November 2, 2001

Facing the Music - Gangster Rap Shoots Blanks After Sept. 11

By Teresa Moore

The other day I got an e-mail from a friend who signed off with a new moniker, "R-money." I teased him about how 1999 it sounded. He fired back a response, this time styling himself as "Gangsta Russ."


These labels evoke a bling-bling and bang-bang era that seems beside the point in a crumbling economy and a country at war. The gangsta scene already smelled stale to me, but since Sept. 11 that world seems even more insular and archaic. People are broke and broken-hearted, scared of losing their jobs or losing their lives.

The attacks forced most Americans to wake up to the fact that we're part of the rest of the world, not some phat and fearless promised land. None of us, not even gangsta rappers and their fans can afford to pretend that what happens to America and what America does to others doesn't concern us. To do so is downright "ignant."

So how will this new world change the rap world? Will adult gangsta rap fans crave the same old hardcore hardware when death can come in the mail? Will big jewelry and designer logos seem hot when so many people are hurting for work? Will gun-toting rappers seem as fierce next to Osama's posse?

Will Arab culture become cool, now that Arabs have replaced blacks as America's most wanted colored people?

There are some, particularly kids who have no sense of history or context, who ignore the events of 9-11. But sleeping through the tidal wave won't keep you from being washed away.

I'm guessing that some folks will lose their patience with the sounds and images of street corner warlords and their tricked-out girlies. I know I have. What's on my CD player? Some silly French pop, samba, Chris Rock and a custom CD called "The Peaceful Kingdom" that a friend sent me yesterday. Others, particularly anti-war types, may see the eye-for-an-eye ethos in so much gangsta rap as Operation Enduring Freedom writ small. And a few, like my friend R-money, will take comfort in turning the dial back to the more innocent and happy days of 1999.

People will still want to dance and laugh and shop and look good, but I don't think garden-variety pop-culture violence, local beefs or $5,000 dresses are gonna be the ticket. I'm not out to condemn rap or hip-hop — I appreciate the rich array of flavors. But now that death is a little closer to us all — whether we are freaked over the September attacks, distraught about the war in Afghanistan or afraid to open the mail — I question the appeal of artistic expressions that draw energy from violence and excess.

Last Sunday in church, it occurred to me that since the attacks I've had the kind of feeling I'm supposed to have at Christmas time: conscious gratitude for the people in my life and a greater sense of goodwill toward others. And it's not just me. I see it in the smiles of strangers on the street and the extra efforts at kindness among my neighbors. I don't know how long this will last, but I'm savoring it.

I'm not a good enough Catholic to know if this is blasphemous, but I see the Christ story in the lives that were sacrificed on September 11. It might be too much to say that those who died in the attacks died for our (Americans') sins. But if their deaths cause us to appreciate what we have — life, health, home, the sun in the morning and the stars at night — and learn to treat one another a little better, that's as good a memorial as any we could build of bricks and mortar.

Teresa Moore (tlmo415@ is a lecturer in the communications department at the University of San Francisco.

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