[21 March 2010]
In the music of the disenfranchised, it should not be a shock to anyone to often find a motif of unity. After all, the artists in question tend to be driven to create their music by a sense of difference, of outsidership, and in turn, their core audience can very much relate to that feeling and are thus drawn to the music. In the rock pantheon, this is a constant source of inspiration: The Who’s “My Generation”, the Ramones’ “Cretin Hop”, and Sham 69’s “If the Kids Are United”.
Naturally, this tradition carried over into rap music, especially in its developmental years. Examples of what this writer likes to call “posse anthems” include but are not limited to “Posse on Broadway” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Too Much Posse” by Public Enemy, and “Rollin’ wit’ the Lench Mob” by Ice Cube. Like the above-mentioned, these tracks express a departure of the artist from what can be termed the mainstream, but also makes clear that the artist is far from alone in this, citing the allegiance of the artist’s friends and compatriots.
This distinction allows the average listener to take a more specific, a more personal lesson from these tracks. Since the anthemic rock song brings together an entire mass of people, it is still easy for one individual listener to feel lost in the shuffle. Yes, perhaps the kids are, in fact, all right, but how many hundreds of thousands of kids does this include? Enough to make one feel almost as far removed as from all else.
At first glance, this tendency of certain rap tracks to seemingly further exclude the listener from the artist by making clear just who is part of the artist’s “crew” would seem counterproductive. However, this “exclusion” can in fact be rather self-empowering. Instead of attempting to align oneself with bigger-than-life rock stars, one can follow a different example and form one’s own crew. Like Ice Cube says elsewhere on his AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted album: when it comes to blindly following others, “you don’t ride on nobody’s jock/for anything that they do, fuck him and his crew/unless you were getting paid, too.”
It is this strength of character that these rappers want to pass on to their audience: think for yourself. All else follows from that. Again, this is no surprise—the intended audience for much of this music was made up of inner-city youths, probably the most disenfranchised group of the late 20th century. And be that as it may, it is still a lesson from which all can benefit. Whether your posse is on Broadway in Seattle, WA, or Broadway in El Cajon, CA, it is your posse, and yours alone.
As it should be.