Mainstreaming Rock and Rap Music


"Commercial rock 'n' roll music is a brutalization of the stream of contemporary Negro church music, an obscene looting of a cultural expression." -- Ralph Ellison

Both Eminem and Green Day have new albums out, and I'm excited. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a rap fan or a punk rock fan, but I followed their music before they hit the pop culture mainstream. When it comes to music, I like what I like. I enjoyed the music of Ozzy Osbourne before he became a cuddly reality television star with his family, and I listened to Metallica before they broadened their scope to the masses with their self-titled album. (I'm often accused by my cousin Andrew, the co-host of the Gecaj and Giggens Power Show, of having the musical tastes of a school girl, but even though I confess to enjoying the music of Paramore, Flyleaf, AFI, and other stuff he considers trype, I take pride in having introduced him to the Beatles, even if he denies it!)
Rap, Punk, Heavy Metal -- all are genres of music that have a reputation for being anti-establishment. When artists start crossing over into the so-called mainstream, reaching audiences that don't fit into the circle of devoted hard-core fans, they get accused of "selling out." There is validity to this seemingly harsh label -- they are often perceived as abandoning their roots and serving the almighty dollar instead of the passion from which their original music originated.

I think that selling millions of tee-shirts, posters, and other merchandise doesn't mean that musicians have necessarily sold their souls to the corporate devils and abandoned their art. U2 arguably still makes good music even while staging mega-concerts worldwide and selling millions of CDs and iTunes downloads.

Does rock music lose its edge when it crosses over into pop music? Does rap music lose its raw power when suburban kids start embracing it? I'm a big fan of Tupac Shakur, for example, but were his poetic words meant for me? Am I trivializing his songs by listening to "Changes" while driving my Toyota Matrix to work? Has he become just another marketable icon, whose mainstream listeners and Top 40 music stations care more about the catchy beat of his tunes than about the meaning of his lyrics?

There has always been controversy surrounding the popularization of music that begins with a small subculture and grows into a mass-market phenomenon. It happened with the rock n' roll of Elvis Presley and we saw it again even with the grunge of Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

I can only speak for myself when I say that even though they are part of a big, corporate, record label machine, the music of Eminem, Green Day, and others, still has artistic merit that goes far beyond pop catchiness.

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