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Josh Hurst

Hip-hop (Is rap crap?)

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I've cited a few examples of songs I morally disapprove of and even described skipping the tune in my playlist for that reason. For some reason I did not show sufficient outrage for you. Here: "Christine Sixteen is FILTH and NO ONE OF ANY MORAL CHARACTER HAS A REASON TO EVER TAP THEIR FOOT OR HUM ALONG TO IT. EVER!"

Maybe I'm not as incensed by such lyrics as you because... uh, i dont know... they're pop songs, Steven and not many people take them seriously. Including Dre's tune.

I'm not sure I know what you mean by taking a song seriously. I am talking about taking e.g. the dignity of women seriously. Also I am not talking about tapping your foot or humming, ever; I believe I've been pretty clear about my thesis. If you need to review, this is where we began:

All to say, if you fill your life with music with abhorrent lyrics, don't tell me about your critical skills and how it doesn't affect you. You have a moral problem.

Oh brother... :blink:

Edited by SDG

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Oh it matters, it's just that the "good, the true and beautiful" in art are not objective realities.

Then why do you object to crappy guitar solos, horribly cliched lyrics, self-consciousness, preachiness, hackneyed chord progressions and so on? I guess you were only kidding when you said they were abhorrent. All you really meant was not your taste?

That's correct.

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And your pangs of regret, joy, fear, love and wistful longings for things you can't put into words -- there's nothing objective to any of that either?

The things you can't put into words aren't actually things at all?

And btw-- I'm not the only one who's ever found humor in that Dr. Dre tune... Check out Ben Folds' piano ballad cover on YouTube for a good laugh. It's one of his most requested live tunes.

Sure. As a novelty. Something to listen to as a goof. Not something to make a staple of one's aesthetic life.

I've cited a few examples of songs I morally disapprove of and even described skipping the tune in my playlist for that reason. For some reason I did not show sufficient outrage for you. Here: "Christine Sixteen is FILTH and NO ONE OF ANY MORAL CHARACTER HAS A REASON TO EVER TAP THEIR FOOT OR HUM ALONG TO IT. EVER!"

Since the "good, the true and beautiful" in art are not objective realities, I assume this is 100 percent ironic? No truth to it whatsoever?

Edited by SDG

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I am still trying to get around the article that kicked this off. Thr writer seems hung up on the problem that the idea that all rap is the same, all artists guilty of the same lyrical crimes and that the music itself is morally bad.

This is just troubling to me as a starting point.

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Well, yes, the article has several shortcomings, for which Walker has taken his lumps in this thread. Have we missed anything? Any fault in the article that someone has thus far failed to point out?

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It felt like SDG took on the expectation that people needed to prove that rap wasn't one monolithic negative. Maybe I am misunderstanding him on that... asking people if there are any rap artists who extoll positive virtues just came across as someone who got all their info regarding rap from people who hate it. It actually just struck me as unlike him to take a stance that makes broad judgements about an artform...

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It felt like SDG took on the expectation that people needed to prove that rap wasn't one monolithic negative. Maybe I am misunderstanding him on that... asking people if there are any rap artists who extoll positive virtues just came across as someone who got all their info regarding rap from people who hate it. It actually just struck me as unlike him to take a stance that makes broad judgements about an artform...

Perhaps you missed the part where I said "I would like to think it could go without saying that that's a straightforward question that expects an answer, not a rhetorical challenge"? :)

It was a question. I asked because I didn't know, and wanted to know. I specifically asked people (here) who don't hate rap. I do not have an extensive rap sheet (haw!) of info derived from people who hate it. Whatever "info" on rap I have is miniscule and would not support even the most tentative of characterizations of the genre as a whole. I took no stance and made no broad judgments concerning any genre of music.

What I did take on had nothing to do with any genre: I simply called out and rejected the idea that a person who feels they are unlikely to be adversely affected by music with abhorrent lyrics (regardless of genre) can reasonably make such music a staple of their aesthetic life. This, I say, involves a moral problem.

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FWIW, the hip-hop duo Blackalicious (who I've already referenced here, particularly regarding BLAZING ARROW, a top-notch album) could be said to extol "positive virtues."

I second this.

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Well, yes, the article has several shortcomings, for which Walker has taken his lumps in this thread. Have we missed anything? Any fault in the article that someone has thus far failed to point out?

You go away for a few days and all of a sudden it's 1956 again, only this time it's rap (just as a minor irritant, does anybody still call it rap?) instead of the dreaded rock 'n roll that is corrupting the youth of America. And hey, you asked. From Mr. Walker's article:

One doesn’t need to go read dissertations on the reactions of mice in mazes in order to recognize music’s power. Think about the natural reactions of the body to a Braham’s lullaby, a Sousa march, a U2 rock song, or a Lil’ Wayne rap. Although we might be able to curb our natural reactions, the body longs to sit and relax, to march in line, to jump and clap, or to grind and mosh based on the music it hears. Lyrics often become the only litmus test of acceptable music, but music itself impacts both the mind and the body by stirring up emotions in its listeners. Rap music undermines authority as its jolting beat assaults the standards of musical form.

Ah yes, the body's "natural" reaction to various types of music. It's Pavlovian, dontcha know. You hear the beat, and the next thing you know you're jerking spasmodically and ready to rape and pillage. Or as Bob Larson once proved, you play Mozart to a common houseplant and it thrives, and you play Eminem to that same houseplant, forget to water it, and what happens? That's right, it dies. See? And you think this doesn't have an impact on little Joshua or Hannah at school?

All I know is that Sousa marches make me want to shriek and hold my ears. There may be some hidden psychosis-inducing mechanism in the march rhythms, but personally, I'm going to chalk it up to the fact that I just don't like marches. Brahms lullabys tend to make me sleepy, which perhaps might be the intended effect, but I doubt it. What composer is honored by his intended audience falling asleep to his music? And I can't think of a single piece of music, let alone an entire musical genre, that makes me want to grind and mosh, but that might just be creeping age and general tiredness. But even when I was a hormonally addled adolescent, I managed to refrain from simulated sex on the dancefloor. In any case, I'm not sure what this has to do with "undermining authority." Maybe the kids are ignoring the chaperones at the dance. I don't know. All of these strike me as curious if not laughable arguments on the part of Mr. Walker.

For whatever reasons, many Christians feel the need to issue dire theological warnings about stuff they don't enjoy or appreciate. They confuse "I don't like" with "God doesn't like." I suspect that Mr. Walker's Myers-Briggs type is J-J-J-J. Good luck with relating to those students.

Here's some more potentially troublesome data: you can find morally objectionable material in every art form, and certainly in every genre of music. Why limit this to hip-hop? You can also find praiseworthy material in every genre of music, including hip-hop. The trick, as always, is to think and to be discerning, two skills that would have served Mr. Walker well before he began his article.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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What I did take on had nothing to do with any genre: I simply called out and rejected the idea that a person who feels they are unlikely to be adversely affected by music with abhorrent lyrics (regardless of genre) can reasonably make such music a staple of their aesthetic life. This, I say, involves a moral problem.

This does clarify things; I think it's fair to say Greg and Steven are not having a discussion about rap.

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And your pangs of regret, joy, fear, love and wistful longings for things you can't put into words -- there's nothing objective to any of that either? The things you can't put into words aren't actually things at all?

I have no certainty, just faith. And often that faith is teeny-tiny. But it's enough, and I don;t ask for more.

I believe art can provide a wonderful conduit for that sense of longing-- a universal sentiment, vividly described in Romans 8:19-23. That such an internal longing exists in the world, amongst God's creaking, groaning creation, is an objective reality to me I suppose. I think the experience of that longing is entirely subjective and triggered by the things we enjoy in life.

C.S. Lewis said it was the simple idea of "Autumn" that triggered it for him in his youth. For me it is most often music and film. It can be John Coltrane's "Wise One" over a cup of coffee or Band of Horses "For Anabelle" while driving the kids to school. This morning it was "Neon Knights" by Black Sabbath (certainly an odd tune to evoke a sense of wonder) that flashed unexpectedly and ignited my day. I cant say i've ever had that exact emotion listening to Wu Tang's "Careful" or Outkast's "B.O.B.", but those songs definitely make me feel something... and that "something" I definitely enjoy.

I love complex rhythm, textures, melody, guitars, electronics/technology, mood and improvisation. Any one of those elements, or something else, in almost any tune-- jazz, blues, rock, indie, rap or classical-- can leap up unexpectedly and spark that primal emotion in me.

For whatever reasons, many Christians feel the need to issue dire theological warnings about stuff they don't enjoy or appreciate. They confuse "I don't like" with "God doesn't like." I suspect that Mr. Walker's Myers-Briggs type is J-J-J-J. Good luck with relating to those students.

Here's some more potentially troublesome data: you can find morally objectionable material in every art form, and certainly in every genre of music. Why limit this to hip-hop? You can also find praiseworthy material in every genre of music, including hip-hop. The trick, as always, is to think and to be discerning, two skills that would have served Mr. Walker well before he began his article.

God, Andy-- thank you.

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FWIW, the hip-hop duo Blackalicious (who I've already referenced here, particularly regarding BLAZING ARROW, a top-notch album) could be said to extol "positive virtues."

I second this.

I second Jason's second.

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And hey, you asked.

Yep! The same point had occurred to me regarding Walker's "natural reaction" argument, but either I was too tired or I thought Walker's point was so silly as to be almost self-refuting: "If you don't react this way to this music, then there's sump'n wrong witcha!" Does Lil Wayne really make Walker want to grind and mosh? Hm, perhaps we should follow him around and see what dance clubs he goes to on weekends.

Personally, when it comes to music I look for original melody supported by interesting harmony made by people who can sing and play instruments as well as or better than I can sing or play mine. It's hard to find all of these elements at work in hip-hop, which is why the hip-hop I've come across has failed to hold my interest.

But this is strictly a matter of personal preference, and to try and tease out some tortured theological or musicological reason for it would just make me look silly. In fact, from an academic's perspective on musicology, popular music is essentially Western tonal music, and composers and musicologists started putting tonality to bed back in the 1930s. To the extent that rap and hip-hop de-emphasize tonality, they're arguably more up to date with academic musicology than Mozart is.

Edited by mrmando

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I'm not sure art communicates values. It's the way art affects you and the way you deal with it that is important. Personally, I've always enjoyed any art for what it is: art. If the art is secondary to any other kind of subject, I'm less interested.

So you're of the persuasion that art is a completely subjective experience which only has the meaning that the individual engaging with it gives it?

Pretty much, yeah. That's the kind of question I keep asking myself often, and these days I'm around this point of view. I also think that when an artist tries to find a way of reaching people, he basically just asks to these people to get a common sense of understanding what he means, even on emotional levels. And to me, that's wrong. The only good way I know of, is the personal experience, its intensity, its truth. I think every people can get subjective views. And also that every people feels things differently from a same work of art.

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For what it's worth, I have no problem with the idea that bodies respond "naturally" to different kinds of music in different ways. It's not unlike the point that C.S. Lewis makes in The Screwtape Letters about physical posture affecting our prayer (because we are, after all, hybrid creatures, part spirit and part animal).

Where things get dicey is when people start making comments like "Rap music undermines authority as its jolting beat assaults the standards of musical form." Um, WHOSE authority, and WHOSE standards? These are not objective descriptions of the music-body relationship; rather, they are descriptions (accurate or otherwise) of the music's relationship to a culturally specific understanding of "standards" and "authority". And there is no inherently objective reason why we should prefer one culture's standards to another's.

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For what it's worth, I have no problem with the idea that bodies respond "naturally" to different kinds of music in different ways.

Fair enough, but Walker seems to be suggesting that natural responses are necessarily uniform responses ... i.e., that all bodies ought to respond to the same music in the same way. In fact, there are questions of personal preference and hormone levels and cultural contexts that condition even the body's natural, physical response to a given piece of music.

Where things get dicey is when people start making comments like "Rap music undermines authority as its jolting beat assaults the standards of musical form." Um, WHOSE authority, and WHOSE standards? These are not objective descriptions of the music-body relationship; rather, they are descriptions (accurate or otherwise) of the music's relationship to a culturally specific understanding of "standards" and "authority". And there is no inherently objective reason why we should prefer one culture's standards to another's.

Well, if we seek to understand the music, we might look to the culture that produced it for clues ... although, as I have been trying to suggest, this approach may prove inadequate once the music has started to establish itself across cultural barriers.

But yes, to assume that a single cultural viewpoint is automatically the optimum one from which to judge all forms of music is to make a fundamental error in reasoning.

Edited by mrmando

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Let's start with the 19th-century Irish ditty "Rosin the Beau." Here's a song about saluting and burying a drunk old fiddler serenely on his way to hell. (Bet you weren't expecting that!)

No, I certainly wasn't expecting that, because I don't agree that that is what the song is about. The drunk old fiddler expects to die soon, and is serene about that, but I've never thought that he expected to go to Hell. Could you explain why you do think so?

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No, I certainly wasn't expecting that, because I don't agree that that is what the song is about. The drunk old fiddler expects to die soon, and is serene about that, but I've never thought that he expected to go to Hell. Could you explain why you do think so?

Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers include the following verse at the end of their recording of "Rosin the Beau":

I fear that old tyrant approaching

That cruel remorseless old foe

And I lift up me glass in his honor

Take a drink with old Rosin the Beau

That may be what SDG is referring to. Other versions of the song don't necessarily have objectionable lyrics.

This sort of thing happens frequently with folk songs and older popular songs ... there are perfectly acceptable versions of the bluegrass standard "Salty Dog," and then there are versions that put the blue in bluegrass. The late great Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong is one of my favorite fiddlers, but if you should seek out his music, I'd have to steer you away from his version of "Darktown Strutters' Ball."

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No, I certainly wasn't expecting that, because I don't agree that that is what the song is about. The drunk old fiddler expects to die soon, and is serene about that, but I've never thought that he expected to go to Hell. Could you explain why you do think so?

As far as I know, it is the generally accepted understanding of the song. The first two verses establish that the title character anticipates "good quarters" in the next life; verse 3 gives an indication in which direction those quarters lie:

When I'm dead and laid out on the counter

A voice you will hear from below,

Saying "Send down a hogshead of whiskey

To drink with old Rosin the Beau."

In the words of a comment in an online forum, "The other world he is off to is Hell, where he will be happy to share a hogshead of whiskey (correct spelling, he's Irish) with the devil." This gives added context to the verse Mando cites.

I admit I was being tongue in cheek with this opening salvo. I wanted to make it clear that I wasn't going after Evil Rap Music or Evil Rock and Roll. The calling to test all things and bring every thought captive to Christ has no limits.

Edited by SDG

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No, I certainly wasn't expecting that, because I don't agree that that is what the song is about. The drunk old fiddler expects to die soon, and is serene about that, but I've never thought that he expected to go to Hell. Could you explain why you do think so?

As far as I know, it is the generally accepted understanding of the song. The first two verses establish that the title character anticipates "good quarters" in the next life; verse 3 gives an indication in which direction those quarters lie:

When I'm dead and laid out on the counter

A voice you will hear from below,

Saying "Send down a hogshead of whiskey

To drink with old Rosin the Beau."

In the words of a comment in an online forum, "The other world he is off to is Hell, where he will be happy to share a hogshead of whiskey (correct spelling, he's Irish) with the devil." This gives added context to the verse Mando cites.

I admit I was being tongue in cheek with this opening salvo. I wanted to make it clear that I wasn't going after Evil Rap Music or Evil Rock and Roll. The calling to test all things and bring every thought captive to Christ has no limits.

I think that's a reasonable interpretation, and I certainly agree with your final statement, Steven. But I wonder how many people would seriously be led astray by the thought of hell as a kind of extended Happy Hour where one knocked back shots with the Devil and played jigs for eternity. I know your example was intended at least partly tongue-in-cheek. But I suppose I'm not particularly worried about the sinister influence of "Rosin the Beau."

So much of this comes down to temperament, cultural context, and the unique temptations that beset human beings. My wife can watch the movie "Woodstock," listen to Grace Slick sing about feeding your head, and think, "Well, that's stupid," and think no more about it. I, on the other hand, was enthralled by the notion of semi-naked chicks tripping on acid and waving their hands in the air, and thought that that vision might be a noble goal to pursue for, oh, the rest of my life. And it's gotten me into trouble. Hence, it is not a good idea for me to allow myself to be exposed to images or songs that promote drug use. But I'm not willing to issue Definitive Theological Pronouncements about it. It's my issue. It may not be someone else's issue. Some people, like my wife, dismiss the temptation out of hand because for them it's not really a temptation at all, and merely enjoy the groovy music, man.

There is no safe territory, no aesthetic Wonderland where I can simply turn off the need to be vigilant. That certainly applies to so-called "Christian" media as well. It's all messy and fraught with danger. And some of it is astoundingly lovely and moving, and opens up new vistas of seeing the world, as I know you know. The author of the original article that started this current firestorm is dismissive of what he doesn't know and doesn't understand. It's an old, old story, but it's still an unfortunate story. What he may have discovered, if he had tried, is that all hip-hop does not sound alike, that all hip-hop does not address the same issues or encompass the same worldview, that hip-hop has a history, that the music has evolved, and that there is as much variety in the genre as any other musical genre, including his beloved classical symphonies. He reminds me of those film critics whose purpose in life is to count cuss words and breast cameos in R-rated films. He's missed the story. Hip-hop has many stories that are artfully told. But to hear them you have to stop counting.

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He reminds me of those film critics whose purpose in life is to count cuss words and breast cameos in R-rated films. He's missed the story. Hip-hop has many stories that are artfully told. But to hear them you have to stop counting.

I flailed around in vain with explanations, like usual, and this is all I really ever cared to say. Thanks, again.

The thing that puzzled me in this dialogue was knowing that Steven extends this same consideration to films in his reviews, yet appeared to me to have a very different approach to music in this thread. (please note careful use of italics)

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I think that's a reasonable interpretation, and I certainly agree with your final statement, Steven. But I wonder how many people would seriously be led astray by the thought of hell as a kind of extended Happy Hour where one knocked back shots with the Devil and played jigs for eternity. I know your example was intended at least partly tongue-in-cheek. But I suppose I'm not particularly worried about the sinister influence of "Rosin the Beau."

So much of this comes down to temperament, cultural context, and the unique temptations that beset human beings. My wife can watch the movie "Woodstock," listen to Grace Slick sing about feeding your head, and think, "Well, that's stupid," and think no more about it. I, on the other hand, was enthralled by the notion of semi-naked chicks tripping on acid and waving their hands in the air, and thought that that vision might be a noble goal to pursue for, oh, the rest of my life. And it's gotten me into trouble. Hence, it is not a good idea for me to allow myself to be exposed to images or songs that promote drug use. But I'm not willing to issue Definitive Theological Pronouncements about it. It's my issue. It may not be someone else's issue. Some people, like my wife, dismiss the temptation out of hand because for them it's not really a temptation at all, and merely enjoy the groovy music, man.

There is no safe territory, no aesthetic Wonderland where I can simply turn off the need to be vigilant. That certainly applies to so-called "Christian" media as well. It's all messy and fraught with danger. And some of it is astoundingly lovely and moving, and opens up new vistas of seeing the world, as I know you know. The author of the original article that started this current firestorm is dismissive of what he doesn't know and doesn't understand. It's an old, old story, but it's still an unfortunate story. What he may have discovered, if he had tried, is that all hip-hop does not sound alike, that all hip-hop does not address the same issues or encompass the same worldview, that hip-hop has a history, that the music has evolved, and that there is as much variety in the genre as any other musical genre, including his beloved classical symphonies. He reminds me of those film critics whose purpose in life is to count cuss words and breast cameos in R-rated films. He's missed the story. Hip-hop has many stories that are artfully told. But to hear them you have to stop counting.

Thanks, Andy. There's a lot of wisdom here. I definitely agree that temperament and cultural context are critical, that what is a problem for some isn't always a problem for others, and we are seldom if ever entirely on home turf where we can let down our guard completely.

The one point I would emphasize is the point I've been making since the beginning, regarding what we fill our lives with, what we habitually frequent, what are the staples of our diet. An occasional breast cameo in an R-rated movie may be a problem for some and not for others. A lifestyle of R-rated movies with extensive full frontal nudity day in and day out is not, I submit, good for anyone's soul.

Likewise, whatever else may be said for or against rap of any particular flavor, at the very least if you live with bitches and ho's performing sex acts on your nuts whenever you get into the car, that is a problem in your life. Ditto for the other songs I mentioned, of all musical styles. (I do not mean to imply any parity there! The Dr. Dre track in question is abhorrent, and all of the songs I listed earlier are, I believe, morally objectionable. A movie like Witness with a breast cameo is not. I'm simply restricting myself to what I see as the clearest and most incontrovertible practical moral point.)

I even suspect that "Rosin the Beau," given enough exposure over enough time and especially in conjunction with other songs of the same ilk, could become a corrosive force on one's soul. I'm not talking about being misled into thinking of hell as happy hour. I'm talking about where you live inside. The images and themes, the vocabulary, the activities, the ideas that you surround yourself with are eventually woven into the fabric of your life and the shape of your soul.

The hyper-rigorist application of Philippians 4:8, i.e., "Don't ever think about or explore the depths of evil or the darker aspects of the human condition," is obviously an error -- but a worse error would be to effectively moot St. Paul's exhortation as an empty platitude. "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" -- this is sure guidance on the path that leads to life, if not necessarily in a literal way in each and every step, certainly in the aggregate. Keep your eye of the good, the true and the beautiful. Don't fill your life with ugliness. That is what I'm saying.

The thing that puzzled me in this dialogue was knowing that Steven extends this same consideration to films in his reviews, yet appeared to me to have a very different approach to music in this thread. (please note careful use of italics)

Your careful italics are appreciated. I think my approach to both is exactly the same: Both movies and music are free to treat the darker side of human experience; it's the moral light in which that experience is cast that I look for.

I can respect a movie or a song that deals with the reality of e.g. adultery in a thoughtful and morally responsible way. I criticized the songs I did because I consider them to embrace or romanticize adultery. I would do exactly the same for a book or a movie -- The Bridges of Madison County, say. Hope that clarifies.

Edited by SDG

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