By Mike McMahan
Legendary rap group NWA is set to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame on April 8. I’m not going to pretend that I’m the world’s biggest rap fan or expert. I’m neither, and I like very little hip hop. Though my survey results are, ahem, non-scientific (pretty much limited to my friends and angry commenters on the news articles), it seems that there is some resistance to this decision. Some of this may be about race; I’m going to ignore that aspect in this post, as it is a problem that is larger than the HOF, as success in rock music has been primarily limited to white males throughout its history.
But, as to whether rap music belongs in the HOF and those who say it doesn’t. To be exact, some people have said “it’s the ROCK hall of fame, not RAP. NWA shouldn’t be in there.” Respectfully, I completely disagree. In fact, I’ll even employ some legal jargon and say that this is a settled issue with a firmly established precedent. Not only does rap/hip hop belong in the R ‘n’ R HOF, it’s already there.
In 2007, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first rap/hip hop group to be inducted. In addition, the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy were inducted in 2012 and Run DMC in 2009. So the debate whether rap belongs is now meaningless. It’s there, and that’s that.
But beyond that, I don’t believe that the line between rap and rock is particularly clear. In the heyday of MTV, they played rap videos despite being a “rock music” channel. Both Run DMC and Public Enemy released high profile collaborations with rock groups (Aerosmith and Anthrax, respectively). Public Enemy also toured with Anthrax, and have also shared concert bills with legacy rock acts like Primus and U2. The Beastie Boys have never been exclusively a “rap” group having reached across genre lines with their embrace of punk rock, metal and even released an album of all 70s style funk instrumentals (2007’s The Mix-Up).
Even more to the point, the HOF has never been exclusively rock. Miles Davis was inducted in 2006. I believe that his “electric albums” (including masterpieces like Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson, two personal faves) are way more “rock ‘n’ roll” than much of what passes for rock in the public consciousness. His spirit was absolutely rock ‘n’ roll, and I would argue the same for NWA. So kudos to them. Hopefully there is truth to the rumors that Ice Cube will reunite this seminal outfit at Coachella (a festival which will also include the Guns ‘N’ Roses reunion). I still find it hard to believe that a guy who began his career as a member of NWA is now a family movie star.
To me, the person who says “rap doesn’t belong in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame” is engaging in a sort of “all or nothing” thinking that I sometimes see in clients, and which can lead to obstacles in life and mental health. Let us take people who feel they are depressed. When they begin to tell their story, I often hear phrases like “everything in my life is a total mess” or “I fail at everything.”
Oftentimes, the first task of a therapist can be to find exceptions to these absolutist statements. While I understand how easy it is to feel overwhelmed, it is generally not hard to find exceptions to absolute statements. For example, if a client has found their way to my office, there is likely an exception to the above. The client is able to recognize that there is room for improvement in quality of life and take steps to begin that journey. They are able to make an appointment and keep that appointment. They are able to pay the fee for psychotherapy. Oftentimes this means the person is able to secure and hold a job, hardly a sign of failure at everything. As a therapist, you can’t just jump right in and point this out. After all, you don’t go to a therapist to have a Pollyanna-ish type tell you that life is sunshine and rainbows. But it does allow an opportunity to begin creating a new narrative with the client, perhaps including slightly more optimistic phrases like “a lot of things in my life are a total mess” or “I feel like I fail at everything.” These statements begin to create a sense of possibility, often the first step in making real and lasting life changes.
So what about you? Are there times in your life when you make an “absolute” statement that doesn’t really hold up to closer scrutiny?
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas.
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Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture