Hip Hop Happenings: “Chillin’ with my N-words/Say it like a white kid”: White Australia and Black Music

Wednesday, 10 September, 2014

Words by Magnus Gillberg
Read more Hip Hop Happenings here.

How it is appropriate for white middle-class youth of Australia to listen to and properly appreciate the hip-hop genre, most of which is culturally and contextually irrelevant to us?

This is a topic of conversation that almost always pops up, among non-listeners, casual listeners, and fans alike. I tend to hear it at parties, the ones where all the first year art students start singing “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. It’s amusing to watch 18 year olds who can barely deal with a cruiser singing about dealing crack, but their ensuing conversations never seem to be resolved. Why is it okay for Australians, especially those of the eastern suburb variety, to listen and appreciate a genre primarily made by and for black Americans?

Much of the reaction has to come from the lyrical content of the songs. Hip-hop isn’t that different from other genres in that it has verses, choruses, lyrical singing, and instruments. So if your objection to hip-hop is that rapping isn’t a form of music, you can have your opinion but you are as close to being objectively wrong as you can be. Nor can your objection to hip-hop be that it’s foreign, lest we follow that logic and the university stop teaching Russian Literature and Triple J loses all its good programming. So if lyrics are all that people feel uncomfortable about, then the vast majority of hip-hop is perfectly acceptable to be drunkenly screamed along to.

Most popular hip-hop only really deals with what all popular music does— partying and sex. Therefore, it’s exactly in line with everything else being played on the radio and at parties. The slang may seem strange but the vernacular of the regions from where the music comes shouldn’t be a barrier. It’s still English and Australians would be boycott any country that said they wouldn’t listen to our okka drawl.

But what about the music that deals with stuff that is culturally and topically removed from typical Australian lives? It’s perhaps easier to think about these works in the same way we think about films. Albums such as Raekwon’s Only built 4 Cuban Linx tell a story of fictional characters participating in drug dealing, murder and a culture that many would find incompatible with their daily living. But if people can justifiably watch American Gangsta movies, listen to Italian Opera and still see Shakespearean plays, then hip-hop artists such as Raekwon are just as legitimate.

But not all hip-hop has as much artistic merit. Some is just violent, belligerent and misogynistic. Some of the offending material has to be taken with a grain of salt—young men self-aggrandising and making tongue in cheek jokes. But some is earnest. So why do many Australians like and prefer this to listening to the newest indie darling ad nauseum? For some it might just be the beat, as DJ Mustard does have a tendency to make ridiculously good beats for songs that make you feel self-conscious for liking. The overpowering aggression of the music also makes for great catharsis and motivation; there’s nothing better than some Chief Keef to yell along to after submitting a particularly frustrating essay.

But what’s the overriding reason? Why do I, a white, middle class, Australian sit here writing an article while listening to a currently incarcerated repeat violent offender Atlanta rapper famous for his Leen abuse? It can be attributed to that inexplicable phenomenon of just liking something that purveys all art, but this isn’t a first year Arts breadth subject so that won’t fly.

Honestly, I think it’s because Australians can actually relate to even the most extreme hip-hop. People like music that makes them feel awesome, cool and dangerous and hip-hop has the capacity to deliver that like no other genre. And this isn’t isolated to hip-hop; music about excessive drug use and womanising have historically been big players in music. The reason people listened to them is exactly why Australians listen to hip-hop.

People listen to music to share in experiences and feelings. When Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) raps, “When the average minimum wage is 5.15/ you best believe you’ve got to grind to get C.R.E.A.M”, I can’t empathise with this. But I can sympathise with his plight. And more importantly, these themes become available to me via the awesome package that is hip-hop.

So don’t feel bad about listening to hip-hop if you’re Australian. Just don’t walk around speaking like a rapper, that’s still not on.