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Rap and Violence

Posted by purplemary54 on February 26, 2013

Last week, rapper Kenny Clutch was killed in a fiery shooting-accident on the Las Vegas Strip, just across the street from Caesar’s Palace and not far from where Tupac Shakur was fatally shot in 1996.  A cab driver and his passenger were also killed when Clutch’s Maserati flew uncontrolled through an intersection and smashed into the cab, causing it to burst into flames.  The video of the scene is frightening.  I’ve been to Vegas, and I know that the action–and the traffic–never really stops.  Such a casual disregard for the lives of the probably hundreds of people on the street chills me to the bone.

I read a story that says a suspect has been named.  He was the guy police claim was driving the black Range Rover with paper plates and opened fire on Clutch’s car. I half suspect they’ll catch him eventually, but I’m not holding my breath.  The police don’t have a really good track record catching the killers of young, up and coming rappers.  After all, Tupac’s killer has never been caught.  Neither has the murderer of Biggie Smalls, known as The Notorious B.I.G., who was shot to death less than a year after Shakur.  I remember when all of it went down.  All the talk of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry.  The Crips and Suge Knight and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs.  There was a feeling of violence in the air back then, that bullets would start raining down at any moment.  It was shocking, and it still is.  Suspects have been identified, most either cleared or never arrested because of lack of evidence.  Considering that these men were shot in crowded public places, I am both confused and not surprised by that.  Confused because someone must have seen something, must have witnessed the single moment that would provide police with irrefutable proof.  Not surprised because it’s probably really easy to lose crucial physical evidence in such a chaotic scene.  The murder of Kenny Clutch and two innocent bystanders is just another bloody chapter in a tragic book.

The one that hit home most for me was the murder of Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay (born Jason Mizell) in 2002.  A shooter walked into a Queens recording studio, shot Jay and another person, and walked out.  While there have been suspects named, no arrest has been made to this day.  Mizell’s death didn’t have the immediate breaking news impact of the other deaths because Run DMC had disbanded and faded from the spotlight, but he was a member of the first rap group I ever listened to.

Rap music has gotten a bad rap because of such incidents.  These young men feel obligated for some reason to portray themselves as criminals and thugs, even if they come from comfortably middle-class backgrounds.  It’s an image that sells, so I’m sure there’s plenty of external pressure to continue the image.  But even though rap has become inextricably associated with violence and crime, that’s not what this music is about.  I don’t pretend for a moment that I understand the cultural milieu surrounding rap, or that I am part of its audience.  But I know that this music can be as transformative and brilliant as any other genre.  I know that these men and women aren’t always like the personas they create to sell records.  I know that what happened last week, what happened 11 years ago, what happened 17 years ago–those were aberrations.  I refuse to believe that violence is inherent in rap music.  The music itself can be violent (and sexist and homophobic and racist, not to mention shallow and materialistic).  But that’s art.  And while art does not exist in a vacuum, there’s no reason to believe that this is the reality of an entire industry.

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4 Responses to “Rap and Violence”

  1. Sandee said

    Great post! It’s sad the way these kids, a lot of them, feel that have to live this image.

    I’m so old I was there at the dawn of hip hop. In the mid-seventies guys would come to the park with two turn tables and a microphone — haha. We had early rappers at our house parties back in the golden years.

    • Read Love Goes to Buildings on Fire by Will Hermes (?) if you can. It’s about five years of music in NYC that changed the world. There’s a lot about the earliest MCs and break boys.

      • Sandee said

        Thanks for the recommendation — this sounds really interesting. Melle Mel from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five went to my highschool — he might be in this book.

  2. That’s so cool! One of my high school classmates got nominated for an Oscar a few years ago. It’s kinda fun when you can say you knew them when.

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