Interesting links

Rush vs. Jay-Z: Is talk radio gangsta rap for angry white men?

David Segal has an interesting breakdown in yesterday’s New York Times comparing right-wing talk show hosts to rappers, especially gangsta rappers.  He admits that both groups would probably not be happy to be compared to the other, and I agree, but I still think he has a point.

Segal argues that four key things are necessary for success in both fields: an enormous ego that you’re not shy about discussing; haters; feuds with others in your field; and verbal skills, especially an ability for improvisation and free-association.  This is true, but not the most profound analysis–yet.

Segal then describes how rap can be among the most politically conservative of genres: that it “exalts capitalism and entrepreneurship with a brio that is typically considered Republican.”  And so do Rush, Glenn Beck, et al.

Rap loves the Second Amendment; right-wing talk radio fans are probably the kind of people who made gun sales spike right after the 2008 elections.

Both rap and talk radio regularly assert that criminals cannot be reformed–but “gangsta rappers often identify themselves as the criminals, and are proud of their unreformability.”


Finally, rappers and conservative talkers both speak for a demographic that believes its interests and problems have been slighted and both offer stories that have allegedly been ignored.

Obviously, there are limits to all these parallels, but there is one more worth noting: rap has inspired its share of fear and now, liberals and moderates are asking the same question about conservative talk radio that conservatives have long asked about rap: How dangerous is it?

Interestingly (with respect to the first paragraph of the quote) rap was often referred to as “black TV” in its early days for its timeliness and opinionated, sometimes paranoid take on current events.  Anyway, I will admit that I am much more scared of Glenn Beck’s followers than those who listen to Ludacris (notwithstanding the fact that I’m in the latter category), but perhaps that’s just the socialist-health-care-loving left-winger in me talking.

Anyway, I think that overall Segal’s right on here.  I would have been interested in a little more gender analysis, though.  It is well-documented that gangsta rap is (at least partially) about working out a very specific kind of masculinity in the face of oppression or perceived oppression–a tough, heterosexual, homophobic, muscular, violent, self-sufficient masculinity.

This has not been as studied in the case of right-wing talk radio, but anecdotally, it seems to serve the same purpose for angry white men.  In fact, Rush Limbaugh is well-known for tasteless rape jokes, Glenn Beck has made misogynistic remarks about women’s looks and a host of other things, and Michael Savage has stated that “any heterosexual woman today over the age of 25 who grew up in America is basically a dominatrix.  You ask any heterosexual guy” as well as making some nasty transphobic comments.  (Note, I find it interesting that Ann Coulter, who doesn’t have a talk show but who is a public figure who says a lot of similar things, is often characterized as “mannish.”  Perhaps we are picking up on this gender work going on in right-wing media, albeit in a sexist way.)

And this doesn’t take into account the xenophobia, pro-gun and pro-war positions, and other macho and bigoted things that come out of these guys’ mouths.  They are constructing a notion of white American masculinity that is even more unappealing than gangsta rap’s portrait of black American masculinity.  Men can do better!

Is hip-hop masculinity being redefined?

Jonah Weiner makes a provocative case on Slate today that homophobia in hip hop is decreasing and being redefined–primarily, paradoxically, through the use of the phrase “no homo.”  The crux of Weiner’s argument is as follows:

As society becomes increasingly gay-tolerant, hip-hop is reassessing its relationship to homosexuality and, albeit in a hedged and roundabout way, it’s possible that no homo is helping to make hip-hop a gayer place.

Weiner isn’t entirely wrong.  It’s certainly true that American mainstream culture is trending toward acceptance of gays and lesbians (though we still have a long way to go).  And it’s certainly true that hip hop, given how integrated it is into American life, affects and is affected by general cultural trends.  But ending homophobia in hip hop has less to do with perceptions of homosexuality than it does with notions of masculinity.

Scholars from music to African American studies have discussed in detail how hip hop reflects, and helps construct, ideas about how to be properly masculine for both artists and audiences.  From the meteoric rise of gangsta rap in the late 80s-early 90s to more-recent video ho controversies, a very specific type of masculinity is being worked out in corporate hip hop: tough, heterosexual, potentially violent, financially successful, proud, fashionable, potentially misogynist (running the gamut from physical violence towards women to verbal disrespect towards women–see: Chris Brown and Rihanna for an extreme example).  There are certainly exceptions within mainstream hip hop to all these characteristics (some of which are positive and some of which are negative), but on the whole, many artists attempt to put forth this type of image in the name of authenticity and credibility (even if they are not necessarily like this in their own lives).

Heterosexuality is a key part of this image.  Just as it is important to continually reinforce one’s financial success, fashion sense, and other aspects of this persona, it’s important within the genre to reinforce one’s heterosexuality.  One way of doing this is with respect to women, of course: an artist can boast about his sex life, rhyme about his lady, etc.  (Detractors would argue that this method includes misogyny as a method of reinforcing heterosexuality.)  Another way of doing this is by denying any homosexual impulse or affinity.

Hip-hop homophobia isn’t, for the most part, about hating gays and lesbians as such.  It’s about reinforcing a specific notion of masculinity, one that dictates that men have power over those around them in a variety of ways: whether by having one’s own posse, being able to buy whatever one wants, and by having the upper hand in a romantic or sexual encounter.  Being gay negates this latter possibility: one man will be in power, and the other will have been disempowered (within the context of this idea about being masculine, that is).

So I agree in a way–that

no homo tweaks this [homophobic] dynamic because it allows, implicitly, that rap is a place where gayness can in fact be expressed by the guy on the mic, not just scorned in others….When these rappers say “no homo,” it can seem a bit like a gentleman’s agreement, nodding to the status quo while smuggling in a fuller, less hamstrung notion of masculinity.  This is still a concession to homophobia, but one that enables a less rigid definition of the hip-hop self than we’ve seen before.  It’s far from a coup, but, in a way, it’s progress.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for the day when “fuller, less hamstrung” notions of masculinity don’t need to be smuggled into mainstream hip hop (with the important caveat that certain artists are already unapologetic about trying to redefine hip hop masculinity).  But it’ll be a good day when it arrives.

Blog at
The Esquire Theme.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.