I've got a whole city to hold down

March 25, 2004

Turn off that devil music!

Yesterday, under the headline “Authentically Self-Hating,” Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page launched an attack on what he called “hip-hop culture” (elsewhere, with revealing awkwardness, he also addressed “hip-hop rappers”). His supposed ammunition? The results of a survey, published in January, on the attitudes of urban black teenagers about sex and status.

“Today's teens have grown up awash in hip-hop and so have their parents,” Page writes. “The sad consequences have been a narrow and distorted view among many black youngsters, among others, of what it means to be black.”

One problem: Page doesn’t bother to share whatever conclusions the study drew about the actual direct influence of hip-hop on these attitudes. After a diligent web search, we couldn’t find the facts, either—though we did track down the publicly available summary of the study’s key findings, which makes a handful of vague references to the influence of “the media,” but specifically excludes discussion of hip-hop.

Page's column grants that some survey respondents “praised certain hip-hop artists as more ‘positive’.” But that doesn’t stop him from sneering at the “macho pose” of “a culture that uses ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’ as labels for every woman but one’s mama.” Then he pats himself on the back for transcending a youthful naivete that once caused him to “buy [a] narrow notion of blackness.” And he winds it all up with a call for “elders” to show black teens “a broader vision of what black culture is all about.”

A few points for Page:

Ever thought that you’ve replaced your youthful “narrow notion” of what it means to be black with just another narrow notion—one that just so happens to look a lot like you?

Think you might have a “narrow notion” of what “hip-hop culture” is? Ever consider that your reactionary, uninformed dismissal of hip-hop might undercut your ability to reach young people with your positive message? Really, what teenager wants to listen to another grumpy old man preach at them about the evils of something he doesn’t understand?

Or how about this: Ever listen to Kanye West’s “All Falls Down”? (Read the lyrics or listen to a sample.) If you haven’t, you should—if for no other reason than it’s the current single from the #1 rap album in the country. It’s the work of a guy from Chicago, your very own backyard. And as social commentary on the “get it while you can” mindset you ascribe to those “hip-hop rappers,” it’s a heck of a lot more insightful and nuanced than your own column.

We don’t doubt, Mr. Page, that your motives are good. But your column reveals more about your generational and class differences with most rap fans than anything else.