Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Did Rap Cause the Rebellion?

Following the events of the past few weeks [translator: meaning the riots that swept France earlier in November], over 200 members of parliament have called upon the Minister of Justice to prosecute rap musicians who they accuse of inciting hatred and violence amongst young people.


SUD Culture is outraged at such an approach, which is just a populist escalation meant to cover up the social issues that have been raised over the past weeks, replacing them with the far-right’s favourite issues in view of the next elections.

After the immigrants, now it’s the artists – who at no point over the past few weeks did anything to encourage acts of violence -  who are accused of “burning down our suburbs.”

Like other cultural producers, French songwriters did not wait for hip-hop culture and rap to come along in order to produce many works which have incited violence, sedition, and contempt for the police and the army… and many of these songs are now a part of our cultural heritage.

Do these members of parliament intend to ban certain songs by Ferré, Brassens, or Renaud…? Will “Le deserteur”* once again be banned, as it was when it first appeared during a sad period of our history, when censorship reigned… as did the State of Emergency?

For the time being, we doubt it!

Right now isn’t the main problem with these rappers the fact that they have faces which aren’t white enough, just like the young people whose frustrations and hopes they carry with them?

It is certainly about time that our country’s political authorities put an end to the nauseating escalation taking place, and that they finally get to work creating a national policy that can resolve the crisis of the popular neighbourhoods. A policy that should involve neither repression nor provocation nor demagogical and electoral exploitation of these social problems.

Paris, November 25th 2005
SUD Culture (Solidaires Trade Union)
12 rue de Louvois - 75 002 Paris
Tel : 01 40 15 82 68
sud@culture.fr http://www.sud-culture.org

*translators note: “Le deserteur” was a song written by Boris Vian in 1954, just after the French were kicked out of Indochina and just as the Algerian War was beginning. It takes the form of an open letter to the president explaining why the singer is dodging the draft; the song was banned and Vian’s concerts that summer were plagued by violent attacks. Today it is considered a classic, and Vian is considered an important mid-twentieth century French artist.

Please note that the above text comes from the SUD – a trade union of workers in France’s cultural industries  – and was translated by yours truly. I translated it because i think that the issue of censorship, and the scapegoating of rap, are important questions – best viewed as assaults on immigrant and working class culture. I certainly disagree with the SUD’s appeal that the government “get to work creating a national policy that can resolve the crisis of the popular neighbourhoods” – indeed, all of the evidence seems to point to the fact that the government has such a “national policy”, and this is not a good thing! Neverthess, i felt it useful to make this text available, especially as there seems to be less and less written about the rebellion or its after-effects…

I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. Please note that the title of this translation – “Did Rap Cause the Rebellion?” – is mine and not the SUD’s. The original document can be seen in French here.

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the author’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

For background to the riots, including a timeline, check out the Wikipedia entry.

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  1. Music
    Hip-hop music today is a disgrace to our generation. Every time you turn on the radio you hear, “Bitches, Hos, Ice, Blunts, Cristal, and 20-inch spinners.” Rappers such as, Snoop Dogg, Juelz Santana, and L’il Jon not only objectify women, but they use explicit language, violence, and endorse underage drinking and doing drugs. What kind of role models do we have for kids today? They convey the message that in order to be successful in our society, you have to be surrounded by beautiful women, nice cars, and flashy jewelry. Suburban teens from middle and upper class families are even getting into the urban way of life. Street violence has increased significantly, perhaps due to this negative influence. Women are also desensitized to this subculture. Hip-hop videos portray women as scantily clad and easy. Young girls are sitting at home trying to replicate what they see in these videos. They think the only way men will be attracted to them is if they look like those girls. Music censorship has become more tolerant of this derogatory nature. How far will it go? Will female nudity become an acceptable form of so-called art in hip-hop videos? With the younger rebellious generation buying into the hip-hop market, it will be hard to reverse. Twenty years ago, music had a positive message. Music used to be an intelligent art form with a catchy tune. Somehow it has evolved into a mindless, offensive, poor excuse for music.

  2. Since I live in the US, what I'm about to write is about the hip hop scene here, which for better or for worse, is what I know the most about. Perhaps someone else can speak to what's up in France, Canada, or somewhere other than the US...

    >Every time you turn on the radio, bitch this, blunt that

    Well...that's what you hear on the radio, but that's not the only thing that rap is about. For example, did you know that Snoop Dogg is a vocal supporter of getting Tookie Williams off of death row, so he can continue his work calling for an end to gang violence? What about Davey D, who's website is one of the best hip-hop oriented social change sites in the US? See www.daveyd.com for what I'm talking about.

    I think the key to what you're saying lies in turning on the radio, especially mainstream corporate radio. At least in the US, corporate radio is controlled by racist, bush-supporting, limbaugh-underwriting creeps like Clear Channel, who in my humble opinion, never met a drive by they didn't like. This is the same media conglomerate that not only cancelled their public affairs show on KMEL in California, they also refused to play a song by Brand Nubian that took a stand against sexism in a way that spoke directly to some of the less enlightened brothers without being preachy, staying instead with their usual UN-uplifting fare of smack yo' ho. Why did they do this? Well, the report I heard said that the Clear Channel suits thought that because the song was in the voice of a black man talking to a black woman, that their white female viewers may feel offended by it. Say what? Some of the artists on mainstream radio may be the problem, but they're definitely not the ones pulling the strings.

    So...OK. Here's some hip-hop artists who work against what you're talking about, both in their lyrics and in their lives in general:

    michael franti
    the coup
    arrested development (i know, hecka old school, but hey)
    public enemy
    ursula rucker
    dead prez
    war club (they may be a bit militant for your tastes, but they are definitely holding it down for the native youth movement - if you've ever struggled, and i know you have, they've got your back)
    common (who has been known to be more than a little homophobic, but he's cleaning up his act)

    now, some of these artist talk about using drugs, and yes, they talk about sex. but it's not all about drugs and sex, and it's definitely not all MTV'd out like that. Seek and ye shall find...