Kendrick Lamar’s performance at College Football Championship was latest representation of how far things have fallen.
Many years ago I made a record, a song, that reflected the virtues of bourgeois culture: “We’re Not Going Steady.” The lyrics of that song from back in 1959 were pure bubblegum — silly yet nostalgic.
Some of the lyrics were: “We’re not going steady because we’re never alone, I can’t even love you, love you on the telephone.” I was reminded of my foray into the rock world as I watched Kendrick Lamar and the half-time entertainment at the recent College Football Championship. All I could think was how much our culture has been debased in six decades.
During the ’40s and ’50s, Frank Sinatra sang, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage,” and Lloyd Price songs had titles like “I Wanna Get Married.”
At the height of the cynical ’60s, a generation later, when middle-class values were under attack, Dusty Springfield sang, “You don’t have to say you love me,” while Meat Loaf argued, “I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you. Now don’t be sad ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.”
The tie between love and sex was severed.
Still, it is hard to grapple with how far down the proverbial rabbit hole we have gone. For most rappers, sex is raw. A woman is an object to be treated as a “ho.” Deviancy has been defined down to kindergartners who mouth vile lyrics as if they were the Gettysburg Address.
I recently found myself at a public high school when classes let out and listened to the exchanges among students. For many kids, the F-word seems to be a go-to adjectival expression for everything from lunch to the time of day. The impoverishment of language is palpable. Kindness, empathy and courtesy are antediluvian notions seemingly unknown to this generation of rap aficionados.
There was Lamar on stage, holding his crotch as he performed during the recent halftime show, the exemplar of deviancy. Thousands jumped up and down in approval, probably brow-beaten into the view that this is what culture should be. Of course, they aren’t alone; Kendrick Lamar holds the record for the most invitations to the Obama White House. He, Jay-Z and Beyoncé are rock royalty even though their real contributions lie in cultural debasement.
Business leaders in the music industry avert their gaze; they aren’t going to jeopardize a multibillion-dollar industry. But for any dispassionate observer of the public scene, the results are obvious. IPod wires deliver poison directly to teenage brains. Instead of what could be uplifting, they hear cultural filth several hours a day.
This is certainly not the first critique of rap music, nor will it be the last. Some will contend this is a racist diatribe, since rap is essentially an extension of a black subculture. However, it is precisely because rap has such an adverse effect on the ability of young people to communicate that I express my concern. Similarly, Black Lives Matter is the political manifestation of rap — a cri de coeur. While there are racial issues to discuss in this nation, putting them into the genre of rap is little more than a public scream.
The coarsening of culture doesn’t make it more authentic — an argument that is sometimes used to justify rap. If anything, it hardens a stance toward women. Imams around the globe use rap to depict American culture and democracy. How can you condemn us, they note, when you treat women more negatively than we do? They have a point.
Kendrick Lamar, who takes great pride in coming from the Compton ‘hood, is a multimillionaire and the envy of many black youths. But his role in American life deserves a more thorough examination than it has received. One might start by asking him or his cohorts to read their lyrics to their grandmothers.
The era of “Take out the papers and the trash or you don’t get no petty cash” has gone the way of the hula hoop.
But there is something to be said for that innocent age, particularly when we are caught in the era of cultural sewage.