Fresh out of that improbable world called Nashotah House, I was introduced to a jarring concept while in Oshkosh: a Hasidic rapper called Matisyahu. The strange image brewed in my head did not match the reality of this persona, but the very concept of a religious conservative engaging in protest music just didn’t seem to fit. I make no claims to musical expertise, but I did grow up in the 60’s and 70’s, and I know authentic protest when I hear it. Rap began as a countercultural rebellion, and I knew age had its gray fingers wrapped around me when a friend in grad school claimed that rap was “the end of civilization as we know it.” Civilization didn’t end, it simply evolved.
Rap started to become mainstream, as happens to all radical movements when they become “cool” and the aging performers join their aged fans. Then along comes Hi-Caliber, the pathetic Republican attempt to appeal to the hip, the young, the impressionable. The Tea Party rapper (Zac the Rapper?) inveighs his tired message that progress is bad, privileging the wealthy is good, for the Bible tells me so. And the public sips it in. As a person who can’t help but overthink things, it alarms me how trite answers are easily accepted by so many people. If a person stops to think about the implications of issues, the simple solutions proffered by Tea Partiers simply don’t solve anything, no matter how many rappers, twitterers, or ravers they get on their side. Rather than exercise mental rigor, most voters see the shiny glitz and pull the voting booth curtain. Perhaps my friend was right after all.
I have to face the fact that I’m aging into a guy who casts a nostalgic, longing glance back to the sixties of my youth with a sentimental eye. The cardboard-cutout world of the 1950s seems that it was insubstantial, staged even, compared to the psychedelic colors I first saw through childhood’s wondering gaze. I heard protesters on the radio and saw them on television while being raised in a conservative environment. And even though I never personally rebelled, being the Bible-reading type, I secretly admired those who had the courage to challenge the social evils of the day and damn the consequences. Now I switch on the radio and hear conservative fat-cats clipping out pithy rhymes upholding the man. Where is the authenticity? It all makes me want to turn on, tune in, and drop out.