John McWhorter over at The New Republic has an excellent defense of the rapper Common, who has been at the center of controversy since he was invited to a White House poetry night. His introductory sentence gets to the heart of what I agree is the main issue that this hoopla has revealed:

Watching Republicans clutching their pearls to see the rapper Common invited to the White House on a poetry night Wednesday has revealed a party whose stars are grievously out of touch with the culture they hope to lead, as well as to culture in general, apparently.

McWhorter makes the case that Common is one of the stars of “conscious” rap, and I second this. In my view, as a long-time disgruntled hip-hopper who hates most of everything that comes out of the genre, Common is a natural choice for this kind of event. And, incidentally, though his long career has seen some missteps, he’s still one of the best out there.

Here’s the crux of McWhorter’s argument:

Furthermore, one could almost have predicted that the invited representative would be Common. He is one of the foundational “conscious” rappers who has eschewed the “gangsta” routine, even including his father on one recording (Be) advising us to “be a brilliant soul, sparkling in the galaxy while walking on earth.” But to Palin, Karl Rove and their ilk, Common is just one more exhibitionist polluting the culture with a thug routine, as if 50 Cent were invited to regale the Obamas with strophes about “gats.” One could only take this view of Common with a willful blindness to context and nuance.

Amen. Also, to prove my hip-hop snobbery, note that Common’s “Pops” doesn’t just appear on Common’s sub-par record “Be,” he is featured at the end of nearly all of the rapper’s early records. That aside, McWhorter is completely on point.

Read the rest of his piece here.

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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