“I’m a white rapper… there’s so many of us now. White people like rap now… ”
-“On the Block,” R.A. the Rugged Man
There’s a May 2007 Underground HipHop interview with Cage that I’ve always found extremely interesting. In the video below at the 4:55 mark, Cage discusses how he received criticism from fans about his new postMovies for the Blind look.
“I felt like I was just portraying Black stereotypes, you know?” Cage says. “And being a white man and doing a Black art form… that shit’s not cool.” It’s certainly an interesting point: as white rappers (like myself), when we engage with Hip-Hop culture, are we simply co-opting it for our own gain? Are we practicing a form of “subtle blackface,” as a friend of mine likes to say? Are we truly confused as to whether we should identify with white American mainstream culture or simply as Hip-Hop artists? Or are we simply rolling along to our own narratives without giving any thought to the concept of white privilege or white racism within this culture?
For example, one of the most interesting narratives in Hip-Hop (and the one most associated with Eminem, everyone’s favorite Caucasoid) is that of the white emcee defying overwhelming odds and finding huge success in the Black-dominated rap industry. “The Unbearable Whiteness of Emceeing,” one of my favorite articles ever published on rap dissects the subject perfectly: Harry Allen (formerly Public Enemy’s “media assassin”) compares Slim’s success to that of his nonwhite contemporaries:
“The treatment of Eminem, in the press and in society generally, has always been different from that accorded non-white artists in the hip-hop genre in at least two key ways… ) Compared to Black artists, Eminem, like Vanilla Ice, Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass and a number of white rappers before him, got more by doing less; an almost sure way to mark someone as white under the system of race. Secondly, unlike previous controversies around hip-hop artist, the criticism of Eminem seemed to stay focused on him, as opposed to being extended to the entire genre, as it typically has been. It’s almost as though the wider, whiter society was saying “You’re special. You’re different. You’re not like the rest of them. We expect more of you.”
In essence, though it has been easier for a mostly white consumer base to accept and purchase products made by white artists, there still exists a myth of constant struggle by white artists to be accepted in the Hip-Hop world while still being able to have the daily benefits of white privilege at their disposal. On a personal level, these experiences can vary cipher to cipher; however, it remains extremely evident that the favoritism bestowed upon white artists isn’t as favorable for emcees of color. There are a wide variety of Black rappers who have experienced unfair criticism (albeit mostly from FOX News) for what is viewed as “objectionable content”; however, all one has to do is listen to “Kim” from Em’s sophomore album The Marshall Mathers LP to find that his heartwarming story of triumph has come at the expense of a double standard.
Why heap undue criticism on an emcee like Common for being ASKED to perform at the White House when he’s never made such a controversial song? Easy: that racial favoritism will always exist for rappers like Em, Mac Miller, Asher Roth, and me. We will always get the benefit of the doubt from a white audience because we could easily be one of their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or cousins and continue to cake off of this culture as a result.
Clearly, there are no easy answers as to how to resolve these issues. Raising awareness with your music helps, but I can only think of Macklemore’s “Privilege” as an example; another is to give back to the community of color that has created the art we’re practicing, either with community outreach and activism or by being vocal about acts of intellectual and physical violence occurring against that community. It never hurts to be an ally.
Promoting awareness of racial injustices and issues that a nearly all-white audience wouldn’t have been privy to without the help of their favorite whiteboys and whitegirls always helps, as well as maintaining a social and political consciousness about the message you’re sending to them with your music. Unlike Asher (who once tweeted about chilling with “nappy headed hoes” at Rutgers University) or V-Nasty (who stood by her claim of using the n-word and called critics “haters” for opposing her stance), white emcees can use their platforms as ways to discuss these issues at length.
Do they need to dedicate entire albums to it? No. But simply ducking the question of white privilege in hip-hop in interviews and music (or by negating its existence in claiming how overwhelming the odds were against you when, in reality, American society has tipped the balance way in your favor) is a copout. All of Hip-Hop’s white artists need to start discussing our place in a Black art form and the problems that are attached with that place. While we don’t have to shove it in people’s faces, we certainly don’t have to avoid the issue altogether. I applaud emcees like Cage for bringing it up even when they don’t have to—it rarely happens enough.