Friday, October 15, 2010

Foul words foul out

Rapper’s cursing is his downfall
By Nicholas Stix (as Robert Berman)

July 31, 1999
(New York) Daily News

Another month, another arrest for rapper DMX. Not for weapons, pit bulls, or assault this time, but for speaking in a rude manner. I kid you not.

In the U.S., having a gutter mouth can translate into stardom as a hip-hop “artist.” But in the West Indian Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, where DMX was playing recently, it gets you handcuffed and led off the stage. Am I the only one who sees poetic justice in this?

T&T has a reputation for relaxed civility. But make no mistake, just as the apparently effortless dancing of a Gregory Hines required grueling hours of daily practice, nothing takes more work than relaxed civility.

The T&T anthem says, “where every creed and race find an equal place.” And that’s no cliché. In private, “T&Ters” of African, Indian, and Chinese descent may “bad-talk” one another, but publicly they keep a civil tongue in their heads.

While driving all over Trinidad in June, my Trinidadian wife and I never heard a single curse, neither from grownups nor from children. According to my wife, the only time T&Ters curse is “when they have to,” as “when someone bad-drive you” (e.g., tailgating).

Avoiding profanity in today’s New York requires that one stay in the house and keep the TV off. On “Jerry Springer,” the typical greeting between women is “b---h,” and on “NYPD Blue,” the noun for person is “a-----e.” American culture certainly is keeping it real.

The irony here is that hip hop, which was created in the Bronx by deejays of West Indian descent like the legendary Grandmaster Flash, devolved from a West Indian tradition of elegant, sardonic toasting – putting down the powerful – that goes back to West African griots. As cultural historian Carol Bayles notes, a griot could make a handsome living just by keeping his mouth shut.

It makes you wonder why the Trinis would want DMX to play there. Maybe something got lost in translation. Or perhaps DMX, like a stereotype of American tourists, simply thought he could export his bad manners. Not yet.

I just hope the T&Ters, who have a soft spot for American products, don’t end up importing our troubles.

(The Daily News noted that I was “working on a book on higher education.” And so I was.

Clocking in at 363 words, this was the easiest $200 I ever earned. Unfortunately, now when I visit Trinidad, I do hear some public profanity.

Later essays on Trinidad follow:

“Common Dogs.”

“Indians and Negroes.”

“Trinidad and Tobago: Mr. Manning and the Silver Fox.”

“American-Style 'Progress' Leaving Its Mark on Trinidad.”

“Anchor Babies are Now Setting Sail … from Trinidad.”

“Sundariah R., 1933-2006.”

“Diversity is Strength! It’s Also…Police Corruption.”

“Tales from Trinidad.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sir am I to understand you have a Trinidadian wife?If so the evil racist in me is appalled,and the dirty dog is jealous.