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Disliking hip-hop doesn’t make you a racist any more than liking hip-hop makes you not a racist, and I’m sure there are plenty of Stormfront enthusiasts with Rick Ross in their iTunes. If you don’t like Jay-Z because you just don’t like the way he sounds, or you’re sick of his cloying ubiquity, or you wish he’d talk about something other than where he’s from for five seconds—hey, I’m not mad, I don’t like Bruce Springsteen for the same reasons. But if you don’t like rap music—a genre that contains multitudes—because of a self-satisfied moralism, or because you’re scared of it, or because you wish those people would stop talking about their problems and get out of your television and radio and kids’ bedrooms: well.
And I’m not just talking about the American right, I’m talking about all the well-meaning white folks who’ve told me how they want to like Lil Wayne but lo, the misogyny, the violence, the drugs. But, but, I’ll say: Bob Dylan aced misogyny; the Rolling Stones sang about violence; the Velvet Underground knew their way around some drugs. Yeeeah, but it’s different, they’ll say, elongating that “yeah” with conspiratorial inflection: you know what I mean. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.
Rap music doesn’t get unarmed kids shot to death, “it’s different” does. “It’s different” infuses “these assholes always get away” and gives solace to people who hear that sound bite and nod their empty heads in agreement. “It’s different” is the same logic that suggests a teenager’s skin color combined with the music he listened to means he had it coming, and it’s the same logic that lets a bunch of people feign outrage over a teenager’s use of the n-word to describe himself when they’re really just outraged that he beat them to the punch.
“It’s different” makes me shake with anger because it turns music into a dog-whistle to justify the murder of a kid who doesn’t seem all that “different” from me was when I was his age, not that different at all. I liked Skittles and hoodies and weed, too. And yeah, I’m white and never worried about getting shot for any of it, which is only the most loathsome excuse for not identifying with someone that I can possibly think of.