Life offers little in the way of constants, outside the big ones like death and taxes, but among them is that you can always easily find someone willing to argue that we are currently living through what is undoubtedly the lowest moment in the history of rap music so far. It’s particularly easy to find them right now—though rap’s been going through a genre-wide period of artistic flowering whose only precedent might be rock ‘n’ roll, post-Summer of Love—because of Chief Keef. His milder critics are content to criticize him for lowering the standards for rap lyricism and promoting an unabashedly violent image, while the most severe accuse him of playing a minstrel-like role trading in the worst stereotypes about rappers (and, by extension, about black Americans), and essentially selling out his culture for a lucrative major label deal. (In this respect he joins a long line of rappers running from Flavor Flav to Soulja Boy.)

The logical extension of the latter opinion is that the popularity of artists like Keef comes from them tapping into America’s reserves of barely sublimated racism. But while America’s concepts about race really are tied up with hip-hop in all sorts of deep and twisted ways, I don’t think it’s enough to get a song on the pop charts alone.