02 August 2008

It it all right for me not to like hip-hop?

Is it all right for me not to like hip-hop? In theory, anyone can like or dislike any kind of music. There's no law about it. But there is a lot of social weight on music. What music you listen to, what music your social groups listens to, what music you mock, all that is usually based on a lot more than just what the music sounds like. And people who don't really know you will associate you with particular groups of people because of what you listen to or don't. I can intellectually know that people divide themselves up into groups and put a lot of effort into keeping straight what is In and what is Out, and yet still have the gut feeling that group divisions based on race are worse than any of the other possiblities. That leaves me trying to decide if I don't like hiphop because of what it sounds like, I don't like hiphop because I haven't listened to enough of it to get it, or because I am a bigot of some sort, or what. It's a liberal knee-jerk, I know. It's not as if I like everything. I don't like the Miles Davis style of modern jazz at all, but I listened to a lot of it before I ruled it out as a category. (It makes my brain want to run away from my body and hide--I think the tonal stuff clashes with some of my wiring in a fundamental way.) I listened to enough hardcore that it didn't all sound the same to me, found some that I liked, and let myself avoid the rest of it without any guilt. There are some artists I avoid because they are (as far as I can tell) loathsome or their lyrics are. I have no problem with that. Some music is inaccessible because you don't have the musical basis for it, like gamelan or Yoko Ono or something. I don't run into that much anymore because I have built up a big basis of personal musical experience. When I do, I try to listen with open ears and then follow up by listening to more of it or related music, until I can parse it better. So what about me and hip-hop? It can't be because it is musically foreign to me. I grew up on Motown and Memphis and Philadelphia. I have heard enough of urban music in general to know what's what. I don't think it is because the artists are mostly black. I listen stuff that is mostly associated with black artists, like old Stax/Volt stuff, reggaeton and zouk. It can't be because I worry about getting a bad reaction from people I know. I listen to enough different stuff and am so out about it that I am pretty sure I must already be bothering the people who police the Them and Us of music. Seeing the other iTunes libraries on our intranet at work keeps this question fresh for me. A lot of people have hiphop and similar urban stuff up there, people who are sensible adults that I know. I have listened to enough of it that I can tell the difference between Akon and Chris Brown. I still find myself clicking away to something else after a track or two. There is always something else I would rather be listening to, and it seems as stupid to me to contemplate taking up hip-hop to make a social statement as to avoid it for the same reason. Can I just admit that I like other stuff a lot better and leave it at that? Would that make me a bad person?

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