Are Rappers Still Being Stereotyped?
A focus of this week's cover story, recording studio owner Jeremy Beaver has various theories about why the cops raided his two-story brick business. The pretext that brought D.C. police flooding in seems an odd one: Listen Vision was selling mixtapes. But one theory Beaver won't entertain is that police busted in because of the company he keeps. "I just don't think that was a factor."
Located adjacent to Howard University, Listen Vision works with clients from a variety of musical genres, but most customers show up there to stand in front of a hanging microphone and spit rap lyrics they've carefully etched onto notebook pages. Listen Vision has recorded obscure D.C. hip-hop acts along with well-known industry heavies like Redman. (Between cutting songs, Redman hobnobs with Beaver in the above video.)
Hip-hop is the kabuki theater of urban blackness. Like the dramatic Japanese art, it presents nuance through exaggeration. I'm old enough to have been around, and running the streets, when NWA dropped its Earth-rumbling Straight Outta Compton in 1988.
Sitting on a stoop in a crime-ridden Philadelphia neighborhood as my buddy Donnell blasted "Fuck Da Police" over a a chintzy boom-box, I found the music thrilling. On the other hand, I could have been Tipper Gore for the worry it inspired. I was already in a constant dance of resistance and negotiation with neighborhood thugs. Were Eazy-E and Ice Cube for real? Were there actually dudes out there who were that hard? The thought put me on edge.But it didn't take long for the album to reveal itself for what it was: Just one more clever narrative strategy developed by outsider artists.
Still, hip-hop has never shaken the notion that it's heavily linked to criminality, and successful hip-hop acts earn special scrutiny from police. Some definitely deserve it. That Beaver doesn't think the rappers converging on his Shaw storefront might raise alarms either speaks of rare optimism, or uncommon naïveté.
Anyway, if you're not sure rap, as entrenched in the culture as it now is, still has the power to attract a wary eye, try blasting NWA in public sometime.