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The Ludacris Dissent

In the wake of rapper Ludacris being announced as a performer at Summerfest, I posted a semi-defense of rap music the other night. The blogosphere is still wrestling with the issue of "gangsta rap," given the recent shooting of a four year old girl in Milwaukee. Some local personalities who I respect, some who I like, and some, well... some who have radio shows - are suggesting that there's a link between Ludacris' profane persona and the tragic shooting of Jasmine Owens. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's misguided to suggest somehow one has begotten the other, merely because they both happened in a close time period. Therefore, I respectfully dissent.

Regarding Ludacris' appearance at Summerfest, James T. Harris says:

I’m calling on Mr. Smiley and the Summerfest board to reverse their asinine decision. This is not the time to arm enemy combatants with weapons of ideology. That is what the rap culture is. An ideological weapon of mass destruction.

Milwaukeeans, Wisconsinites and who ever else reads this blog: It is time to view the culture of violence in a new light. We can no longer just be serious about this. We must take the problem personally.

It is time to live and or die by principles. Right now, children are dying for nothing at all. If we’re not careful, that’s what they’ll be living for, too.

As far as I know, Ludacris didn't shoot anybody. Suggesting that he, a popular entertainer, is in any way responsible for violence on the street has it exactly backwards. That's like blaming the importation of cocaine into the U.S. on Tony Montana. Jasmine Owens was shot by a criminal. And why people who usually abhor those who blame the criminal actions of individuals on society are now handing the killers a "rapper made me do it" defense is beyond me.

The nihilistic culture of violence and sexuality exists in our inner city, and Ludacris is holding a mirror up to that way of life so it can see itself. Ludacris is a byproduct of that culture - the culture is not a byproduct of Ludacris.

Rappers aren't millionaires because they sell CDs to black people. Rappers gain fame worldwide because they sell CDs to white people. Suburban white kids eat this stuff up because it makes them feel "authentic." If you looked at Ludacris' record sales, I bet you'd see just as many CDs sold in Brookfield, Menomonee Falls, and Franklin as you do in Milwaukee. But where is the violence in those "white" communities? If Ludacris was such a negative influence, why aren't all the white kids in Oconomowoc gunning each other down? I'be been listening to rap virtually my whole life - including some of the most objectionable - and yet I've miraculously avoided capping anyone in the ass.

It's simple - because the culture comes first. Fatherlessness. Poverty. Lawlessness. Those are the problems that face our inner cities - rap music just packages those themes and markets them to the world. In fact, much of rap music emplores African-Americans to rise up against the tide of racism to succeed. If rappers were so influential, why hasn't that happened?

There's plenty of sewer-grade entertainment out there for white people to consume, and some of it is very popular. When Quentin Tarantino movies feature sadistic violence and drug use, we write it off as entertainment. When the group Slayer "sings" the following on their CD "God Hates Us All," nobody bats an eye:

I'm suicidal, maniacal, self-destructive
You leave me no hope, no life
Nothing worth living for I've taken it, can't take it anymore
My worst nightmare
You make me want to slit my own f***ing throat
Just so I'll be rid of you
Just to get rid of you
You self-righteous f***
Give me a reason not to rip your f***ing face off
Why don't you take a good look in these eyes
Cause I'm the one that's gonna tear your f***ing heart out
My hate is contagious; you've got no one to run to
Just tell me f***ing why everything becomes an issue
Your opinion is always senseless - f*** this
You make my f***ing skin crawl
I've lived with it - can't stand anymore
My worst nightmare
I want to take a bullet in the f***ing head
Every time I think of you, every time I think of you

Slayer actually played in Milwaukee in July of 2006, and no faces ripped off or bullets in the f***ing heads were reported. But why do we tolerate this garbage from white artists? Because it's white kids listening to it - and we presume that white kids know wrong from right. Culture comes first.

Ludacris is an easy target, and one that's tangible. Ergo, we pressure Summerfest to get rid of him, and we feel we've accomplished something. The scourge of absent fathers, drugs, and failing schools are intractable problems without concrete answers. So while we may all feel good that people willing to pay their money to go see Ludacris won't be able to, in the end we really haven't accomplished anything but self-gratification.

One could argue that I'm setting up a false choice - that you can't object to Ludacris' lyrics if you're not willing to also propose a panacea to cure all social ills in the black community. That's certainly not true - obviously, the content of a lot of rap is galling, and people are free to object. But this train left the station a quarter of a century ago for rappers, and it ain't coming back. The Ludacris song bloggers are linking to as an example of his lyrics (Move, Bitch) is six years old. Remember when Bill O'Reilly urged a boycott of Ludacris a few years ago for signing a deal with Pepsi? Ludacris' big punishment was that he became one of the most popular rappers of this century and had a prominent role in a movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture (Crash).

I'm not defending all of what Ludacris or any other rapper says, how they portray women and drug use, or anything else. Obviously, a lot of it is garbage, and it certainly doesn't do anything positive for society. But not only are there going be rappers like Ludacris for the rest of our lives, there will always be kids willing to buy their music. In the grand scheme of things, rappers aren't even a blip on the screen of the cultural challenges we face. The only hope that we have is that we've done a little parenting by the time it hits our kids' ears.