FEAR OF A WHITE RAPPER

vanilla_ice80susacoat

I recently watched Ice T’s documentary Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap, and I found it to be a very informative and entertaining piece on hip-hop. I definitely recommend that you (yes, YOU) check it out, if you haven’t seen it. I was particularly interested when they featured Eminem. Ice T and the other rappers who discussed him couldn’t have been more complimentary towards him. Ice T flat-out called Eminem one of the greatest rappers ever. Ice T and Redman were talking about him, and they were both saying that they think that one of the reasons Eminem is so good is because he is White. He knew that as a White rapper he would be facing harsher standards and scrutiny and that it would be harder for him to get accepted, so he had to make sure that he wasn’t just good, he had to be great. And that’s what motivated to become as great as he is now.

And I do remember when Eminem first broke out into the mainstream, with the Slim Shady L.P. Even with Dr. Dre backing him there was still some resistance to him. I remember watching some music awards show, it was either the Soul Train Music Awards or the BET Music Awards, and when Eminem’s name was mentioned there were some audible boo’s from the audience. He’s won over most Black fans and critics now, but it took awhile. He had to prove that he wasn’t just a gimmick like the man who’s picture I’ve posted at the top of this blog. But a couple of recent examples shows that even with Eminem’s success, there’s still resistance to White rappers. I recall back in January when Macklemore won the Grammys for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance (along with Best New Artist), that caused a lot of controversy. I didn’t watch the Grammys myself (because, really, I don’t give a darn about the Grammys anymore, and am kind of surprised that anyone still does…) but I saw my Facebook and Twitter feeds blowing up that night, with Black folks going on and one about how Kendrick Lamar (or Drake) was “robbed,” and this was a huge outrage. I remember being a little surprised by the initial reactions I was seeing online. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as “up” as I used to be on current rap music (or pop music in general), but I thought Macklemore was popular, I thought everyone liked him. But then I started seeing the “they only gave him the awards because he’s White!” accusations popping up. It didn’t make sense to me then, but I kind of get it now.

Rap music is bigger now that it ever was. I remember when rap music was still consider a “fad” that wouldn’t last. Now there are rappers who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Dr. Dre may be a billionaire soon, or at least close to it. Yet I think that among some Black rap fans, particularly the older folks, the ones in their mid to late 30’s and up, there is still this fear that White people are going to “steal” rap music from us (by “us” I mean the Black community). That it will be taken and watered down and turned into something else, and that the Black pioneers of the genre will be shunted aside, similar to what happened to early Rock N Roll music. It was mostly older Black folks I saw complaining about the Grammys on FB. I remember back in 2008, when Vibe Magazine took a poll of its readers and they voted Eminem The Best Rapper Alive, and I was on the Reginald Hudlin message board, which had a predominately Black membership, and they were hating that, naming guys like Rakim, KRS-One, and Big Daddy Kane as better rappers. But the folks complaining there were also older fans. I tried to explain, look, Vibe Magazine caters to teenagers and young people. We should not be surprised that this is who their readers selected.

And then of course there’s the recent brouhaha over Forbes Magazine doing an article on Iggy Azalea titled “Hip Hop Is Run By A White, Blonde, Australian Woman” . That sparked many blogs like DEAR FORBES: THIS IS WHY IGGY AZALEA DOESN’T “RUN” HIP-HOP, and more conspiracy-minded articles like The Conspiracy to Whitewash Hip-Hop. But I’m not worried about this. Yes, I’m sure that there are probably several White music executives, A&R reps, managers, etc., who wish they could find the rap version of Pat Boone, and have him just copy Jay Z’s songs and style and become a big star. Or that they could just come up with a formula for creating rappers, the way Lou Perlman created boy bands in the 90’s. But rap doesn’t work that way.

In my opinion, rap music, probably more than any other genre of music, is based on authenticity. That ability to write rhymes and say something meaningful is an intrinsic part of the genre. That can’t be faked long-term. Anyone can get “hot”, have some radio hits and sell out concerts for awhile, based on catchy hooks, nice beats, and an attractive “image”, but it won’t last. And it doesn’t matter what race you are. Vanilla Ice sold 11 million but he didn’t last. And neither did his contemporary, M.C. Hammer, who sold even more than he did. The history of rap music is littered with Black rappers who went platinum and then disappeared from the industry. Remember Young M.C.? He’s around the same age as Jay Z, yet he hasn’t sustained over a decade of hits like Jay has. So the idea that the music industry can just “whitewash” hip-hop, by promoting White rappers, doesn’t make sense. If it was that easy then Eminem’s brother Nate Kane and protege Yelawolf would be as big as he is, but that hasn’t happened.

The fact is that rap music has gone global. Kids of all races love it. And some of those White kids who grow up loving it are going to want to do it professionally, just like the Black (& Latino) kids, and being White might get them some extra attention at first, but unless they’ve got talent they won’t last, no matter how many articles Forbes Magazine (which isn’t exactly considered an authority on hip-hop anyway…) writes about them. And those who do last, like Eminem (or the Beastie Boys before him), will be the ones who really feel affinity for the culture, and aren’t just faking it. So their success shouldn’t be greeted with suspicion or anger. Time will tell if Macklemore or Iggy fit that description and are here for the long-term or not. We’ll see.

Just my opinion.

92 comments

    • That reminds me, there was this young Chinese-American rapper called Jin, who became the freestyle battle-rap champion in BET’s 106 and Park years ago, and got a lot of buzz. He got signed to Ruff Ryders and released an album, but it didn’t do as well as it should have. I remember thinking he would be big, but I think he ended up moving to China and becoming a Born Again Christian rapper.

      Liked by 1 person

      • His music should have done so much better because he was very talented. I believe it was just a situation of being with the wrong label and they weren’t able to get him where he needed to be.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree completely. RR really screwed up the promotion there. First in continually pushing back his release date. I think his first album didn’t come out until over years after he won the Freestyle Friday championship. By then the buzz had died. They should have struck when the iron was hot. Even if they needed more time on his album, they should have him featured in on other Ruff Ryder artists’ albums, and maybe put out some mixtapes to keep his name out there.

        Like

  1. I can understand why some older fans would be wary of white rappers. But I see it more as evolution than as thievery. Most rappers are still black, especially the popular ones, and I’m sure that’s how it’s going to stay for years to come. But we will have more Eminems and Macklemores breaking into the scene, as well as Latino rappers like Pitbull, Middle Eastern rappers like Hadag Nachash and Subliminal, and Asian rappers like Psy (if you want to count him as rap). Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if someday we have all those ethnic groups and races competing for the same rap Grammy someday.

    Like

    • Agreed. I’m betting that Latinos in particular are going to become a HUGE part of the rap industry, as that population continues to grow in America and many come from the similar backgrounds that Black rappers came from.

      Like

      • You know, Jay Sean, who’s Indian British, started out in the British rap genre, but moved to R&B because his chances of musical success were better there (and some of singles have shown it). You think 20 years from now, someone like him could’ve made it as a rapper, rather than having to switch genres?

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I got an email notification about it from WordPress last night, and wasn’t even sure what it meant, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. Then a couple of hours ago I logged into my account from work and started seeing all the new site views this post was getting, plus some comments. I don’t know why this old post out of all of them got selected, but I’ll take it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. On this site, you get a lot of stories that begain with i’m white and you are black or yellow, red and clearly superior. If there were two doors and you had to go through one. One went to hell and one went to the other place and in front of each door was a robot you could speak with. But one would always lie and the other orbit always told the truth which robot was white?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really interesting post, I loved Art of Rap as well. I completely agree with your comment about “authenticity,” it’s one of the most important aspects of rap music’s quality. It’s interesting, then, when you examine how in the modern rap industry, white rappers have a much harder time establishing their authenticity. While the likes Mac Miller and Action Bronson have been able to establish some success in this regard, others like G-Eazy and Hoodie Allen are just kind of a joke. Like Vanilla Ice, they seem to have achieved short term fame, but nothing that will be long lasting. This problem seems much more prevalent in white rappers than black or minority rappers. After reading your post, I wonder whether this is because the industry doesn’t accept authentic white rappers, or if white rappers just are in general less authentic than others. Anyway, good post, it got me thinking

    Like

  4. First, I think this is a great article. I agree with its points, and I congratulate that this has gotten some fame here on WordPress, but I wanted to say something first.

    Latin American people don’t belong to an only a race. I’m one myself, and I’m white. Latin American means that you speak some tongue derived of Latin as your native language (be it Spanish, Portuguese or French) as opposed to English. It’s not a race matter, there’s white, black, aborigin people in Latin America too. I’m white myself, and Argentina is a predominantly white country, which does not deny more racial diversity in places like Brazil, or Cuba, with high numbers of black population, just to put an example.

    The brown skinned person that comes to mind to most of U.S. people when talking about Latin Americans is most probably a biracial person with aborgin heritage, or just a person with aborigin heritage, plain and simple (I assume the U.S.’ calls them native americans) but this is not the reality of the whole half of the continent.

    Now going back to the main topic of the article, I’m rather ignorant whether we can call Pitbull a hip-hop artist, as far as I know he makes dancehall pop songs with a rap bridge, which is not necessarily bad, but does that and relying on a sample make it hip-hop?. Authenticity, does it rely on the fact whether hip-hop artists write their own songs? Whether they’re capable of expressing a vision of their own? (these are not meant to be aggressive questions, I’m sorry if it sounds this way)

    In Latin America. what’s trending ve trending, is a hip-hop imitation known as regga(e)ton: drum machines, a rapper gimmick , autotune with topics ranging from leftist politics to highly sexist lyrical content. I’m not the best when it comes to hip-hop knowledge, but I’m sure that this “so called” genre is a bastardization of it at best.

    And yes, I believe there’s certain reluctance to the appareance of white people in hip-hop, but like you say, as long as the measure for all aspiring hip-hop artists is whether they’re talented at what they do, racial issues should be held secondary by those who judge. Besides, like you point out, Grammys don’t really hold that much importance anyway. They’re indicators of commercial success at best, not talent. Only the test of time will verify whether the current mainstream artists will leave a mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for that comment (which unfortunately got sent to my spam folder for some reason, which is why I just saw it). As I said, I’m not as up with modern rap music myself these days, and not that familiar with Reggaeton music. But I know Pitbull is considered a rapper, even if his musical style is a little different.

      Like

  5. Quality matters, not the color of skin. When I hear great lyrics and word-smithing in a rap song, it grabs my attention. Eminem does that routinely. Mackelmore’s not my favorite but I find I enjoy some of his stuff.
    I don’t have to worry about “is that another one of those white wannabe rappers?” Talent shines out and people notice.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Congrats on getting Freshly Pressed and I think this was a good piece. It seems that nowadays that the older generation of hip-hop are worried that the culture itself is being forgotten or being dumbed down but that’s the risk it runs seeing as it’s now global and obviously profitable. I think as long as any artist is authentic and can actually write as well as being original, they will be respected.

    Which is why, personally, I don’t listen to Iggy Azaela but find it weird how she has ‘adopted’ an accent instead of using her own Australian accent and I that to me isn’t authentic and real. In the U.K for instance, there was a problem when Hip-Hop ‘started’ here where rappers where using American accents and were quickly critisized because of it yet in this case it seems to be okay to do?

    And the Grammy’s thing was stupid, it’s not an award show that really cares about hip-hop, I’ve always wondered why don’t Hip Hop artists have their own award shows and host it (like the Source’s back in the nineties?).

    Once again, good piece!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yeah great article , I also caught the documentary on Netflix it was dope to see how ICE T interviewed old school legends of hip hop such as Cool Herc , Big Daddy Kane , KRS one etc. For me Hip Hop/rap was alive and kicking from the late 80s, 90s early 2000s then underground hip hop retained the same style as it was back in its Golden years.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I like the post.. I think that rap is all about the story which is told. I personally like rap a lot, and i do not look at color or where the rapper comes from. The depth within the lyrics are which matter. i feel your article!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Emilio Rojas is a really great Hispanic rapper. I forget if he’s Puerto Rican or what, but he is awesome. There is also a Brazilian rapper called LAWS that I’ve really enjoyed, his style reminds me of Eminem, and when you hear these two (Rojas and LAWS) together it’s just insane.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed this blog post. I recently read David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello’s Signifying Rappers which is a pretty good read you should check it out if your not already aware of it. Being a white rapper myself I never really think of things in the context of who is the best. I freestyle because its in my blood and soul. To me rating or voting who is the best is against the grain of what freestyle/rap is all about. On any given day someone can spit out something dope and the next just not be feeling it. I recently took a road trip to visit an old friend we played Mr. Scruff Pandora stationed and free styled the entire way down. He told me that I was on Eminem’s level (which can’t possibly be true cause the man is a god). The point is everyone likes what they want and to say so and so is the best is asinine In my honest opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The Philosophunculist made a great point. What if someone from another race takes over rap? This shouldn’t be the end of the world! This is great that music shows no racial preference and can be enjoyed by everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I agree. That’s one of the points I’m trying to address here, that rap music (like all music) is universal now. And if the day ever comes that the majority of major rappers and rap groups happen to be non-Black it’s not going to be because of some massive conspiracy in the record industry, it’s going to be because those rappers are good enough and people like their music.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I loved this post, VERY informative. I am a 80’s & 90’s
    baby, so I loved that ol’ school rap, and I am a white girl.
    I think Eminem is a good rapper, but just not a big
    fan, BUT I also think he is very talented, and as you said,
    really had to prove himself. Most of his work is raw, real,
    he crosses lines, yet his verses are very powerful.

    I am a BIG fan of Iggy, and personally think she is getting
    crap because of her race. I think she is super talented,
    but like you said, if these people are really talented, then
    they won’t just disappear, and like you said, we shall see.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very cool title, I dig it. Great write up, thanks. You know what’s messed up about that documentary? How is T just gonna sleep on the Beastie Boys… NO mention in the movie. NO love for the OG white boys of rap. They are like the Beatles of Hip Hop….I just don’t get it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I just don’t like how as soon as the public gives notice to a white person who sings soulful music or raps hip hop, immediately people wonder if they are the future of a genre that originates among Black people. White people are frequently awarded the title “Best” for an artistic style endemic to Blacks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a legitimate concern that you raise. That’s why I admit that being White does probably give White rappers a boost of attention that they may not have gotten otherwise, just because they do stand out as Whites in a predominantly Black field. But, for the reasons I outlined in the post, I don’t that’s enough to actually put them on top unless they’ve got the talent to back it up.

      Like

  15. I try very seriously to ignore politics or the artist personal life outside the music. Could we not celebrate that there is an opportunity to come together on all levels for joy, i for one ignore this conversation.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Kevin Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.