This fake controversy about the rapper Common and his invitation to a White House poetry reading had me thinking about “Sucker M.C.’s”, an old rap song by RUN-DMC. Sean Hannity has proved once and for all that he is a real Sucker M.C., a “sad face clown” who “just ain’t right.” To Hannity’s core Fox News audience, the kind of people who delight in listening to him decry subversive Negro madness, this manufactured controversy lines right up with what they want to believe about African Americans.
But most of my mulling has not been about Hannity and his Hee Haw Posse of attack dog guests over at “We Wish We Were A Real News Channel”, who will be sputtering and muttering about a Christian vegetarian pro-life rapper from Chicago for the next six weeks, a rapper whose biggest group of supporters are white and college educated. Some of my mulling has taken place because unlike most of the general public, I actually go to real live poetry readings from time to time, the kind that feature poets no one has heard of yet. And some of my mulling has taken place because I grew up on rap music, and have often wondered, at various junctures during my early adulthood, what it would have been like to try my hand at rapping for a living.
After growing up hearing someone like Grand Master Flash toil over a off kilter beat to create “The Message”, with its haunting imagery and the multi-layered irony of its language, I don’t think the socially conscious rap artists that I’ve heard recently place as much importance on the idea of matching their rhyme scheme and the alliteration in their lyrics to the underlying beat. In a way, the modern day socially conscious rappers are more like slam poets. They are both at the performance end of the poetry spectrum, where stark, visceral idioms are designed to resonate the first time they are heard instead of being reread over and over again in order to glean hidden or obscure meanings from the work.
I’m making this distinction because I used to be a literary snob myself, until I discovered that I liked being read more than I liked being clever and oblique. And I also made this distinction because Sean Hannity, with all the infinite wisdom he could glean from the semester or two he spent in college, has been hell bent on comparing Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work to live performance oriented poetry, which is about as close to an apples to eggplant comparison as you can get.
But all of this sidesteps the real issue – what is it about rap music that drives its critics crazy?
The “gangsta rap” that FOX Newsers are so desperately trying to tie to the back of the presidential limousine, like the proverbial tin cans tied behind a car with “Just Married” written in the window, happens to employ an overabundance of non-photogenic black men who seem to go to extra lengths to massacre the King’s English, men who are prone to boast about arrest records, police warrants, gun battles, drug dealing and strip clubs. Real gangsta rap cedes the moral high ground, preferring instead to embrace the negative, to transmogrify criminal acts into cool points, temporarily levitating inner city youth out of poverty while simultaneously entertaining voyeuristic suburbanites. In many ways, its contradictions are both its limitations and its strengths.
Common is as close to being a real gansta rapper as Sarah Palin is to being a real presidential candidate. Which is another way of saying “this is never gonna happen.” Now if Michelle Obama had invited the rapper Too Short, I might have had to protest myself. But this isn’t why the “Wish We Were A Real News Channel’s” viewers keep listening to this broken record their own Sucker M.C. keeps spinning on the ones and twos. Hannity can get his core audience riled up pretty good over these make-believe controversies, but unless he’s got a time machine laying around somewhere, there is no way he can make the rest of us brown skinned folks disappear.
“Gansta rap” is simply the vehicle that’s being used this week. Next month there will be something else from the Fox News Sucker M.C., another arrow from the quiver of “guilt by stereotypical Negro behavior” association that is supposed to help rid the White House of its family of dark interlopers.