Is hip hop a genre? Is a single a single? Is a record a record, what do you put in between the lines that you can make rap, like a song?” she asked me. As I thought that, you can just feel the tension in the room. “And then in the middle of it, this other thought entered my head. And it just made me realize, ‘Okay, what is this question that we’re having?'”
While the question was about rap as a genre and the label label of “gangsta rap,” it was also a question about art that might be used to manipulate people for profit or for whatever purpose they might want to. This is the first year I have been talking to people about it in public, I felt like my first public lecture on this subject. I didn’t think I would do anything like this, especially this far in advance—it was the first time that someone had asked me this in person. But then someone had asked Meek about it, I had never had an official question about it, and now I felt like this was my chance to talk to somebody who can maybe provide me a different perspective on rap.
As we talk, the walls shake on their own accord, and there are no other sounds around us at all. We’re being watched by the people in the booth next to us, and I can tell they’re watching Meek without me being there. I am aware of how the cameras move, but I only turn to Meek when he asks the question again, and this time we’re moving together through this room together. I try my whole energy—I’m on my phone, I’m looking out of the window, but I am also watching. And I see that even the way he says it, he’s talking, and he’s walking away from me, and I know that if I walk away from him and he leaves, it will be because he’s bored, because he’s tired of talking with me or I’m just not listening. It’s clear to me now that people’s responses to Meek’s question would be the same after he was asked the question at another point in his career: He would answer.
On a recent Sunday night at the Brooklyn Bowl, I watched a group of young men in their teens dance around a microphone as a crowd chanted the hip-hop duo’s name. One of them had just finished his rap, and he was about to go into his routine when someone pulled him away and asked him
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