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Serious lack of street cred

OPINION

February 17, 2013|By Stephen Markley, @stephenmarkley | For RedEye

I get obsessed with things that are really funny. Funny things, you see, make certain chemicals in your brain go all goofy, thus giving you joy. That's why I follow politics, because the comedic value of politics is of titanic, gobsmacking proportions. Case in point: the media and conservatives' sincere belief that Florida Senator Marco Rubio can reach young and minority voters because he likes Tupac.

This is so hysterical I almost fell out of my chair into another chair just so I could fall out of that one too. What is it with tragically unhip political parties and their inability to process the difference between being cool and being a dweeby shill for plutocrats and multi-national corporations?

As a white boy who grew up taking in practically everything Tupac ever committed to audio, paper, film or Kleenex, this offends me deeply. Normally, it's up to us rural-bred white kids to glom on to the cultural influences of brilliant black artists and listen to them until the CD melts. But when some hack politician claims to love the same artist while ignoring the overwhelming message of status quo resistance this politician works tirelessly to perpetuate? It's worse than your mom listening to Pac!

Marco Rubio, who claimed he preferred Tupac to Biggie because of the former's lyrics, probably should sit down with his Walkman and actually listen to those lyrics. Tupac's most famous pop hits aside, his oeuvre is replete with radical leftist questioning of the status quo. Just listen to the song "White Man'z World," Senator Rubio, and tell me how exactly those lyrics fit in with your thinking on supply-side economics and the dismantling of the social safety net. Tupac, were he alive today, likely would advocate taking the money of your top donors and redistributing it to the blighted urban communities the Republican Party is dead-set on keeping from voting through whatever electoral chicanery it can legally manage.

It's one more example of conservatives' indefatigable propensity to co-opt icons of the left while entirely misunderstanding what those icons are actually saying. It's like when Ronald Reagan used Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." It's like when the gun lobby claims Martin Luther King Jr. would advocate for less restrictive gun laws. It's like when any Republican anywhere invokes hip-hop as a badge of credibility when the entire history of the musical form, from Public Enemy to Jay-Z, is a backlash against the racist, exploitative legacy of that party's antecedents. Hip-hop began as a musical insurrection against the historical legacy of Jim Crow policies that reigned from Mississippi to Chicago city planning commissions.

The rage that fueled the genre, that turned it into the musical force that conquered the world, is a backlash to the political and economic class that so effectively has exploited the working poor and minority communities from which the form draws its most powerful voices. This is the same political and economic class whose taxes Senator Rubio wants to cut further. Because the form has gone mainstream, politicians now think it's acceptable to ignore the critique of race, power, and capitalism inherent in hip-hop.

Take it from the guy whose mom's favorite song was "Hit 'Em Up."

Stephen Markley is a RedEye special contributor.

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