I've been following the debate over Ice Cube's newest rap release, "Death Certificate."
In case you missed it, this is the infamous album in which the rap artist chants, "Nowadays, a gat [automatic weapon] is a man's best friend."
This is the album where he boasts to a father, "Your daughter was a nice girl, now she's a slut. . . . I'm gonna do my thing with your daughter."
And where he warns, "You can burn your cross, I'm gonna burn your flag . . . the ultimate drive-by. . . . I wanna kill [Uncle] Sam."
This is the album where every rap pulsates with violence and rage and where every woman is referred to by an unprintable name.
This is the album, too, that recently cost Ice Cube a pretty penny.
Korean merchants forced a beer company to stop using Ice Cube in its commercials after they heard him promise, "So pay some respect to the black sis, or we'll burn your store down to a crisp. And then we'll sink ya, cause you can't turn the ghetto into a black Korea."
So I've been listening in while people debate the merits of so-called gangster rappers like Ice Cube.
Some say their lyrics are so hateful and anti-social that they ought to be banned by the government.
Others say that albums such as "Death Certificate" tap into the anger and violence at the heart of the urban experience and therefore qualify as art.
There have even been those who shape the debate into a class battle.
"To boil down the issue in the black community," said Bill Adler, who's company manages many of the top rappers, "it's the buppies [black urban professionals] versus the B-boys [the rappers]. The buppies are terrified of rap -- not just the sound, but what it stands for. The buppies' style is an imitation white style. They're deeply threatened by the advent of these essentially unadulterated and unassimilated rappers."
The whole debate, of course, is [unprintable] nonsense.
The government has no right to ban Ice Cube or any other gangster rapper just because his music is obnoxious and stupid. Most radio stations already elect not to play gangster rappers, anyway. Few responsible parents find their message suitable for their children.
At the same time, it is ludicrous to contend that the gangster mentality lies at the heart of the urban experience. If I had to vote on any one thing that lies at the core of the urban psyche it would be the church, but not even the church can truly make that claim.
The life of the urban poor is too complex for simple descriptions. There are anger, despair, and bitterness, to be sure, but also hope and love and an awful lot of faith.
Adler, the rap promoter, has made the only sensible comment in this whole debate. You're darn right, buppies are terrified of the B-boys. They're terrified their children may be led astray.
But even Adler's observations spiraled off into idiocy when he suggested that buppies feel threatened because the gangsters somehow "dare to be black." Killing the home boys and despising the women are not intrinsic to black culture.
What we ought to be debating is why folk such as Ice Cube get taken so seriously. Why is it that a beer company thought Ice Cube would make a good salesman for its product? Why is it that media pundits keep trying to find broader meaning in his appeal?
Ice Cube is not a spokesman for his people. He is a posturing 22-year-old who is thrilling teens and raking in the cash by tweaking the sensibilities of his elders. He is pretending to be a bad boy, and bad boys and rebels have always appealed to the adolescent mind.
Because I am an old, old man in my 30s, I find myself wishing that Ice Cube provided a more thoughtful, more constructive outlet for his followers' anger and rebelliousness -- the way poet-performers such as Gil Scott Heron did in the 1970s.
But I can console myself with the knowledge that for every gangster rapper making millions of dollars, there is a thoughtful rapper making, well, thousands.
And, at least Ice Cube has not taken it into his head to run for elected office as have David Duke and Patrick Buchanan -- men who also trade on the adolescent rage of their followers.
Ice Cube doesn't want to be president. He just wants to be rich, a comparatively harmless ambition.