Eminem managed to gain entry and acceptance into this gated community, it was recognised as an extraordinary and rare concession by this culture’s gatekeepers.

Whenever people of a darker hue become exposed to American cultural influence, the young males in particular know to identify rap and hip-hop as being specifically the banner and emblem of an allegedly universal and monolithic “black” culture and identity.

The problem is that while gangsta rap is purportedly an expression of the authentic reality of inner-city urban life, highlighting the plight and struggle of all too many young “black” males in America’s ghettos, it only serves to simply celebrate and legitimise an antisocial and destructive culture that coarsens and degrades the general culture, very much poisoning everything it comes into touch with while offering nothing redeeming in the process.

The curious thing about rap is that it does away with the normal euphonic elements of music, instead being spoken-word poetry accompanied by a prominent beat. This raises suspicions as to why it was able to rise to such prominence from the beginning of the 1990s in the first place.

When President Eisenhower gave his farewell address, he warned about the danger posed by the military-industrial complex, seeing in its methods a threat to American democracy. Fear was being whipped up by the media, by politicians and arms manufactures about an alleged “missile gap” that existed with the USSR. President Eisenhower was in a position to know that this was all bunk and that it was instead driven by the economic interests of the arms industry, causing him to fear for the future of American democracy.

The prison-industrial complex has followed in the wake of the military-industrial complex, cashing in on the massive incarceration of Americans (America, with five per cent of the world’s population, has a whopping 25 per centt of the world’s prison population). It is a multi-billion dollar industry “with its own trade shows and conventions, its own web sites, mail-order catalogues, and direct-marketing campaigns.” And as with other industries in America, the private-prison industry also makes campaign contributions and employs the service of lobbyists.

Chicago rapper and aspiring politician “Che Rhymefest” thinks something fishy is going on in all this and smells a rat, suspecting that “hip-hop and radio and the corporations that proliferate it play a huge part in promoting images of the culture of violence as something that is acceptable, cool, or just a daily event.”

Rhymefest alleges that rappers are the spokespeople and marketers of the prison-industrial complex, ginning up business for this booming industry by waxing lyrical about the glories of having a long rap sheet.

President Trump has on more than one occasion bewailed the carnage in America’s inner cities, citing Chicago in particular. While this is ultimately a problem that can only be fixed at its source, in America, Australia can do something to blunt its influence here.

Kevin Andrews recognised the source of the problem we are increasingly seeing on our streets back in 2007. Peter Dutton must do the same and henceforth ban from entry into Australia any rapper “harder” than Kanye West – Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and the rest of these “gangsta” types – under the powers afforded him by section 128 of the Migration Act.

It will not stop the nefarious influence of gangsta rap, but it will be a public declaration of what we think about it.

Frank de Sousa is a Melbourne writer.

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