To the editors:
As a young black woman who likes to dance and think, I find myself in the position of defending rap as an art form while simultaneously objecting to its often fragmentary, unexamined politics. Politics that espouse, among other things, misogyny, misdirected violence, and uninformed consumerism. Then along came Arrested Development, immediately accessible to someone like me, raised on the horns of Earth, Wind & Fire and nearly hypnotized by the innocuous beat of Chic, but reluctant to shake my butt to the equally innocuous, but blatantly degrading, chants of Luke and his 2 Live Crew.
Arrested Development’s historic approach to rap is irresistible to the intellectual set; what black person hasn’t questioned his/her roots, only to face the same incomplete unsatisfying answers that Speech is offered in “Tennessee.” In “Washed Away,” the group confronts the legacy of the millions of slaves drowned in the Atlantic during the Middle Passage as eloquently as August Wilson in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of . . . is intelligent rap but, to take issue with Mr. Wyman’s otherwise insightful analysis [“Rap’s way out: Arrested Development takes it higher,” December 11], Arrested Development’s “hippie rap” is borne of the same rage that inspires N.W.A. and the Geto Boys. The article refers to David Samuels’s New Republic condemnation of rap, in which Samuels challenges the authenticity of some rappers (arguing that middle class rappers merely adopt urban street style–failing to realize that, in the black community, middle class and urban are far from mutually exclusive). Similarly, Mr. Wyman argues that Arrested Development’s “jaunty beats” and “attractive and downright fun radical revolutionary political perspective” are antithetical to the coarse expressions of the gangster rappers. Not so. Perhaps Mr. Wyman is assuaging his white boy fears that one day, the oppressed will take their 9 millimeters out of the ghetto and march down the streets of yuppieville and claim what was built on the backs of their enslaved, underpaid, and otherwise exploited forefathers.
Revolution–however “jaunty” and “attractive”–can sneak up on you when you least expect it, as it does in “Give a Man a Fish” (Brothers with their AKs and their 9 millimeters / Need to learn how to correctly shoot them / Save those rounds for a revolution). Speech acknowledges the rage that compels the “hatemongering and stupidity” of Ice-T and Chuck D, even validates it . . . then admonishes them to dispense their rage judiciously. As much as Mr. Wyman would like to think that Arrested Development is a nice rap group that would never advocate nihilism, he’s wrong. The difference between Ice Cube and Speech is that Speech is in favor of a strategic, planned destruction of this country’s unjust social order.