N.W.A. in the Park

Ross on rap and jazz:

Obviously gangsta rap obviously has already been domesticated by the upper-bourgeoisie, becoming a tame sort of protest music for young well-off white kids who aren’t really protesting anything. But there’s distinction between this sort of domestication and what’s happened to jazz, which hasn’t just become safe – it’s become highbrow. And … I have a tough time imagining the same thing happening with Dr. Dre. (Moreover, if it does happen – if the fortysomething intellectuals of 2030 end up dragging their griping kids to hear the N.W.A. in the Park concert series – it will be a vastly more plausible indicator of cultural decline than the highbrowfication of Miles Davis.)

Well, I agree that it’s a stretch to suggest that in a quarter century my high-school classmates will be dragging their kids to N.W.A. in the Park, though if NPR ever sponsors a Big Booty Fest, I’ll be the first one to pick up a ticket. But there are two things to note here. The first is that while the most absurd and vulgar elements of rap (as seen in N.W.A.) will likely never be softened and intellectualized in the way of jazz, hip hop almost certainly will be, and indeed, already is. N.W.A. might not find its way onto the playlists of most future New Yorker readers, but more complicated, mature hip-hop — acts like El-P and M.I.A. — probably will. And if more mainstream variants like Kanye West and Outkast, who share roots with more hardcore acts, don’t make the 2040 equivalent of classic pop charts, well, I’ll eat my Blackberry.

More than that, it seems likely to me that music won’t evolve in quite the same way it has in the past. Gen X and Yers will probably cling to their generational anthems as in the past, but I’d guess that in many cases, there will be less softening of the edges. Instead, 45 years a few decades from now will, I suspect, listen to much the same music they do now — replete with the same vulgarities and aggression. For one thing, the habits of maturity, of changing and moderating one’s taste as one grows older, seem to be on the wane. For better and for worse, there’s no longer an idea that one puts away childish things. And for another, the presence of vulgarity, or at least what Ross would certainly define as such, is becoming less and less of an issue. Call it the pornografication of the public square; call it a proper, natural evolution of societal mores. The fact is, sex and violence that would’ve been considered extreme a few decades previous are now a rather bland, widely-accepted part of entertainment and culture both upper- (The Sopranos, Brotherhood, The Shield) and lower-class (Midnight Meat Train, etc.). So, sure, maybe N.W.A. won’t be kiddie stuff a few decades off. But if current trends toward increasing acceptance and apathy hold, material of roughly equivalent vulgarity (by today’s standards) will play a larger part in cultural discourse and distraction than ever.