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So Wale has found himself embroiled in yet another mediocre scandal. Last weekend he performed at Baltimore’s very public Artscape festival and said a bunch of curse words on stage. People are very mad about this! Sure Wale (who – wisely, for once – hasn’t publicly addressed the issue beyond this nearly incomprehensible tweet) and/or his management are partially (possibly?) at fault for misreading or not reading or ignoring contractual obligations. But let’s be real: Artscape didn’t do their research. Even a cursory review of the guy’s catalog would show that the dreaded f- and n-words figure heavily into his oeuvre. It’s tasteless to book an artist and ask him to be something he’s not, especially at an event that purports to be a “celebration of the arts.” Art is frequently profane.
That programs like these book rappers, even “safe” ones who wear expensive sneakers instead of expensive jewelry, in the name of diversity or coolness and then refuse them an unfiltered platform defeats the purpose. Profanity is part of the nature of the genre. Hip hop was born as the voice of the voiceless and sometimes the voiceless are profane. (Sometimes the voiced are too! But mostly in private, which is part of the reason they tend to make boring ass art.) You wouldn’t book a noise act and then tell him to turn down the volume or have a contractual clause where black metal bands are forced to chill with all that Satanism.
Some of the press chasing this limp excuse for a scandal, including esteemed hip hop resource the Washington Post, has reported that Wale was using “racial slurs” at the show. This is a completely disingenuous allegation given the context of the word in question. Yes Wale was using a word that has been historically used as a slur but he quite clearly wasn’t using that word as anything resembling a slur. That’s why words – and, by extension, hip hop – are great. Their functions and meanings can change based on their surroundings.
But nobody who is outraged about curse words cares about context or words. Or art, for that matter. They are just Think Of The Children outrage types. As if kids don’t encounter more profanity than you or I do in any given day – on the playground, on the internet and in the rap songs they are hiding on their ipod. Maybe instead of pouring so much effort into puritanical indignance these folks should take some time to explain to kids that all words are malleable, that they can be used for good or evil depending on time, place and application. Was Artscape the ideal time or place to be shouting “real n&$%z f&@ with me” over and over again? Probably not. Was this a particularly noble application of profanity? Of course not. But in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. Not for Wale, not for his oh-so-sensitive audience, only for sad people who are passionate about making issues out of non-issues. Well fuck them. Next year I’m posting outside of Artscape with a giant Radio Raheem style boombox and cranking this on repeat: