It’s not just that hip-hop is, to put the matter mildly, pro-gun rights (most mainstream rappers could be on the NRA’s payroll), atavistically homophobic (Byron Hurt documented this convincingly in Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, where even a “conscious” rapper like Talib Kweli is unwilling to go against the anti-gay grain) and spectacularly patriarchal (male-female inequality has always been the law of the hip-hop nation) — it is also unquestioningly God-fearing and, not infrequently, proselytizing.
In much of his analysis, Williams is on point. Hip hop’s themes of materialism, homophobia, misogyny and Horatio Alger striving are all perfectly in line with the GOP platform.
Yet, the reason that hip-hop is so anathema to a broader conservative worldview is because of conservatism’s long history of discrimination and hatred towards poor blacks. Moreover, the calculated exploitation of prejudice towards blacks is not just a small ancillary piece of modern conservatism. From Irving Kristol to William Buckley to Lee Atwater, conservatism’s view, however aligned it may be with the values of hip-hop, requires an anti-black effort.
Furthermore, I think the core of hip-hop — that it is, at its heart, an urban art form — runs up against any modern notion of conservatism. Hip-hop gives a detailed picture of failed (mostly liberal, it should be noted) urban policy. Urban policy is an area that conservatives have simply abandoned for electoral reasons.
A closer look at any of the songs Williams references reveals a much more complex core than any prevailing political ideology. From “Jesus Walks,” which Williams characterizes as proselytizing:
It’s kind of hard
Getting choked by detectives yeah, yeah now check the method
They be asking us questions, harass and arrest us
Saying “We eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast”
Huh? Y’all eat pieces of shit? What’s the basis?
We ain’t going nowhere but got suits and cases
I find it hard to characterize these rhymes as anything vaguely similar to modern conservatism. What would Irving Kristol make of a song decrying police brutality and defending the rights of drug traffickers? All the culture wars against urban populations — busing, drug prohibition, “the war on crime,” welfare queens, etc. — have created a conservatism that will largely be inaccessible to poor blacks.
One thing that irritates me about Williams’ article is the assertion that hip hop has not produced a great civil rights leader:
There is a reason the hip-hop generations have never produced a Huey Newton or a Malcolm X. Hip-hop — when it transcends the gutter and goes beyond the streets — doesn’t want to overthrow the system; on the contrary, it wants desperately and at any cost (“Get Rich or Die Tryin'”) to join it.
Well, jazz didn’t produce a civil rights leader, either. The blues never created a powerful national movement. The same argument could be made for rock ‘n’ roll.
I think we are trying too hard to pin an artistic movement to existing political ideologies. How many “Hip Hop and _______” classes do we really need? (OK, maybe this one) How much can we count on an art form to make policy decision for us?