Are we having a white rapper moment?
Newsweek thinks so. In a recent article about nerdcore hip hop, Brian Braiker writes:
Of course, ever since Vanilla Ice's 1991 flameout, the rare white rapper has been derided, forced undergroundâ€”or bothâ€”with the exceptions of Eminem and the Beastie Boys. But all of a sudden white rappers are enjoying a mainstream renaissance: VH1 has a hit on its hands with "The (White) Rapper Show," an "American Idol" for would-be Eminems, and in February Bloomsbury will publish "Other People's Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America," by Jason Tanz, an editor at Fortune Small Business. There are two indie documentaries about nerdcore in production, and their online trailers have each netted more than a half-million views. The concept of being a white rapper is no longer a joke.
I don't know that one reality show, one book and two unfinished documentaries make a "moment," but I have noticed quite a lot of talk lately in the blogosphere about white people's relationship to hip hop, most of it inspired by Tanz's book.
Here's a thought: If entire generations of white kids grow up listening to black music as their default pop music, maybe that music isn't black anymore. Maybe those white kids have as much right to the music as the black people who live in the places where the music was invented. Maybe, just maybe, the white kids who listen to this black music aren't even trying to be black.
Of all the forms of black music the last century has produced, rap is unique in that it has no Elvis figure. White consumers make up huge chunks of rap's audience, but little of the music they're buying comes from white rappers...could it be that the people who buy music aren't necessarily buying it because they want to identify with the people making that music? Maybe white listeners are learning that they don't need white performers to reinterpret black music for them.
Byron Crawford, writing for XXL online, doesn't buy Breihan's theory that race has become a non-issue in hip hop:
Do white people who listen to black music not it enjoy because, at least on some level, theyâ€™re drawn to some sort of perceived otherness in it...? If not, how do you explain this current rash of blackface hipster parties on college campuses and this general fascination with LCD rap, as if thatâ€™s the only thing the black community has to offer.
Fellow XXL blogger Tara Henley wrote a really moving post, trying to explain her relationship with hip hop. It's definitely worth a read, so hop on over. But here's her take on the race issue:
It doesnâ€™t seem to occur to [Breihan] that some white kids identify with the people making the musicâ€”that some white kids actually feel an affinity with black artists.
Hip-hop, after all, isnâ€™t just a genre of pop music. Itâ€™s a culture. And itâ€™s a black culture. Being a white person in hip-hop is essentially being a white person in black culture, and thatâ€™s a complex experience.
White rapper and blogger Jamie Radford has been doing excellent summaries of each episode of The White Rapper Show. He has also started doing audio interviews with the castmembers. Check out his interview with Jus Rhyme, the white supremacy-fighting ethnic studies PhD student at the University of Southern California.