The Inherent Conservatism of Hip-Hop

When he criticizes the genre, the author is accused of catering to the right. But, he argues, most rappers are so conservative, they could easily belong to the Republican Party.

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“I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them,” raps Jay-Z on The Black Album, though Ronald Reagan may as well have been his ghostwriter. In this way, the “God MC” is actually more like a thugged-out Michael Steele, a black man who profits personally by lending the illusion of diversity to a system that ignores and exploits poor people of all colors. Is it really surprising that Steve Forbes would put Jay-Z on the cover of his magazine?

I bring all this up simply to point out that hip-hop music and culture, while often nihilistic and self-sabotaging, from a political standpoint is almost never radical or even merely progressive. There is a reason the hip-hop generations have never produced a Huey Newton or a Malcolm X. Hip-hop — when it transcends the gutter and goes beyond the streets — doesn’t want to overthrow the system; on the contrary, it wants desperately and at any cost (“Get Rich or Die Tryin'”) to join it.

For an African American to question the values and motives that inform hip-hop music and culture is not in itself a conservative act — it’s common sense.

Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-Hop Culture. Follow him on Twitter.

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