Rap has never been my favorite musical genre. Growing up it was associated with gangs – thuggish, paramilitary organizations which have no goals other than the expansion of their own power and profit. At best, I could see it as an expression of dissatisfaction with the social mainstream. When I learned that it had its roots in struggles of blacks against white oppression I began seeing it as the decay of something which at some point in the past might have had real value. There is certainly little that speaks to the struggles of oppressed groups about the bling jewelry, expensive cars and sexist portrayal of women as sex objects that graces the average rap video – a formula which as far as I know has not changed since the 90s. Just as gangs evolved from the dissolution of militant black nationalist organizations, rap seemed to have evolved into a force of apparent resistance which in fact re-enforces the social mainstream rather than challenging it.
More recently, however, I’ve noticed that rap and hip hop music does exist which expresses real challenges to the social and political mainstream. The french rap artist Keny Arkana‘s music explicitly challenges globalization, and valorizes the rage felt by the dispossessed in economic systems which continue to increase the gap between the rich and the poor. Her song “La Rage du Peuple”, about the 2005 period of riots in the Banlieus of Paris. Watch it here with English subtitles. The song ends with a precise and ominous declaration:
Anticapitalistes, alter-mondialistes, ou toi qui cherche la vérité sur ce monde, la résistance de demain à la veille d’une révolution. Mondiale et spirituelle, la rage du peuple, la rabbia del pueblo, parce qu’on a la rage, celle qui fera trembler tes normes. La rage a pris la populasse et la rage est énorme.
Anti-capitalist, alter-globalist, where you search truth on this world, the resistance from tomorrow towards the eve of a revolution. Worldly and spiritual, the rage of the people, the rage of the people (spanish), because we have the rage, which will make your norms tremble. The rage has the hold of the populace, and the rage is enormous.
Rage is an emotion. Specifically, it is an emotion that takes over the whole of one’s being – an emotion that possesses. Emotions that possess us distill our life direction and clarify what is of importance by simplifying our motivations. In the sense described in the song, one does not decide to be enraged, and rage is not an emotion experienced by oneself – it essentially social. The object of the rage is complex, but not incomprehensible – and rage refuses to allow that object to be mystified by those who dismiss discourse outside the narrow band permitted in liberal society. This rage is not something “negative”, no more than rage in the past against colonialism, racism, monarchy (English or French).
Rage, in this sense, is not unrelated to Nietzsche’s Rausch, usually translated as “Rapture”. In Rausch there is a precise distinction made between the emotion of being taken over by a rapturous state, and being oneself in a rapturous way. Citing from Heidegger’s 1936 “Will to Power as Art” lectures,
Rapture is a feeling, and it is all the more genuinely a feeling the more essentially a unity of embodying attunement prevails. of someone who is intoxicated we can only say that he “has” something like rapture. But he is not enraptured. the rapture of intoxication is not a state in which a man rises by himself beyond himself. (100)
This description of Rausch sheds light on the difference between “blind rage” and the “rage of the people” in Arkana’s song. This rage is not a blinding rage, but a rage which, through the pre-possession of an overcoming of injustice, challenges the norms of a society which perpetuates that injustice. Rage is primarily concerned with overcoming of obstacles, and with the empowering of people. This further corresponds with Heidegger’s account of Nietzschean Rausch:
At the outset Nietzsceh emphasizes two things about rapture: first, the feeling of enhancement of force; second, the feeling of plenitude….Enhancement is to be understood in terms of mood: to be caught up in elation….In the same way, the feeling of plenitude….means above all an attunement which is so disposed tha tnothing is foreign to it, nothing too much for it, which is open to everything and ready to tackle anything…(100)
The “feeling of plenitude” and strength described here, and felt in Arkana’s music is desperately required in these needy times when liberals cling to the systems they know even after they stop believing those very systems will not bring about the extinction of the species. We above all need strength and imagination to fight against hypocrisy and against those ideals which would allow the continual dispossession of most of the world’s population for the benefit of few.