How rap swept a nation

A man descends a golden cascading stairway. It leads into a luxurious mansion stocked with scantily clad women. This is a man with a taste for champagne, luxury, and all manner of excess. He takes orders from no one, takes what he wants, and he wears his victories on his sleeve.

This man represents a player in what is the most successful genre of music today — a genre that now reaches across both racial and economic lines. Is this simply because of its catchy beats and clever lyrics? In part, but what may go unnoticed is the reflection rap’s popularity casts on today’s society.

Though many on both sides of the aisle are unnerved and sometimes disturbed by its aggressive tone and lyricism, it reveals a culture that is perpetually hungry for want of virility in its diet. Rap’s meteoric rise exposes a cultural inflammation that stems from attempts to uproot the nature of man. The idea of what constitutes masculinity is being strained and even suppressed. This is seen in academia’s punishment of masculinity as being “toxic” and a newfound belief that gender is malleable.

In a world of such uncertainty, the unapologetic, naked masculinity of rap is predictably a preferable alternative to a gender dysmorphic society. In the same way that the certainty of tyranny may seem preferable to the uncertainty of chaos, the shattered understanding of what separates the genders gives way to unhinged distortions of what masculinity is — distortions that sometimes edge into absurdity. Take for instance a song from XXXTentacion and Ski Mask The Slump God, two budding rappers rising to meet this demand for hyper-aggressive expression that’s characterized by irrepressible sex lust.

One bad bitch on my dick, two bitches on my dick
Three bitches on my dick, four bitches on my dick
Count wit’ me nigga
Five bitches on my dick, six bitches on my dick
Seven bitches want that dick, show yo’ ass how to make a hit

It’s easy to condemn music like this as just being a byproduct of “toxic masculinity” or a contributor to moral decay, but these limited understandings lead to attempted solutions that have a dangerous ripple effect on society. To fully grasp why this strain of rap has surged to the forefront, we have to analyze it within the full scope of modern American history.

We will begin with a 1958 Esquire series entitled “The Crisis of Masculinity.” “Today men are more and more conscious of maleness not as a fact but as a problem. The way by which American men affirm their masculinity are uncertain and obscure. There are multiplying signs, indeed, that something has gone badly wrong with the American male’s conception of himself.

A few years later, John F. Kennedy leveraged this uncertainty of what manhood meant to propel himself to overwhelming historical popularity. As historian Steven Watts explains:

“He offered the public a youthful, vigorous male image that stood in stark contrast to the back-slapping organization man, the paunchy suburban dad, and the emasculated office drone [… He] added to his élan by launching a national physical-fitness crusade in Sports Illustrated and promoting New Frontier male heroes: the Green Berets and the Mercury Seven astronauts. His sex appeal and whispered-about reputation as a Lothario only enhanced his image of cool, virile masculinity. It proved effective: After winning a very tight presidential election, Kennedy went on to gain great popularity, with an approval rating higher than any other post–World War II president.”

President Kennedy’s overwhelming popularity hinted toward a class of men desperate to reinvigorate a lost sense of masculinity. The similarity between then and now should be clear as day. The current President, Donald Trump, transparently represents a generation of men so starved of masculinity that they swung the pendulum as far as they could on election day.

Another point of similarity would be President Kennedy’s association with hyper-masculine cultural figures — the likes of Frank Sinatra, Hugh Hefner, and James Bond. In a parallel way, rappers have frequently associatedthemselves with Donald Trump. The similarities between this figure and rappers are self evident. Excess. Women. Wealth. Luxury. Power. The obvious example would be Rapper Mac Miller’s “Donald Trump,” but some would be surprised to discover that this association stretches farther than the ear can hear.

Though the cry for masculinity could be heard in the 1960s, it was a much more muted one than today. This was a time before the epidemic of fatherlessness had struck the nation, before academia had become fully rooted in anti-masculine doctrine. It was just the beginning. By 2016, men had become all too accustomed to the idea that they were the source of all violence, mischief and oppression. Their awareness of masculinity was one of shame, not pride.

Half a century passed since the printing of the series titled “The Crisis of Masculinity” when Esquire again touched upon a particularly dark form of this trend in academia. The magazine featured the observations of a department chair of a liberal arts college. His observations revealed that the historical uncertainty of masculinity had metastasized into something more repressive:

I watched as my colleagues expressed an increasing disdain for men in the classroom. I listened as they moaned about seminars that happened to be made up mostly of men. I went to faculty lunches dealing with disruptive students, only to realize that what we were talking about was primarily male behavior, that men themselves were in some fashion perceived to be the disruption. Men who seemed to have an answer for every question. Men who didn’t listen. Men who radiated indifference. Men who griped about reading lists sometimes dominated by women authors. Men who resisted the authority of the teacher … I watched as nearly every significant social problem was laid at the feet of the male student population: sexual violence, binge drinking, hazing, anti-intellectualism, homophobia, bullying.

The recent cultural upheavals are only the natural consequence of convincing men to suppress and reject their very nature. Without understanding and consequently integrating manhood, America has been told to treat it like a sin. As we’ve come to learn, the more you attempt to rid man of his inextricable nature, the more animalistic it becomes.

In large part, this is because the value of fatherhood has been undermined at every turn. In the absence of tempered men to teach their sons how to properly channel their masculinity into disciplined honor, we have devolved to a culture of its most extreme manifestation.

The ripple effect of masculine absence is felt everywhere. In a twist of irony, even the biggest critics of masculinity have to find an outlet. It’s no coincidence that the violent, punch-happy hordes of Antifa are so frenzied with rage. They have lost any sense of what responsibility entails, and for this they feel the need to devote themselves to some grand cause. It isn’t one that’s disciplined, measured, reasonable — the proper role of masculinity, but juvenile and boyish.

The boys being castigated for being unruly in the classroom will become men, unruly in the public sphere and — perhaps “deplorable” — in the voting booths. Although the social risk of being unapologetically “masculine” is high, it also bears the greatest returns — whether those returns are ascending to the White House or topping the charts.

The massive success of those utilizing the most extreme, distorted elements of masculinity teaches us the consequences of arrogantly trying to ignore our humanity — instead of acknowledging and properly integrating it. By ignoring our humanity, one creates a world where a select few flourish by rejecting an emasculated definition of civility. The men who are too afraid to express their masculinity impishly slink away, while those who aren’t shamed into submission run roughshod.