If your first exposure to black people is through rap music, chances are you might be in a little over your head. That’s certainly what happened to me and my friends at our Jewish private school when I was growing up in Los Angeles. We didn’t really know what to do with rap, so we tried to take its power away by changing the way it sounded. One of the ways we’d do this was to pretend rappers spoke “properly,” just like we did. “I enjoy big pimping and spending cheese”… you get the picture. Needless to say, even though I loved rap music a whole lot, this was insanely racist. I outgrew this phase, thankfully, and began to try to see rap on its own terms. So you can imagine my horror upon seeing this same concept being celebrated by the suddenly-huge Respectful Rappers Tumblr.
Respectful Rappers has blown up in all the ways Tumblrs generally blow up these days — a little BuzzFeed here, a little A.V. Club there, and suddenly you’re getting thousands of Tumblr notes for each piece of content you churn out. And what is Respecftul Rappers’ content? Imagine Feminist Ryan Gosling, with pictures of rappers laid out over re-imagined lyrics. There are a handful of white rappers featured, but the majority are black — and what matters here is that this Tumblr’s content does is ridicule black speech.
Not that Respectful Rappers will admit this. Instead, its stated goal is to imagine what would happen “[i]f rappers were a little less angry and misogynistic.” On the latter point, our society as a whole is still insanely misogynistic, and rap exists within that society, so sure. There have been many fascinating discussions throughout the years about misogyny within rap, like bell hooks’ interview with Ice Cube in Spin 20 years ago. But Respectful Rappers is not a part of these discussions, because unlike hooks’ interview, it starts with the premise that rappers are dumb.