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Confessions Of A Rap Virgin  

Tawfiq Chahboune

Sixteen is of course a funny age. Proof of this is my little brother’s absurd characterisation of me as "narrow-minded", "bigoted" and only liking "critically-acclaimed music" - a reference to the Beatles. He called me into his bedroom to ask what I thought of the music he was rhythmically moving to, a rhythm (more like the satanic possession sequences in the comedy The Exorcist) I had hitherto been lucky enough to be unacquainted with. I was to learn that the noise engulfing the room emanated from a band called Slipknot. The album cover had them dressed in rather strange masks and altogether rather strange clothes. Essentially, they looked like demented wrestlers in immediate need of a bath, and they appeared to be dressed in dirty, burnt Goth-style chic. Predictably enough, they had the musical talent of lobotomised wrestlers. (Incidentally, those who know me can’t quite get over how someone apparently so "conservative" can believe in leftie propaganda. I usually answer something about "barbarism", which loses them instantly.) As to the music, it was the most appalling rubbish I had heard, well, since the last thing baby bro had played on his CD player. I was unable to make out what was being shouted by the camouflaged wrestlers, though I was positive that the word, not the action, "fuck" was being screamed in my direction every few seconds. My brother slowly repeated, sotto voce, the shouts to me. And truly bizarre they were.

It got me thinking. It is the most awful cliché that every generation believes the next generation’s music to be awful, but I can’t have succumbed to this most time-worn of clichés. For one thing, I’ve never accepted that for a moment - my generation’s, or generationish’s, music was rubbish too. The Cure (to good music?), Smiths, the romantics, the new romantics (how Blairite, and just as vacuous), Madness (yup), Level 42 (favourites of the Queen of Hearts), Oasis, etc, etc, had the same effect on me as electrical current would have on my genitalia. We were even subjected to soap stars, British and Australian, crooning away. Who can forget the smash hit Dirty Den’s wife had singing along to the EastEnders theme tune? Or Russ Abbott notifying us of how he loves a party with a "happy atmosphere" (as opposed to an unhappy one?). Nearly everything since the mid-eighties - the period from which I could start taking an interest in music - was painfully bad. We never had a Bob Dylan or a Marvin Gaye or an Otis Redding or a John Lennon or…the list is almost endless. But, and I hate to come over all curmudgeonly, is it not the case that today’s chart music doesn’t even qualify for the same category as that junk? Even Madness, the worst band in history by some distance, at least tried, unsuccessfully, to play something approaching music. For some inexplicable reason - tasteless vulgarians? - people were eager to listen to songs about "baggy trousers". To rectify my narrow-mindedness - let it never be said that I won’t try to confront my bigotries, as Orwell once said of himself - I planted myself in front of the telly and skipped to Sky’s oodles of near-identical music channels. The following delights were on offer: a truly outlandish show called Pimp My Ride (if I remember correctly, there was very little music involved, a car was to be customised, and the gentlemen referred to each other as "dog"); something about "big booties" (the exact title escapes me; the sight has not); a curious man by the name of "Snoop" singing about "pimps", "niggers" (spelt "niggaz", so I am told), his "AK47" and his readiness to "pistol-whip" me (a most unexpected offer and one I’ll have to decline); a music video of a boy band dressed as vampires and werewolves doing all manner of somersaults (impressive that anyone can sing and do a somersault at the same time); an extremely young and fantastically untalented girl band whose only possible audience would be the tone deaf and tone deaf paedophiles (no offence to the musically cultured paedo); a channel almost entirely dedicated to shows called "one hundred top…", "top one hundred..", other permutations involving "top", "best", "greatest", "favourite" and the all-important "one hundred", and so on. I was disheartened, but I resolved to return later in the evening to see if the offerings would improve. They didn’t. It was the same nonsense repeated. The somersaulting horror-film characters seemed to be a favourite of one channel.

An excellent violinist friend of mine is incapable of controlling his temper if he hears the words "music industry". Whereas I’ve always thought that "industry" - rather than, and tellingly so, "craft" - was the perfect description: the creative talent is stripped, and a new band is manufactured every few weeks to sate the newly manufactured demand. A division of labour, one might say. There were two alternatives on offer to explain the musical conundrum I faced. 1. I was not "cool" (true but not an entirely satisfactory explanation). 2. A lot of today’s music is unbelievably, impossibly, mind-bogglingly dreadful, and is getting worse. The following deduction was made: I was right all along. The music is indeed terrible, and spiralling ever downward. The young band (boy, girl, vampire, werewolf) sort of noise is especially horrendous. What passes for R & B (actually Soul) is pretty dire, and even sadder when one thinks of the brilliant songs and gifted singers of yesteryear. Rock n roll, as far as I can tell, has morphed into something approaching the cries, or roars, of the tortured. Dance music is a series of beeps. I couldn’t find any reggae, not that I would be able to judge it satisfactorily. The unfortunately titled "world music" is nonexistent. Jazz? Some twenty music channels - playing 24/7! - and no jazz! That’s capitalism/barbarism for you.

However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much rap (and its offshoots) makes up the general music channels. Unfortunately, a lot of it seems to be stupidly misogynistic (not even cleverly so), violent and panders to racism. This is hardly an original observation, but I’ve never been interested in such stuff before, have had little reason to indulge myself in music I find not entirely pleasing to the ear, and was completely unaware of the complete degeneration of rap music from hard-hitting socio-political commentary to downright depravity and hooliganism. I was aware that something like this had happened, but not the degree, and I can honestly say that I was somewhat shocked - in a comical sort of way. That something like this has happened to nearly all music genres is clear, but rap is surely in a league of its own. As far as I know not every modern rap song incorporates an "AK47", the words "nigger", "pimp", "gangster" (or "gangsta") and "ride" (presumably that means a car), certainly no rap video is complete without scantily-dressed women moving their "booties" in a highly suggestive manner. Any featured woman, or "bitch" or "ho", will be sexually demeaned. The rap artiste will almost certainly be wearing more diamonds than the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament (Gawd bless ‘er), and will be wearing his trousers half way down his gluteus maximus - a wacky sartorial choice, and a most uncomfortable one at that - something many children have readily and perplexingly chosen to imitate. My inherent reactionary conservatism has led me to wearing my trousers around my waist. Surely it is only a matter of time before people can be seen shuffling down the street, wearing their trousers around their ankles?

My channel-surfing led me to a young rapper named Nelly, for whom I developed an earnest concern. On the face of it (ha, ha), it seemed that he cut himself so deeply while shaving that he has had to wear a plaster on his face for years. I was all set to contact Mr Nelly via his website to inform him of the electric shaver when I find to my dismay that he wears a plaster in "solidarity" with his imprisoned friend City Spud. I was further dismayed to learn that Mr Nelly had stopped wearing the plaster as "It was becoming bigger than me"! One shudders to think how the incarcerated Mr Spud will take to this "solidarity" being withdrawn, and one can only pray that in the meantime Mr Spud doesn’t get mashed or creamed or even fried!

Apparently, the chap called "Snoop" once made a porn film masquerading as a music video. It is said that Chuck D, one of the founders of rap music and a politically-motivated artist of some repute, once went to see what today’s bright young rappers were up to. He chose to hear a best-selling rapper by the name of 50 cent, who was to perform later that night in Sydney. The story ends with Chuck D being unable to speak for a day after witnessing Mr Half Dollar’s performance. Tens of thousands of white Australian men were, at the initiation of Mr Half Dollar, breezily singing "smoke a nigger". Chuck D, a supremely talented man influenced by the legendary Black Panthers, now campaigns - if that is the mot juste - against this pernicious imbecility. By chance, I had the good fortune to see a music video performed by the said Mr Half Dollar. The song referred to his desire to visit a "candy shop". I soon realised that this was a symbolic conceit. For the half-dressed Mr Half Dollar wanted to "work up a sweat" with a "nympho", since he too was a "nympho", who would "play with the stick" and "lick the lollypop" and was set to "melt in your mouth girl, not in your hands, ha, ha". Ha, ha, indeed. Will Maltesers, parent company Mars, sue for breach of copyright? Fascinated by Mr Half Dollar - who wouldn’t be? - I visited his website. Upon entering the website, you are confronted with the sight of guns and grenades (!), the sound of a gun being cocked and then Mr Half Dollar shooting you in the face. Indeed, every time one manoeuvres the mouse to a link, a gun is cocked; every time the link is clicked, Mr Half Dollar, proudly sporting a rather large crucifix and constipated expression (less lollypops, dear boy, more fibre), shoots you in the face. The one thing that can be confidently stated is that the sewer - forget the gutter - has been reached and that it’s almost impossible for the standards to drop any further than a porn film-cum-music video. (No pun intended in that last sentence.) Quite clearly, and with Chuck D in my corner I’m in the best of company, this "gangsta rap" is pretty awful stuff and no one but an idiot would listen to it, let alone spend money on such putrid garbage. Anyone can do it. To prove it, I am planning a rap career myself. I have the first line of what will be a multi-platinum-selling hit record: "Yo child molester / Driving your Ford Fiesta!" Time to contact Mr Snoop and Mr Half Dollar for help with the rest of the song. One last thought. Is Otis Redding turning over in his grave, or is he thinking: "I could have been so much more successful if only I had sung ‘Sitting on the dock of the bay with my AK, motherfucker’."


June 2005


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