Rise of gangster rappers shows a fall in our values

January 06, 2000|By STANLEY CROUCH

ONE wonders what the snootiest of the Hamptons people think about the recent shooting that took place at Club New York when Sean "Puffy" Combs' entourage scraped up against some other knuckleheads, and three bystanders were wounded.

Society has changed. Wealthy people spent many years trying to keep minorities at a distance. Now they fret over whether they'll be invited to Mr. Combs' East Hampton summer party.

During Prohibition, such people used to invite immigrant gangsters up to their Park Avenue parties. The idle rich were entertained by their stories of brutal activities. For America at large now, those Park Avenue parties have been replaced by gangster-rap recordings and videos. After all, there are only so many of these people to go around.

Over the past few years, Mr. Combs has made his way into high society, which no longer means sophistication and refinement. Today, it merely means people who have money. And no one, it seems, cares where the money comes from if you have enough of it.

While I have no quarrel with a democracy of achievement that transcends bloodlines, class, sex and religion, I'm sure we have to look at what we now regard as the top of the heap. We have accepted a fast-money aristocracy of bad-boy and bad-girl airheads who do pop music, model clothes, star in movies, play sports and so on.

Being a jerk or a self-pimping prostitute is supposed to give you that hint of danger and rebellion. That is what has held up the cult of the Rolling Stones and paved the way for the popularity of gangster rap.

Gangster rap fully arrived in 1989 with the group called NWA. It opened the way for street materialism, the lowest version of pure obsession with wealth and goods. What made the phenomenon of gangster rap different from the black exploitation movies was that the rappers, as often as not, actually were thugs.

They lived "by any means necessary" influenced thousands of kids -- and society has suffered enormously. But for some people, it was only a product. Mr. Combs, smooth on top, sly on the bottom, figured out how to sell thugs and sluts to the suburbs. He did it through MTV, making it all seem like nothing more than a party with some buck-wild stories going on. The recordings he produced sold and sold.

Then the bullets started flying. Tupac Shakur got it, then Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace. It was rough for a while. Then it cooled off, and Mr. Combs was still the magic dragon of the upper class, hanging in the Hamptons and going out with Jennifer Lopez.

Now the bullets are flying again. Why, the body that Ms. Lopez has reportedly insured could have taken a slug. What might an insurance company say about that? More importantly, what are we to say about the lightweights to whom our society has given so much heavy attention?

Stanley Crouch is a columnist for the New York Daily News.

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