Thursday, March 30, 2023
March 30, 2023

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Jayne: Hip-hop artists Americans, too

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

Personally, the supposed controversy doesn’t matter much to me. I tend to view art as a reflection of society rather than an influence.

But it does matter to some people and it does reflect changes in American society and it does make for an interesting discussion. Because, with all its excessive grandeur, the Super Bowl halftime show draws a lot of attention.

Next week’s show, apparently, will feature rappers Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, along with singer Mary J. Blige. Some people have a problem with this; a sports columnist for the New York Post detailed Snoop’s litany of offensive lyrics over the years and wrote: “This is what (Commissioner) Roger Goodell thinks NFL audiences, of all ages, are worth on a Super Bowl Sunday. These acts are far beneath him as he has already admitted that he can’t repeat what Snoop Dogg raps.”

The guess is that Snoop won’t perform “Police” during the Super Bowl halftime. And that Dr. Dre won’t play “B!tches Ain’t Sh!t” and Eminem won’t rap “Kim.” But some people can’t pass up the chance to claim that Black performers — or artists in a mostly Black medium — are somehow anti-social and un-American.

All of which reminds me of the one Super Bowl in my journalistic journey — the Seahawks’ appearance in Super Bowl XL. Seattle lost 21-10 to Pittsburgh in that game 16 years ago, and you are forgiven if you have wiped it from your memory. It was forgettable.

Anyway, the halftime performers that year were the Rolling Stones, and their Thursday press conference was the most exciting part of the week.

During the confab in a jam-packed hotel ballroom, a New York Times reporter asked: “Twenty years ago or 40 years ago it would have been unthinkable that your group would play an event like this. … Have the Rolling Stones moved closer to the American mainstream culture, or has the culture moved closer to you?”

Mick Jagger responded: “I think both, really, to be perfectly honest. I mean America has changed since we first came here; it’s almost unrecognizable, to be perfectly honest. It’s almost hard to imagine what the United States was like 40 years ago. … So we’ve grown with American culture changes a great deal. Though hopefully both of us still have our core values intact.”

He delivered that last line with a wry smile. It was clever, after all.

The guess here is that nobody wrote a column complaining that the Stones once sang the misogynistic “Under My Thumb” or the shockingly offensive “Stray Cat Blues” about 15-year-old groupies. It’s likely that nobody complained about “Sympathy for the Devil” or “Star Star” or “Brown Sugar” or “Some Girls” or an entire roster of songs infused with casual sexism and racism and violence.

Because the Rolling Stones were mainstream by the early 21st century. American culture had changed over the years, retaining its core values while managing to embrace a group once promoted as the bad boys of rock. These days they are the geriatric boys of rock, and still performing live (Jagger and Keith Richards are both 78).

All of which is relevant to this year’s halftime show. For the past 30 years, hip-hop music has been the dominant cultural force in the United States. It has influenced fashion, marketing and other forms of art.

As an essay on the website of the Academy of Music & Sound in England states: “For decades hip-hop has spoken truth to power and challenged the status quo. Protest and resistance have been common elements of the music, evoking the fight for racial equality and communicating anger at socioeconomic conditions that shaped the lives of many Black people.”

That sounds important, even if it’s not the America you imagine to exist. So if anybody is offended by the halftime presence of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, if anybody is worried that their appearance reflects a threatening change in America, the solution seems evident: Don’t watch.