Why do suburban white kids like gangsta rap?

A followup post to White People And Hip-Hop

First, a little on my background. I’m not from the suburbs, I’m from New York City. My experience growing up was an odd blend of the city and the suburbs. I lived in a posh little corner of an otherwise pretty tough neighborhood. I attended a very fancy school, but traveled there by public bus and/or subway through other tough neighborhoods. My social circle included very suburban white kids and very urban nonwhite kids. As a younger kid, I loved hip-hop. As a teenager, I succumbed to rockism, probably due to social pressure from our racist society, and pretended not to like hip-hop anymore. As an adult, I’m more centered and confident, and have resumed loving it. So I think I have some pretty good insight into why white kids in the suburbs like hip-hop, especially of the gangsta variety. It boils down to the fact that the suburbs are lame, and hip-hop is cool.

Hip-hop is cool in general. So why is gangsta rap cooler than Will Smith or Drake? The big thing is that gangsta rap tends to be musically stronger and more creative. It has grittier beats, denser and more ambitious rhymes, more pointed political and social commentary, and darker humor. It’s also dramatically more offensive, but that’s part of the allure. If you’re a teenager wanting to annoy your parents, there’s no better method than to blast the Wu-Tang Clan, especially if your dad is a mountain climber who plays the electric guitar. I myself have been known to climb mountains and play the electric guitar, and the fact that GZA is directing his ire specifically at me makes listening to the Wu a complex experience. But listen I do, because why would I want to deprive myself of the music?

Gangsta rap is a fantasy of (mostly) masculine power: fighting danger, drinking and smoking pot at will, getting laid effortlessly, defying authority, getting rich without being chained to a desk. It’s the same vicarious pleasure as watching Tony Soprano or Don Draper. If you live in polite society, constrained by the rules of schools and offices, gangsta rap offers an imaginative release for your antisocial impulses, the same way rock used to back when it was dangerous. The movie Office Space nailed this entire idea in just a few seconds of Michael Bolton rapping in his car.

I’ve thought a lot about the difference between gangsta rap and darker, angstier forms of rock. Their respective fan bases overlap somewhat, but the emotional experiences are very different. Punk, metal, alternative and indie rock are about anxiety, despair, depression, angst, alienation and self-loathing. Darker hip-hop sometimes deals in those emotions, but more often it’s about overcoming adversity. Most gangsta narratives are about struggling against life in the ghetto, and very often winning out. For every one Biggie Smalls song like “Suicidal Thoughts” there are ten like “Juicy” or “Unbelievable.” I wouldn’t say gangsta rap is happy, exactly, but it is very often triumphant, confident, and swaggering. I mostly find current rock depressing, but hip-hop makes me feel energized. I’m willing to bet that my fellow white hip-hop fans would agree.

7 thoughts on “Why do suburban white kids like gangsta rap?

  1. I grew up with white, black and any other music on the radio,we started as young teens singing do-wop on the corner,in the Army I started blowin` harp blues.than guitar too.this music I been into most my life is American,black culture,white culture mixed,can`t have one without the other…

  2. I’m rural, not suburban. I like it because it motivates me to achieve more. It also helps me to not get depressed. I’m a 37 year old female. My favorite song over the past week has been E-40 Choices (Yup)

  3. I think white suburban kids like rap and hip hop because it feels like a different form of music and experience that it outside of their experience. Rap and hip hop took a long for me to warm up too. Some say I am a an elitist, but I think it is because much of the rap music I was exposed to was pretty boring or uninteresting. It wasn’t until I heard Michael Franti’s the Beatnigs which opened for Billy Bragg in Ottawa in 1988 that I begun to change my views on rap a bit. I think that some people might want to live the tough guy life of a gangsta just as people used to want to live vicariously through another person’s existence. While it is true that despair is often a theme in punk, it can be avenue for social change as with Clash. Finally, if anyone is thinking that commercial radio is going to provide any hope here, then perhaps supporting your local university radio station is the best bet and the Internet can be of great help. The only rock band that really depresses me is Nickelback and they come from my home province of Alberta which is really depressing!!!!!

  4. I do blues and all exponents of it,heard it since I was a baby.it`s a language with many dialects,none less you learn the language to play it.I also do photography,and I did west philly grade schools pic`s and dealing with these kids 7 to 12 years old,I picked up that these kids ,were more into the gangsta image than learning the language.more of the moon ,june bull rather than why fo`,and how it is…So whats the matter here,is it an artist far and few between or a bunch of blind sheeples…???

  5. Pingback: Hip Hop | If It Has No Solution, It Is Not A Problem

  6. hell yea…hip hop is all about risin up….being gritty and gettin it…i like phish, and they sing about some suburban bullshit…but, nas and other rap about the struggle, and overcoming…thats the real message…rock doesnt usually convey that…some does…but, im from NJ…i live in oregon, and there is 0 hiphop presence here…but i never forget…east coast, we liked hiphop…always have…and we seen a melting pot of colors, so we respect…in oregon, its lily white…but ‘s all good, its all whats inside anyway yo

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