Frat Rap: Music for the New 'White Negro'

In an enlightening piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education, David J. Leonard writes about a new subgenre of music called frat rap, which serves up rhymes about all things white and middle class.

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Justin Timberlake (Jemal Countess/Getty Images); Miley Cyrus (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

In a nod to author Norman Mailer’s 1957 description of whites who appropriate black culture as "white Negroes," David J. Leonard writes at the Chronicle of Higher Education about a new subgenre of hip-hop called frat rap. It serves up rhymes about all things white and middle class, he says.

Adele, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Teena Marie. White musicians and fans are embracing the cultural performance -- jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, hip-hop -- that African-Americans have given life to over the last century.

In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the "white Negro," an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. "So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts," he wrote. "The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro."

As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, "there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture." It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called "frat rap."

Read David J. Leonard's entire piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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David J. Leonard is an associate professor in the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, Pullman.

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