Robin and I had opposite problems with my selection this week, Run the Jewels 2. Robin overcameher initial discomfort with the sex, violence, misogyny and rude language, and wound up appreciating the humor and the music. My problem is that I too-easily enjoy the more negative aspects of the album, and, as a 54 year-old middle class white man who spends his time trying to end violence against women, I feel like I ought to be more repulsed than I truly am.
Robin needs to engage her critical open-mindedness to enjoy the music. I need to engage my better self to dislike it.
The first song is pure swagger, boasting about how other rappers are “vaginas”, and toting two guns, and claiming that they are the “closest representation to God that you might see”. By the way, I didn’t know that “llamas” is a term for guns – my grasp of slang is highly dependent on services like Rap Genius.
The second song starts with “Fuck the law, they can eat my dick” and proceeds to glorify violence, to the point of saying “fuck that bitch” while referring to a mother crying over the casket of a child that the rapper killed. It’s not nice stuff.
The third song sums it all up – “This Run the Jewels is murder, mayhem, melodic music.” There’s no getting around it – this music is intentionally provocative and violent. It objectifies women, though, in a puerile form of equality, Gangsta Boo returns the favor in “Love Again (Akinyele Back)”.
I won’t cop out and claim some high-minded intellectual interest in the anthropology of “urban youth”, as if “they” are some tribe to be studied. I won’t claim to see some sophisticated satire going on here, in which the strutting and posting is really a poignant social commentary secretly calling for peace, love and understanding.
I won’t even claim that I like the music despite the lyrics – that the complicated rhythms and inventive sounds somehow overcome my high-minded distaste for the vulgar words. “If they would just remix it so they used the 23rd Psalm as their lyrics, that would be divine.”
No. The reason I like this music is that, absurd as it obviously is, it searches out and liberates the tiny little youthful ghetto thug that exists in this generally kind, well-adjusted, upper-middle-aged, privileged, peace-loving, corpulent white man who would never in a million years participate in the things these guys talk about doing.
There’s an atavistic impulse that understands the fantasy of being the toughest muthafucka walking down the middle of the street intimidating everyone and flipping off the cops. Not just understands it, but shares it. Wrap those thoughts in a thumping bass line and percussion that rattles like gunfire, and you wind up with a meek and mild guy like me feeling like there’s a badass still alive somewhere.
I shouldn’t like it. It’s embarrassing to even admit that it’s true. That’s not a side of anybody’s character that needs or deserves nourishment. Worse, I believe that this music could, in fact, sharpen the edge of someone less dull than I have become. If a younger, tougher me listened to a steady stream of it, and someone bumped into me in a bar, I think I’d be more inclined to react aggressively than I was back in those days, when I was listening to the Cars and Elvis Costello.
Yes, I think this music fosters aggression and misogyny. But I like it. How awful is that?
Next up: City Noir, composed by John Adams and performed by the St. Louis Symphony