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“I don’t even CALL it rap music…”

I’ve been a hip-hop head since I was a little kid. I’m not sure what possessed my father to buy me my first album – Public Enemy’s Apocalypse ’91… the Enemy Strikes Black simply because I asked for it. I was 8 years old, and it took years of education for me to understand even half of the subject matter. Questionable parenting aside, I’ve always loved hip-hop. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I ‘rediscovered’ my love for the genre – an adolescence spent among friends who were almost exclusively rock fans limited my options a bit. As I’ve said elsewhere, I didn’t grow up surrounded by black folks, but listening to hip-hop was a way for me to connect to that part of my cultural heritage. Even though I didn’t fully ‘get’ all of the topics, I was able to glean an appreciation for issues that did not filter into the mainstream of discussion.

Now don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of awful hip-hop music out there. Even some of the stuff that gets lauded as ‘genius’ (I’m thinking specifically here of Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” – I’ve tried liking this album; it sucks) is pretty bad. Some of this can be chalked up to personal taste – I’ve never found anything worthwhile in the materialistic top 40 stuff for the same reason I don’t bother listening to dance music – I find it repetitive and entirely disposable. Much of it can be chalked up to talent – a lot of so-called emcees should stay the fuck out of the booth until they learn to rhyme. There’s an aspect of exploitative marketing at work – since young white men are the largest consumers of hip-hop, labels prefer rappers that appeal to that demographic at the expense of better, more meaningful music.

Hip-hop is no better and no worse than other forms of music – there is a lot of really great stuff out there if you know where to look, but the majority of the market is schlock designed to turn a profit. Such is the consequence of for-profit art. No big deal, right? Well… maybe not exactly:

A landmark Pointe Claire Village bar that was forced to stop selling alcohol in January is expected to get back its liquor licence this week but on the condition that no hip-hop or rap bands play the bar in the future. Le Pionnier on Lakeshore Blvd. has been dry since the end of January, when the bar’s owners booked a local hip-hop band and the bar’s liquor permit was revoked by the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux.

On Monday, [new owner Diane] Marois said that she and her husband, Ron Bracken, were relieved that it appeared they would be back in business before long. Marois said she suspected gang-related activity was the reason for the condition imposed by the Régie but she couldn’t be certain. She said she had only talked on the telephone and communicated through emails with a lawyer in the Régie’s legal department and, had yet to receive a written agreement from the Régie.

Oh right I almost forgot – black people like hip-hop, so… better cut that shit out right away! Now, this is Canada, so we’re not going to see something as blatant as a “whites only” sign at a bar. No, instead it will be a “well-behaved negroes allowed” type of situation where racism is accompanied with a wink and a nod. The baffling thing to me is that this restriction came from a government agency rather than a bigoted bar owner deciding that they don’t want to cater to “the wrong type of people”. It should not be ignored that this is effectively bringing the force of law against an entirely legal activity (listening to a certain type of music) based on a wildly discriminatory belief about not only the content of the music, but the people who enjoy it.

While this sounds like I’m channeling the NRA when I say this, hip-hop music doesn’t kill people. While it is a convenient scapegoat for those who wish to bemoan the ‘moral decline’ of our society, or to ‘other’ an undesirable group (much in the same way rock ‘n’ roll was used for rebellious white youth 40 or so years ago), the fact is that hip-hop is a genre of music that is part of our culture and does not deserve to be singled out in this way. Hip-hop today is perhaps what jazz was back in my grandparents’ time – an entirely valid form of artistic expression that had some ‘unseemly’ associations, many of which were due to its status as “black people music” (although the term ‘black people’ was rarely used, in favour of something I’d prefer not to repeat). Was jazz associated with alcohol and promiscuity and bootlegging and all sorts of bad stuff? Yup – but that wasn’t because jazz is inherently evil – it’s because it was pushed to the margins of society.

Oh gee, isn’t that exactly what this decision does?

Apparently Pointe Claire Village is the town from Footloose, where decisions are made by small-minded ignoramuses. The sheer absurdity and blatant racism of this policy will likely give the town a lot more attention than they expected, and I imagine they will soon be shamed into doing the right thing.

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