A recent erroneous comparison of white rappers to blackface minstrel performers has prompted world hip-hop fan Jacob Lynagh to share some facts about the multicultural history of the genre.
Last week, an Australian journalist bravely compared white rappers to blackface minstrel performers.
While I respect the journalist for attempting to open a discussion on race in music – and I respect New Matilda (who ran the article) for, as always, challenging established ideas and fighting for equality – it is clear to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of world hip-hop that the content of the article was, at best, misguided.
This is not a new argument, white hip-hop musicians have faced heavy criticism in recent years for “appropriating black culture.” Joshua Dabelstein for New Matilda cites his “few years of relevant study” as the cause of his concern.
As a world hip-hop fan for over a decade, more than half of my life, I thought it was about time to throw my hat into the ring.
The basis of the hip-hop/rap appropriation argument comes from the erroneous idea that the craft is rooted entirely in African American culture. While the fundamental musical structure has clearly been influenced greatly by early black music, as almost all modern music is, rap music itself was birthed not from black culture, but simply from poverty and struggle.
In the world that we live in, poverty in unfortunately common, and that struggle is shared by people of all races. Poverty is a unifying force, and world hip-hop is, at its heart, a unifying craft. The history of hip-hop is highly multicultural; we should not be endeavouring to change that now, and it seems disingenuous to ignore the genre’s white, Asian and Latin influenced history.
The first hip-hop record is generally considered to be Rapper’s Delight, recorded by The Sugarhill Gang in 1979. This is the year that hip-hop really started to become a legitimate genre in America – this was the birth of world hip-hop as it is today. The very same year, DJ Flash, considered to be one of the first white rappers, began recording. The Beastie Boys formed in 1981 and were popular in hip-hop by the mid ’80s, and by the late ’80s, Cypress Hill were making an impact as pioneers of Latin-American rap.
In 1982, Def Jam Recordings – one of the most dominant hip-hop music labels – was founded by white man Rick Rubin, who it can be said has had one of the greatest impressions on the genre out of anyone.
In the ’90s the craft was beginning to open itself up more to white and Asian rappers, and it was then that we saw the emergence of musicians like MC Jin, apl.de.ap of The Black Eyed Peas, Apathy, Celph Titled, Vanilla Ice, Cage, Aesop Rock, Limp Bizkit, Atmosphere and Eminem.
These days world hip-hop is perhaps at its most integrated, and I staunchly believe that is something that should be celebrated.
Since the end of the ’90s we have seen the arrival of renowned white rappers Yelawolf, Action Bronson, Rittz, Diabolic, Slaine, Macklemore and Iggy Azalea; Latin rappers such as Immortal Technique, Pitbull, Emilio Rojas, Kirko Bangz and Joell Ortiz; Asian rappers like Far East Movement, Bambu, Dumbfoundead and Geologic of Blue Scholars – all of whom are recognised, supported and loved by the black hip-hop community.
As a white Australian without an ounce of musical talent, I will never pretend to speak for black rappers. But as some world hip-hop fans seem to be denying the impact and importance of non-black musicians in hip-hop, let us look at what some of the most influential and greatest musicians of the genre have to say about Eminem:
Eminem introduced my daughter to lyrics…she immediately noticed he can rap better than everybody. She was like, ‘He was the best rapper on the floor tonight.’ And I’m like, ‘Wow. Okay. She recognises it, too.’
– Talib Kweli
Em is nasty. I don’t care what colour he is, I don’t care about none of that, you know what I mean? Real artists respect real artists…if Em was black, he’d be the next Muhammad Ali man… How many black rappers are better than Eminem?
I respect him as bein’ one of the top elites in the game and I respect him as being a man, too.
– Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan
The race factor was just a minuscule part of what I was doing with Eminem. It was really about the music and how well we worked together. When me and Marshall got in the studio, it instantly clicked. I put the track on, we had a little bit of idle chitchat, I put on the beat, and maybe five seconds in — I swear to God — he goes, ‘Hi, my name is.’ That was it. And it’s still clicking. There’s something about our thing that’s just magical.
– Dr. Dre of N.W.A.
White, Asian and Latin musicians have had such a deep impact on world hip-hop from its birth. Hip-hop should never be something that divides along racial lines. It has always been, and will always be, a genre embedded in and dripping with unity.
Racial unity in the face of rising poverty is something we are in desperate need of in Western society. It is something that should be protected at all costs. Hip-hop is a genre that recognises that it is hard out there for most of us. It is a genre which welcomes all colours, to walk together as brother and sister through the long, cold winters of poverty.