Bum Rap

RAP music has been remarkable both for its originality and its staying power. Far from dying out in the mid-1980s, as critics said it would, rap has become more popular. Rap albums go gold; rap songs regularly hit mainstream airwaves. Rap lovers are proud of the music, and why shouldn't they be? We might prefer Brahms or the Beatles, but rap is a fresh new expression. Its subject is the inner city, and ``rap masters'' talk candidly about problems of life in the black ghetto that no one else pays attention to. Rap comes from inside that world, and it often preaches against drugs, violence, and ignorance. By its inventiveness, it shows those who have a superficial view of the inner city the rich complexities and symbols of that world.

Recently, however, a new and harder strain of rap has been gaining popularity. Sorry, but its influence is not welcome. Some of the lyrics are ugly and sexually explicit. But the words aren't the main problem. What's most troubling is the hate, the acceptance of violence, and the exploitation of women behind the words.

Are we overreacting? If so, we aren't alone. You know something's wrong when a young woman in black leather (sporting half a dozen earrings on each lobe) working in a record store says she likes rap but feels ``some of it now is in poor taste'' and is ``really offensive to women.''

The ghetto is a hard place. It is understandable that rap reflects the anger, frustration, injustice, and isolation felt there. But protest that includes a romance with semi-automatic weapons isn't going to help. In this case, the art only reinforces the side of ghetto life that needs to be escaped. It sanctions callousness and accepts anarchy as natural.

Rap isn't alone in showing a hard edge. A new song by rock group ``Guns 'N Roses'' suggests, via epithet, that blacks, Hispanics, and Asians leave the US. That's transparently stupid; but it upsets people, and so sells records.

Asking artists to be ``responsible'' can be pointless and narrowly moralistic. But one hopes for a tempering of any music that poisons the social environment.

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