Stanley Crouch: Is Gangsta Rap a new form of a minstrel show?
On occasion, I’ve read some of Stanley Crouch’s writing, but have never really examined him in depth. I had the occasion to do so today while stumbling around the web unintentionally and then out of curiosity. Below I’ve posted two video presentations. The first one is a short excerpt of a lecture he gave and the second one is the full presentation of the same lecture which runs about an hour. I thought that this lecture was thought provoking about the cultural impact of gangsta rap and whether it’s an authentic representation of the African-American experience.
Crouch makes the argument that gangsta rap is a new fangled form of the old minstrel show that’s passed off as being authentically black. Linking gangsta rap to minstrel shows is a perspective that I’ve not heard previously and it immediately makes sense to me. No one would dispute that the old minstrel shows and folks like Stepin Fetchit were at best a caricature of African-Americans. No one knew anyone who behaved like that and no one would dispute that these shows existed mainly for the entertainment of a white audience who wasn’t prepared to accept African-Americans in any form other than that of a caricature.
In the days of the minstrel shows, you’d be hard pressed to find life imitating art (I use that term loosely here). Over the years, I’ve frequently traveled up and down route 95 to a favorite vacation spot in Florida. On a stop over in Virginia one time, I noticed a young man sitting in a car with his music booming. No doubt, this is a scene that average person has run across on numerous occasions. Usually, like most people, I just rush by scenes like this as soon as I can so as to get away from the annoyance of the music that I really don’t want to hear. For some reason, I took the time to actually look the kid sitting in the car. He had a sick vacant look on his face with a stupid grin and was dressed from head to toe in a white outfit that looked straight out of “Yo MTV Raps”. I remember thinking that here’s a guy imitating “art”.
This begs the question about whether the “art” of gangsta rap is a reflection of life or vice versa. Crouch makes the argument that it’s the latter as the miscreant gangsta element is a distinct minority and that the rappers who sing about them are as much a caricature of African-American life and culture as the old minstrel shows were. Back in the day, Stepin Fetchit was remunerated well for his foolishness as someone like 50 cent is today, but the black pride emerging from the 60’s resulted in folks like him being disowned and sanctioned as traitors to the race. For the guardians of the cultural legacy of those of the blood Afric, the real question before us is what sanction(s) will be meted out and how will we disown a gangsta rap caricature that is so destructive to our communities today.
The video excerpt is five minutes long and provides a flavor of the longer one. I do recommend a viewing of the full lecture however. These are a bit dated as the lecture took place in 2007.