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Childish Gambino & Trayvon Martin: When Does Hip-Hop Go Too Far?Posted by Nathan S. on 04/07/12 | Filed under Features, Childish Gambino
Weekend Edition: RefinedHype's most popular stories this week, running from Saturday to Monday morning.
"Man I die for my hood.....Trayvon."
Those seven words set off one of the biggest backlashes against a single line in recent rap memory. From fans to other rappers to writers, nearly everyone seemed to agree that Childish Gambino referencing an inarguable tragedy for the sake of a punchline was ill-advised at best, and reprehensible at worst.
All of that, of course, is true. The unwritten deal is that we don't censor rappers, they can say whatever they want, but they also can't censor us when we disagree with them. Gambino crossed the line and we have every right to raise our voices in protest.
But a more interesting question than the relatively cut and dry "should Gambino have said that?" is "How far is too far when it comes to hip-hop?"
By contrast, Gambino's "Made the beat and then murdered it...Casey Anthony" line off "Bonfire" was largely laughed at, or at the very least certainly didn't provoke this kind of anger. There are obvious differences between Martin and the Casey Anthony trial, but they're both fundamentally similar in the sense that they involve the tragic death of innocent murdered children.
And yet, I didn't feel the slightest bit of anger about the Casey Anthony line, but my instant reaction to the Trayvon Martin line was "that's fucked up".
Or to widen the scope, because this article isn't about Childish Gambino, it's about Childish Gambino as a jumping off point to all of hip-hop, what about Biggie's "Blow up like the World Trade" line off "Juicy". I literally don't know anyone who has a problem with that line, even though it references a terrorist attack that killed six people and injured more than a thousand.
Or Kanye's "this is something like the Holocaust" line off "Who's Gon Stop Me"? I can't say it really affected me, but one of my Jewish homeboys thought Ye crossed the line with that one.
Or Peter Rosenberg's campaign against drunk-driving references in hip-hop, which some have supported and others responded to with some version of "what's the big deal?"
Ultimately, there are no hard lines, no strict rules, about when music crosses "the line". Like music as a whole, it's a completely subjective and person judgement; we all have our own lines. I simply don't feel any real personal connection to Casey Anthony - if I'm being honest, her trial felt like yet another sensationalized media event. Yet, like so many, Trayvon's murder has affected me deeply because it's so easy to look at him and think "that could have been me, my brother, my son, my cousin."
Or on another level, having a daughter has really changed the way my reactions to music, both positively and negatively. "All of the Lights" hit me on a deeper level than it would have before I had my daughter - just imagining only being able to see her at public visitations really affected me, and the connection I feel about "All of the Lights".
On the flip side, I surprised myself with how disturbed I was by Jarren Benton's "Skitzo" video. Any depiction of a man abusing a woman, even if it's purposefully campy like "Skitzo", now makes me furious - I'm not sure I would have even cared before I became a father.
So while I fully expect people to continue to debate Gambino's use of the hoodie line, it's really only a smaller example of a larger question: how far is too far when it comes to hip-hop? Where do you draw your line? It may not be a question you've ever really asked yourself, I hadn't before I started thinking about "Eat Your Vegetables", and there probably isn't a clear answer, but it's a question that any intelligent hip-hop head should ask themselves.
Those are big, important, motherfucking complicated questions that I wouldn't ask ask anywhere else but RefinedHype Nation. Believe it or not, we've beaten the odds and actually managed to form an intelligent community on the interwebs.
So in that spirit people, have at it.....
See Also: Relax & Enjoy Childish Gambino’s “Eat Your Vegetables” (Listen & Download)