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Tuning Up: Closed-Minded Insecure A$$hole Syndrome Redux

PG chief editor Shawn Hammond admits his own a$$hole-ishness … and doubles down on the folly of dismissing hip-hop.

Last month when I trashed Gene Simmons for prophesying the imminent death of rap, and then followed up by calling out like-minded haters and standing up for hip-hop, I knew it would rile a lot of readers. But man, did I underestimate the blowback. Legions of rap loathers’ unloaded on me in seething comments on our website, on social media, and via email.

In retrospect, invoking the A-word wasn’t the best way to win willing ears—even if it was intended more as a provocative ribbing than an attack. Same goes for saying that agreeing with Simmons made you “the modern-day equivalent of the old-fashioned fuddy-duddy parents from the shitty hair-metal videos of yore.” So lesson learned: No matter how good your point, making it with side-order insults is rarely a recipe for progress.

Even so, the haters’ retorts did nothing to change my mind. They simply demonstrated that getting riled up impedes nuanced reading: Many were pissed because I said Simmons had gotten flak for being out of touch and seeming racist—but since I’d never covered the topic before, it should’ve been clear that rather than calling Simmons racist, I was relating that music fans and media outlets had perceived that subtext.

In exacting their revenge, many commenters inadvertently revealed their own bigotry: Hip-hop is nothing but “thugs” in baggy pants and gold chains chanting “tribal” calls of “yo,” “yeah,” “bitch,” “ho,” and a host of expletives in rhymes about money, cars, and criminal exploits. In other words, rappers are dumb, lazy scumbags—and they’re coming for our women.

I wonder how many of these readers react with similar fury to the nonstop talk of sexual conquest, drug use, and violence in half the hard-rock songs on the planet. Confronted with, say, AC/DC’s relentless double entendres, the rape-scene illustration for Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, and Mötley Crüe’s and other bands’ tunes about murder and misogyny, they’d all no doubt suddenly become defenders of free artistic expression. And surely they’d see no irony in bashing the stereotypical “shallowness” of hip-hop while praising the genius of Billy Gibbons’ umpteenth ode to hot rods and chicks with killer bods.

Hey, we’re all assholes sometimes.

But the doublethink doesn’t stop at lyrics: Those who skewer hip-hop’s innovative beat creation, sample manipulation, and DAW experimentation wouldn’t bat an eyelash before praising Les Paul, Brian Wilson, George Martin, the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin for their pioneering manipulation of studio machinery—even though a lot of that work owed much to unheralded past masters. Likewise, many would profess their love of blues pioneers from the comfort of a 21st-century existence far removed from the plantation and Jim Crow realities that fueled those legends’ songs, all while un-ironically dismissing the notion that hip-hop could ever be as aurally dynamic and sociologically poignant—not a hundred years ago, but now. Makes you wonder how they would’ve reacted to the blues when it was actually new and provocative.

Many readers ripped me for saying rap is the most popular genre in the world without citation—a fair point. My source was a July 2015 article in U.K. newspaper The Independent about a Spotify analysis of the playback patterns of 20 billion tracks in 1,000 cities around the globe. Others said the entire discussion “doesn’t belong” in a guitar magazine. Presumably they’re fine with analyzing Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Bach, or Mozart—none of whom featured ripping 6-strings in their work—because they believe hip-hop is devoid of melody, harmony, or any other elements of sonic value. Sure, there’s crap hip-hop out there, just like everything else. But these attitudes simply prove how little exposure their adherents have to hip-hop.

Despite all the “liberal media,” “PC,” “white guilt” labels lobbed at me, I chose to write about all this in the first place because I saw Simmons’ pontification as an opportunity to talk candidly about a mindset that’s limiting and detrimental. Obviously it’s just my opinion, like everything else I write in this space. But I was pretty honest about my own past closed-mindedness, too.

While I refuse to recant my opinion of those who hypocritically dis entire genres based on standards their preferred music can’t pass muster on, I’ll admit the way I went about starting the conversation was a bit asshole-ish—but at least it got your attention. (Hey, we’re all assholes sometimes.)

How about I make up for it by suggesting some great hip-hop tunes for those open to moving beyond stereotypes? Try easing into it with Living Colour’s “Under Cover of Darkness” (with Queen Latifah), and then Yohimbe Brothers’ “Words They Choose” (with Vernon Reid). Then maybe something like Common’s “GO!” (with John Mayer), Eric B. & Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat the Technique,” Lauren Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing),Kendrick Lamar’s “I,” the Pharcyde’s “Runnin’,” and Outkast’s irresistible “Hey Ya!

Rest easy, my friends—being open-minded and reserving judgment rarely ends badly.