Music News

In their appeal to red-staters, Southern hip-hop and Fox News walk together

If there's one thing the self-satisfied, liberal, tofu-munching, cappuccino-sipping, in vitro fertilization-utilizing coastal elite hate, it's Fox News. The Rupert Murdoch-owned home to such neoconservative mouthpieces as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity is known for cheerleading the Iraq war and not finding John McCain insufficiently right-wing. It even has the audacity to declare itself "Fair and Balanced," which is approximately as accurate, liberals would argue, as Paul Wall calling himself African-American.

Which brings us to the coastal hip-hop elite's favorite whipping boy — Southern rap. With its focus on stripped down beats and basic lyricism, it is the spawn of Satan himself, argue the b-boyin', Shaolin-representin', G-funkin', Golden Era nostalgi-encia.

But though Fox News and Southern rap both have anti-intellectual appeal, there's more to the story than that. Rather than simply pandering to the red-state masses, they have tapped into powerful populist sensibilities in areas which didn't previously have a national voice.

By the early part of this decade, the lyricism of New York rap and the gangland stories of L.A. hip-hop had grown out of touch with Midwestern and Southern audiences, particularly girls who wanted to dance. Production techniques had grown vastly more sophisticated, to the point where many celebrated founding fathers' tracks sounded — I hate to say it — corny. (Don't get me wrong, Eric B. & Rakim's "Follow the Leader" is a classic song, but can you really image a club full of anyone but ironic hipsters dancing to it?)

The same is true of the majority of old Snoop Dogg, Warren G., Tupac, and Notorious B.I.G. tracks, which tend to be more about blazing a blunt with your homies than packing a club.

And so genres like crunk and snap music stepped in to fill the void, and hit makers like Three 6 Mafia, Paul Wall, Mike Jones, the Cash Money crew, and Lil Jon offered style over substance and big, ridiculous beats to stimulate your ass, if not your mind.

Meanwhile, rather than exercising their famous "tolerance," liberals blew a gasket after Fox News debuted in 1996, and they continue to believe it more biased and somehow lesser than CNN or MSNBC. But, more likely, it just doesn't fit their stereotypes of what a cable news channel should be. Take perky Fox Report host Shepard Smith, perhaps the Soulja Boy of news anchors, who doesn't seem like he could hold an intelligent conversation on Russian politics and appears to wear eyeliner. But, I would argue, the more you watch him, the more you can't help appreciating his silliness and his infectious energy. Eventually, you wonder what was so great about Brian Williams in the first place.

Similarly, detractors of Southern rap (including coastal players like Ghostface Killah and Nas) contend that it's not just different, it's worse. But is it so crass to embrace your dancing shoes over your thinking cap? Should you really need to be an expert in Eastern mysticism to like an album?

And though they can appear simplistic, the best Southern rap songs did not come about easily. Sure, screaming "Yeah!" and "Okay!" at the top of your lungs (or, in the case of DJ Khaled, "We the best!") doesn't seem like it requires much effort, but you're nuts if you think crafting party-starting jams is easy. And let's not forget that the genre's brightest stars, like UGK, Lil Wayne, T.I., Scarface, Ludacris, and Outkast, can be held up with the coasts' intellectual best.

As for "minstrel rap" — that lowest common denominator outpost of the genre characterized by nursery rhyme interpretations (Jibbs' "Chain Hang Low"), and racial stereotypes (Ms. Peachez' "Fry That Chicken") — that's about as hard to defend as the shrill, reactionary pattering of Sean Hannity.

But painting the whole genre with a broad brush is problematic, just like it's easy to forget that beyond blowhards like Greta Van Susteren, Fox has measured, insightful hosts like Brit Hume and Chris Wallace. The latter, in fact, recently called into Fox & Friends to offer a smackdown after the show's hosts spent a couple hours trashing Obama.

If you're still not convinced that Southern rap and Fox News are one and the same, consider the countless Southern rap odes to big cars and the wasteful misuse of fossil fuel, an indulgence the global-warming deniers on Fox News certainly endorse.

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Ben Westhoff
Contact: Ben Westhoff