Whatever Happened to Black Culture, or, Why Hip-Hop Brings Out the Ugly Racist in Me

I was going to go off on a big angry rant about the practice of so-called “sampling” which began fairly innocuously with the pilfering of a beat here and a bass-line there, but which has now become so widespread and accepted that it is common to hear a complete recording being altered by simply merging an already recognizable hit into the gibberish misogyny and/or nihilism of the most recent flavour of the month rap/hip-hop star. I was going to argue that just because something is legal (ie paying royalties to a record company, who owns the rights to the song in question) doesn’t make it right or legitimate or worthy of merit, attention. I was going to argue that one would never take a film and insert twenty minutes of footage of someone spouting about making fat stacks and making it rain on the bitches, and then claim that you had made a movie.

I was going to ask why nobody in the hip hop industry plays any musical instruments, and when someone rebutted that poor black kids from the ghetto don’t come from a place of privilege, I was going to ask that person whether s/he thought that black kids today have it worse than black kids in the 1930s — black kids that lived under segregation; black kids that grew up hearing stories of slavery from their grandparents; black kids that grew up afraid of the KKK.

I was going to admit that maybe I just have a greater appreciation and respect for art and the skill and talent and hard work involved in learning how to play and perfect an instrument (or even just to learn music; or how to sing). I was going to say that maybe I get a little hot under the collar because I hold the opinion that even if one can sell a song, a painting, a story, a film — that the art will always belong to the creator, and when someone takes someone else’s art and calls it their own (forget about the legalities of “yeah, but they paid royalties”) then to me it is at the very least karaoke, and at worst (and in my opinion) plagiarism.

I was going to say that every time I turn on the radio and hear some song that I know suddenly morph into someone rapping over top of it that I want to drive off the road and leave this increasingly insane world.

I was going to ask why it is that Jimi Hendrix never needed to steal a beat or bass-line from, say, The Beatles. Or why I can’t recall ever hearing Otis Redding sing over the pre-recorded music of, say, The Doors.

I was going to ask how it was that black Americans fucking INVENTED rock and roll, and yet now black music boils down to pretty much turning on a drum machine and finding some half-naked woman to sing “Take off your clothes. Take off your clothes.”

Instead, I’ll just ask this one question, with pictorial assistance.

How did we go from this:

(Legendary singers, songwriters, musicians, innovators, rebels — a wealth of talent and skill and vision)



the-four-tops tina-turner t-bone walker stevie wonder Thelonious_Monk,_Minton's_Playhouse,_New_York,_N.Y.,_ca._Sept._1947_(William_P._Gottlieb_06191) sam cooke Sam_&_Dave_(2) Sarah_Vaughan_-_William_P._Gottlieb_-_No._1 sly--the-family-stone-51c2c5b78f6bb Robert_Johnson Ray-Charles otis redding oscar peterson miles davis Muddywaters2 natkingcole nina simone Michael Jackson


UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Curtis Mayfield Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

gail ann dorsey Sade_-_The_Best_of_Sade

Marvin_Gaye_(1973) Louis-Armstrong-2 langston-hughes lauryn hill Leadbelly

macy gray

little-richard john+lee+hooker jimmy-cliff jimi hendrix jackie-wilson Etta_James_png fats_domino gil scott heron howlin-wolf elmore_james ellington Ella Fitzgerald earth wind and fire


coltrane commodores-03 diana ross chuck berry Charlie Parker charles mingus buddy guy Billie_Holiday_0001_original billy-preston-04 Blind Willie Johnson bob marley bill withers bb king barry white art-blakey 02diddley3-190 120229-mos-def al-green-01

herbie hancockjames-brownLenny KravitzprinceAretha


To this?

(Just a couple of prime examples)

a) Can’t sing, can’t play an instrument — is pretty much famous for being an asshole — his song “Black Skinhead” is just him rapping over top of Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People”

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: Kanye West at 106 & Park Studio on April 9, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images)

b) Can’t sing, can’t play an instrument, is pretty much famous for her ass, and her song “Your Love” is just her doing her thing over top of Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s”



8 responses to “Whatever Happened to Black Culture, or, Why Hip-Hop Brings Out the Ugly Racist in Me

  1. Because you listen to the wrong radio stations 😉 Jazz has made a bit of a comeback lately. When I’m in the car I often listen to Sirius “Real Jazz” and there are some great young black artists out there. Look up Espranza Spalding or Marquis Hill. Of course, just as singing well is a talent not everyone has,it takes talent to rap well. But I agree about just rapping over the top of someone else’s music. Just tonight I heard someone rapping over a clip from the theme song to “You Only Live Twice” (James Bond movie). Actually, it was just one phrase repeated forever…. I’d much rather hear the original.

    • Actually there are a few rappers that I like, and I am quite a fan of British trip hop (you’ll notice Mos Def is on my list, and Tricky was supposed to be, but maybe I forgot. And I hear you about jazz, but Motown was mainstream. Jimi Hendrix was mainstream. Mainstream music now is shit

      • Can’t say much about today’s mainstream, but I get what you are saying. However, since it is “mainstream”, in ways you have to blame the people buying the music as much as those making it.

      • Believe me, my rant is just as much directed at the people that accept mediocre product, and don’t demand more out of their art/culture. But if I bang my head on that wall enough, I’ll bash my brains in.

  2. Boy, thanks for this. Seeing that Hall of Fame of black artists fills me with gratitude that they existed and were able to overcome the incredible odds in order to give us their gifts. Many, if not most, are in my record collection, but some aren’t and I want to add them as soon as possible.

    I agree that jazz is a genre that has always elevated black talent. I can’t get enough Wes Montgomery and Grant Green and Charlie Christian and on and on (speaking as a guitarist), but there’s nothing coming out of hip-hop that I can learn from or relate to.

    Then again, I’m white…

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