Rap, splendor and misery of a popular but disparaged genre

Rap splendor and misery of a popular but disparaged genre

Glory: “great brilliance”, but also “exaggerated pride”… The title of Bénédicte Delorme-Montini’s book, The Glory of Rap (Gallimard), condenses the ambivalence of this genre, which is as popular as it is disparaged. His work bears witness to the same penetration. The contemporary historian indeed avoids a double pitfall: the contempt for a music reduced by Eric Zemmour to a “subculture of illiterates” and the demagogic ecstasy in front of the excesses of artists hastily promoted to the rank of heirs of the poets.

The academic chose to take the rappers at their word. And offers, with supporting quotations, a socio-political analysis of gender, which it makes a formidable observatory of the changes in our democratic societies. The hip-hop movement, born in the New York ghettos of the 1970s, is the product of a “political revolution”: a crisis of all forms of transcendence, against a background of de-Westernization and cultural de-hierarchization. “Conquering dissidence of the excluded”, rap is characterized by political disaffiliation and an unprecedented individualism. Discrediting all speeches with universal claims, it rewrites history according to the postulates of Afrocentrism, demands the recognition of slavery as a crime against humanity.

A new stage with “gangsta rap”, which emerged in the United States at the end of the 1980s, and one of the transpositions of which in France, where it arrived at the end of the century, was “Islamo-caillera”. Trash and quirky, torn between historical transgression and commercial strategy, it aims to delegitimize “hegemonic norms”: cultural, racial, gender. Finally, in today’s rap, “democratic aspiration” has shifted to form. Result: a “forest of signs” valuing virtuosity and innovation, at the risk of becoming a somewhat pointless exercise in style. The texts of the PNL group, saturated with opaque references to manga and video games, are an illustration of this.

“Universal Democracy”

The profusion of concepts sometimes obscures the subject of Bénédicte Delorme-Montini: we are still trying to find out what the “democratic fundamentalism due to the founding fiction of the modern revolution” refers to… Still, this booklet answers many questions. Why haven’t rappers, so quick to claim for themselves the right to the most excessive provocations, supported Charlie Hebdo ? Because artists and listeners of the 21st century no longer understand the republican spirit: “French secularism like integration, two invitations to participate in a universal common, come to be seen as discriminatory mechanisms, if not as instruments of ‘institutional racism’ This is the risk of a genre which, by dreaming of being a ‘universal democracy of singularities’, elevates tolerance to the rank of supreme value. How to understand the attachment of artists to a territory – district, city, department -, sometimes repeated until the disgust, of the piece Seine-Saint-Denis Style from NTM to Booba’s 92i collective? Not like the inscription in a place of culture and memory, but like the confinement in “the space of the immediate present”. Why are women so little moved by the misogyny of rappers? Because sexual equality is sufficiently internalized to allow humor.

A journey that paints a fascinating, but also overwhelming, picture of today’s rap. Because the overwhelming examples abound. It is the “bourgeois-bohemian” Nekfeu, undermined by the shame of being only white or Western, calling in 2013 for a “burning for these dogs of Charlie Hebdo”. It is Medina, the “man of faith”, enjoining the crucifixion of the “laicards”. Or even Freeze Corleone, scattering his texts with references to Nazism and pushing ignominy to the point of asserting “R to F [rien à foutre] of the Shoah” in a piece on the genocide in the Congo… And this, with the complacency of specialized media and ready to excuse, through ignorance or cowardice, all abjection.

Could the glory of rap be usurped? Too bad that Bénédicte Delorme-Montini has so little addressed the cases of Orelsan and Bigflo and Oli, figures of a sometimes disoriented middle class but less permeable to victim resentment. Examples that give them the desire to reconcile with the genre.

The Glory of Rap: The last will be the firstBénédicte Delorme-Montini, Gallimard, 168 p., 13.50 euros.