Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 4, No. 3, 2005
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Phil Nixon
Robert Rotondo
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editors
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Robert Fisk
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Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Mark Kingwell
Arundhati Roy
Naomi Klein
Jean Baudrillard
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
David Solway
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein

truth and consequences



There isn’t a culture in the world that doesn’t accord the highest esteem to its original music, just as individuals cherish their favorite music, regardless of its origins.

Of the world’s many languages music alone resists translation. Its meaning is as elusive as the wind we cannot clutch but always feel in our midst. It allows us to indulge feelings we would feel ill at ease with if they were expressed in any other language. Music is that friend outside ourselves who understands us as we would like to be understood. No one would think of saying he can’t face the literature (poetry), or he can’t face the painting. But we all have used the expression: he can’t face the music. In the 1920s Irving Berlin wrote a song, recently popularized by Diana Krall, entitled: Let’s Face the Music and Dance. In both instances, music is substituted for truth.

The music we create or love to listen to is our confession to the world. The plaintive silences that estrange parents from their children and different cultures from one another vibrate with music we choose to ignore. For every feeling, inchoate or articulate, of anger, rage, unfulfilled longing, insecurity and alienation, there is a musical counterpoint, and is the reason to listen to music outside our personal preferences. And when new feelings arise consequent to the world that is changing around us, new music forms come into being through which we express how we feel about ourselves in the uncharted waters of a perpetually unfolding present. Some of the music we think we don’t like (rap, hip-hop, acid jazz, techno, house) is perhaps music we haven’t understood or don’t want to understand -- about how people feel about themselves in today’s world.

The least interesting thing anyone can say about new music, or any music for that matter, is that he doesn’t like it. It takes no effort not to like any number of musical genres, that like Spanish or Chinese are languages to be learned; a painstaking process that requires time, patience and willingness to meet what is there on its own terms.

So yes. For the record, I can only scratch the surface of, for example, Rap music, that for a rapper is a way of being and transcending. But as someone’s confession about how he feels about himself in a world that I am partly responsible for, I am interested because I ‘choose’ to be.

In the history of music, Rap is the precursor of the visual arts equivalent of minimalism. That art and music have found their ‘vital pulse’ in minimalism as the 20th century comes to a close is not a coincidence. In the 15th and 16th centuries, when both Renaissance and Baroque art and music offered the senses the greatest variety of expression, it was in direct contrast to the monotony of life, mostly lived in one town or village, where the days predictably blurred into each other over a lifetime. Today, where frenetic change is the new paradigm, we insist that the arts and music provide the simplicity and clarity that is lacking in our daily life. That literature has yet to discover its equivalent of minimalism, may be the reason why it, as opposed to books, is hardly read anymore.

In the words rapport, Rap Brown, beat the rap, trapped, dérapé (French for out of control) we find the word Rap. Rap is reverse capitalism, reverse colonialism. Rap is the reflux of Reagan economics. Rap is oblivion. Rap is Prozac wrapped in rapt, based on a sustained, one-note harmonic, that is hardly a melody, that repeats from the outset until the song ends. From America to the Arab quarters in major French cities to Africa and Indonesia, it is listened to world-wide.

Embedded in the ghetto origins of Rap is the founding principle that melody is a bourgeois luxury rappers can’t afford. For the world’s millions that live on the wrong side of the DOW Industrial, melody has nothing to do with the wail of sirens, drug addiction, crime, poverty, despair, domestic violence. The repetition in Rap might be the rap of someone banging his head against a wall over and over again, protesting against the life he can’t get out of that he doesn’t want to lead that doesn’t let him live, that doesn’t allow him dignity, self-esteem, a place in a community. Rap (poised like a snap inside the words crap and beat the rap) is someone’s confession about how it feels to be trapped in a ‘no exit’ life.

Since none of us is genetically predisposed to create Rap, or to be trapped, or dérapé, how many consecutive negative life experiences does it take to grow a rapper? Is there a significant relationship between the tax law that allows the Reichman family to dump billions of dollars into a tax-exempt, off-shore account, and the millions of tax dollars Revenue Canada doesn’t have that could be used to counter the ghetto conditions that spawn Rap? That Rap and its derivations have become part of main stream popular culture that appeal to have-nots everywhere should come as no surprise. We ignore the foreboding rhythms of Rap, that sometimes sound eerily similar to the music of an assault weapon, at our own peril.

At some point in the life of someone who is no one and nowhere, he’ll try anything that promises to dull the brain. And why not? Why should he want to know more about self-loathing that has no cure, about his life that has become everyone’s embarrassment? Coming to his rescue, like the endless drones of Baul or Sufi music that have lightened the burden of hundreds of millions of India’s dispossessed, is Rap and its transcendental monotony. It would be self-defeating if either music were complicated. Its function is as straightforward as its structure; and every time it plays it asks: Do you have enough mind or whatever it takes to catch up to that one single note, that one magical vibration that hovers like a magic carpet – and lift off and drift away and leave that stinking world behind you – for as long as you can, for as long as the music lasts? In the context of human suffering that most of us cannot begin to fathom, a 3 minute pop tune is a joke, an insult, a non sequitur.

Despite the much ballyhooed recombinant high-tech revolutions in fiber-optics, and unprecedented wealth the world is apparently generating, in both rich and poor nations the conditions of life are such that millions upon millions of people are drawn to the properties that inhere in a single note that repeats over and over again until the mind goes numb, or slips into a stupor.

Like an explosion scarred into metal, Rap has become one of the places where the have-nots gather to register their high-octane confessions to the world. And where prose and poetry fly off the sustained note like sparks in the night, the words are the reason and justification for indulging the music. Through a persistent, unvaried harmonic that connects the culture of unvaried days and rappers to each other, Rap culture is serving notice that there are people out there who exist for numbness which is their death wish, that they don’t give a damn about themselves – or us. And every time we don’t hear them the music plays louder and longer. Eventually something has got to give. And what gives gets on the 6 o’clock news.



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No man’s Floyd is born unemployed

And hey guess what he’s not overjoyed

He’s using up his life in the inner city’s void

He’s what every smart business man learns to avoid

No man’s Floyd is unemployed

No man’s Floyd lives in a void

No man’s Floyd is unemployed

No man’s Floyd lives in a void


no fixed address

rap be a baby born hooked on crack
its future just as bleak
as its sorry-assed past

breathing red, white and blue
puking brown-green goo
got rings on his fingers
and he’s captive in a zoo

swing low, swing high
sing lucy in the sky
with diamonds, rubies,
autumn apple pie

golden times, end times,
tribulation, new york times
rap be a baby with a monkey on its back
drowning in its blood on fire with smack

boyz club, girlz club
livin’ for your next slug
hot tub, ‘hood pub
where to cop a rub-a-dub

the unrevolted masses
with a finger up their asses
boot up, log in
choose a password and a pin

click this, click that
satisfy their mac attack
rap be bleak
rap be sleek
rap be a carcass tossed to the street …

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