Why a Blogger’s “Minstrel Show” Comment Aimed at Chief Keef Was a No-NoDecember 20th, 2012
By Gee King
With Chief Keef’s debut album Finally Rich hitting shelves this week, society is still trying to wrap its head around the mercurial 17-year-old MC who’s become the face of Chicago’s bustling “Drill music” scene. While there’s no ignoring the connection between he and his peers’ ultra-violent lyrics and the gangsta youth culture that’s made their hometown a perennial murder capital, the debate rages as to whether Keef and his music are a symptom or cause of a diseased culture. In an effort to advance the conversation — or, more likely, to generate clicks — a number of hip hop blogs are highlighting an opinion piece penned by white writer Edward McClelland that generally rejects the glorification of guns throughout American culture (referencing upcoming blockbusters Django Unchained and Gangster Squad) and specifically condemns Keef’s music as “primitive,” “lunkheaded” and a “minstrel show.”
The slightest of research into McClelland suggests that he is not coming from the same place as the FOX News culture that routinely simplifies and demonizes the negative aspects of hip hop culture without context or a genuine effort to understand. He opens his piece by stating that he is “a big fan of Chicago hip hop” and intended to buy Keef’s album before last week’s Sandy Hook tragedy and ensuing media frenzy turned him off to the idea of anything remotely violent. McClelland wrote a book celebrating Barack Obama’s political rise titled Young Mr. Obama and clearly entered this discussion with progressive intentions. But aiming a radioactive phrase like “minstrel show” at Keef without analyzing the stage that’s making his show possible would be irresponsible whether McClelland were black or white.
Fair or unfair, McClelland’s race, gender and social status limit the authority with which he can speak on Black culture. The fact that he has the platform to define Black culture to the masses is less “fair” than any outcry a misunderstanding of his intentions could cause. The simple fact that Keef and his generation “pique” McClelland’s “curiosity” while the victims of Sandy Hook evoke behavior-changing empathy is the true reason his word choice is troubling. But the larger issues his comments raise are what we should actually be focused on.
The music industry’s rush to highlight Keef, Lil Reese and the rest of the “Drill music” scene is not driven by a belief in their musical talent or artistic potential. They are simply the latest vessel through which corporate forces are commodifying the most destructive images of Black culture for mass consumption. Veteran Chi-town MC Rhymefest, in a Salon article that McClelland sources in his piece, describes Drill scene MCs as “bombs” who are “not picked for their talent or creativity” but are “picked for what they are conditioned to do: destroy. It’s very unfortunate that we are fueling (Drill artists) by giving the ignorant attention. At the end of the day, it’s not about Chief Keef, it’s not about Lil Reese, this is about a community being exploited.”
Sharing his opinion in a public forum, he is responsible for all of the thoughts and feelings his words conjure. Right or wrong, the idea of a White man in America using the word minstrel so casually raises an intellectual red flag in any conscious mind. Objectively, his metaphor is rational on many levels. But when the subject is race in America, it is never that simple. As someone with a clear understanding and interest in Black culture, he should know that by now. McClelland wrote his words with the assumption that his readers were aware enough and able to comprehend that troubling dynamic without simply accepting the image of Keef and company as natural occurrences and not products of their environment. He also wrote them with the intention of sparking tough questions. He certainly did that, just not as he intended. In 2012, can a white man call a spade a spade? Apparently not when it entails calling a black teenager a minstrel. And maybe that’s how it should be.