And why are none of them about iPods?
These articles always are secretly saying, “I don’t listen to rap music.”
The scarcity of songs about the economic disaster stands in contrast to the flurry of pop songs in the mid-2000s blaming President George W. Bush’s foreign policy for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Antiwar songs came not only from stalwarts like R.E.M. and Neil Young but also from younger performers like Green Day, Bright Eyes and Pink.
Remember all the thinkpieces circa 2004-2005 about how no one wrote protest songs about the Iraq war the way they did about Vietnam and youth today were apathetic and also I don’t listen to rap music ever?
gosh this is a good point. and all those iraq songs were the WORST, and no one took them to be “anthemic” because no one liked them enough to treat them like anthems. i think the only one that could be considered a “protest” song that was good was the tom waits one. that’s the only iraq tune that’s even nearly as good as cam’ron’s “i hate my job” is as an economy song.
Ace Hood (FUCKING ACE HOOD) has one enormous hit about hustling in a down economy, and a second, minor hit that’s even better. Wayne rapped “And honestly, I’m down like the economy” on a Hot 100 No. 1 song in 2009. No one listens to rap.
i think the problem partly stems from the perception of black poverty as being too obvious already for the impact of the recession to have a noticeable impact… like black rappers would be writing about money problems already, so no big deal. this is despite the glaring fact that black america was hit by “the economic disaster” three times harder than white america.
but also of course the problem is that “protest song” is always going to recall a rockist image of bob dylan, and racism is O-V-E-R-! in the eyes of anyone rockist enough to care about a neil young protest song circa 2000s, or they’re too busy drawing a mental line between “white-approved conscious rap” and “deplorably-ruinous ghetto rap” to see what’s right in front of them, which doesn’t look or sound enough like sly stone or public enemy (who they also have never listened to).
but ALSO, it’s important to not try to appropriate these songs by seeing them as entirely relatable on every spectrum of the recession misery index or w/e. cam’ron’s protagonist in “i hate my job,” which i really do think is a perfect song for this, doesn’t deal with college debt, he deals with struggling to pay his bills without ever having gone to college, and he deals with the sadness of working in an oppressive job with no alternative, getting laid off, dealing with racist interviewers who can’t see beyond his past as a felon (and in the video he has to defend using his mom as his only reference!), his environment growing up, the overall oppressive cycle of being unemployable, the subtext of “if i do actually find a new job, there’s no reason for my new boss to treat me any better than the old one,” and the whole rest of his life falling apart because he dedicated so much time to trying to get back afloat economically, without getting shuffled back into crime. lots of people at different levels of wealth and education deal with a lot of those things (a few of them, at least), but there’s a lot there that are specifically never going to affect people with degrees, people who are white, etc. and that might be part of it, too — music writers moan about the lack of protest songs (and they always will), but only because the ones that are out there don’t apply enough to the situations they’re most familiar with. so they go on and ignore rap music (and they always will).
Not just rap: the sharpest recession album I’ve heard this year is a country one, Pistol Annies’ Hell On Heels
, on which Miranda Lambert and her cohorts explore the quotidian lives of struggling, marginalised red state women from a range of angles. The two poles of the album are the brittle optimism of "Lemon Drop"
, on which Pistol Annies use the titular sweet as a metaphor for mortgage payments - it’s surely the catchiest song ever written about the dangers of easy credit - which gives way a few songs later to the utterly devastating "Housewife’s Prayer"
, which opens with the line “I’ve been thinkin’ about settin’ my house on fire,” and gets ever more bleak as it proceeds.
(Also noteworthy on the album is the brilliantly terse chorus of “Trailer For Rent”: “Trailer for rent / No down payment / Comes with some holes and dents where I got tired of his shit / Call if you’re interested.”)
(Re: why critics seem unable to see protest songs even when they’re in plain view, I think a lot of people get stuck on the idea that a protest song needs to have a target - the government, corporations etc - when actually the most effective pieces of recession art, from Ace Hood to Pistol Annies, are descriptive narratives, not polemics.)