A couple of weeks ago I got the following text from the lovely and talented Joyce Vogler, who I used to work with at the store and is now studying art and being generally wonderful at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.
If that ain’t a dream assignment, I don’t know what is. Here’s a young woman, seeking to actively engage in the art of rap and culture of hip-hop [“good stuff from the 90’s,” specifically] . I grabbed my weathered copy of Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists off of the shelf, just to make sure I wouldn’t gloss over anything in my enthusiasm. It was an intro-level playlist, I admit, but illustrated some of the best the music’s had to offer over the last thirty-plus years. The whole exercise was a pleasurable one, reminding me what I loved about the music I’ve dedicated so much thought and energy to.
And then, this.
Sometime this morning a video of Lil Reese, an 18-year-old rapper from Chicago signed to Def Jam and a crewmate of Chief Keef [he who does not like] started exploding the rap webs. In the video, Reese appears to be arguing with a young woman [the mother of his child, according to some reports] who asks him to leave her home [though it’s unclear whose home it is]. He pokes her, she smacks his hand away. He shoves her, she rushes up in his face, where he proceeds to unload on her with punches. Once she’s knocked down, he continues to kick and stomp at her head while her friends scream in the background. As onlookers do nothing and the cell phone cameraman keeps it all in the shot.
I’m not running a news site here, so I’m not going to post the video because frankly I don’t want it here in my ‘house,’ but it’s on Miss Info’s site [with the appropriate tone] for anyone who wants to see it.
Forgetting for a moment that the kid beat the shit out of a woman, adding a layer of awesome sauce to this whole disgusting mess is Reese’s complete and utter lack of remorse, or even awareness about his actions, tweeting: The haters tryna see a mf Dwn lol Dey gotta b broke and bored wanna upload sum shit from years ago damnn we winnin it’s 2 late… #3hunna [Note: the tweet seems to have been deleted in the hour I’ve been working on this post].
What are we to make of this, then? If Joyce chooses to continue her studies in the culture, how do I explain/defend this? Does it have to be?
Look, I’m a rap fan since nine-years-old, I’ve had plenty of practice navigating the thorny dialogue about violence and misogyny in the music, but I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t for a moment believe the reprehensible actions of a foolish kid speak for or should reflect on the culture as a whole. As some have pointed out, back in August Pitchfork reported cops charged John Paul Pitts, the frontman of something called Surfer Blood with domestic battery and no one started pointing the finger at indie rock as the culprit.
But. But. I also don’t think there were a crew of plaid-shirted, knitcaps on Twitter defending Pitts’s actions. But check out the search results on Twitter for him, or even in Info’s comment thread on the original story. You’ll see a surprising amount of people looking to defend or justify kicking a woman in the face. Repeatedly. One person doesn’t reflect the culture as a whole, no, but when a surprisingly large segment of the culture seems to empathize…the tried and true argument starts to show its cracks.
How odd that this hits the same week Kendrick Lamar’s much hyped major-label debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city hits the shelves, to near universal acclaim, due in no small part to his portrayal of a kid trying to avoid the street life who can’t avoid the drugs, guns and botched home invasions that run throughout it, whether he’s personally involved with it or not. It should be a good week for hip-hop, but I can’t help but wonder if for every Kendrick, Childish Gambino, or Big Sean, there are a dozen regional acts owning the streets [and thus, the culture’s conversation] that saw that video on World Star and went, ‘yeah, I get that.’
Almost twenty years ago Tupac Shakur, no stranger to explosive outbursts of violence himself, released a song with the following lyrics:
And since we all came from a woman
got our name from a woman and our game from a woman,
I wonder why we take from our women,
why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
time to heal our women, be real to our women.
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies.
That complexity, that contradictory nature, that the same dude who was spitting on reporters and flipping the bird from an ambulance gurney following a shooting could still write lyrics pleading for better treatment of women is what made him such a compelling artist. And without that flipside to the rapper posturing, what are we left with? And how much longer will it stay something I want to be a part of?