I know rap, not black people

IMG_0483Toby Johnston

I grew up in Los Angeles the 80’s, rabid fan of all things rap. I am white and for many of my friends (Mexican, black, white, lower/middle/upper class, whatever) rap was the music of rebellion. I got called ‘wigger’ by my white(r) friends and heard a lot of hate spewed. And yet at the same time, through the love of the music, I came to understand the African-American & immigrant experience through very narrow lens.
I see this myopic perspective from a generation of kids who were grew up with rap. Rap created icons of disenfranchisement easily accessible by our teenage angst and yet simplified the narrative of what ‘race’, and in many ways ‘gender’, could be.
I think this myopia is easiest to identify in the bias of those who hated rap, called it ‘jungle music’ in the pejorative, but the misinformation worked both ways. Rap elevated a struggle but also define an individual’s potential in a very dangerous way.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love rap but I don’t confuse my love the music with an understanding of those peoples and neighborhood that it came from. I understand rap, and its later corporate sanitized little brother ‘hip hop’, as only a single voice in the discussion and not the whole choir.


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