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 associated
themselves 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.