John has a bone to pick with Hua, Alyssa and Gauthum, in regards to political hip-hop:
For example, the participants look back fondly on the days when more of the music was "political," with Alyssa Rosenberg opining that it's unrealistic to decree that musicians follow our bidding and be "constructive." But this whole wing of the discussion presupposes a hypothetical possibility that hiphop could serve some kind of purpose beyond being just entertainment, that it is at least worth discussion whether rappers have some kind of "responsibility." Gautham Nagesh even thinks that way back, rap actually did play a crucial part in making people aware of ghetto life ("rap has played a key role in raising awareness of issues such as urban poverty").
The question here is: what is the purpose of this supposedly politically important rap supposed to be? Let's even say consciousness is raised: now that Scarsdale Chad knows what it's like growing up in the 'hood, then what? What does Chad do besides walk down the street lurching and mouthing along to Tupac or whoever it was he learned this from in the early nineties? The consciousness was raised - and what legislation did it create? In a history book 100 years from now, we will see it written that "Because of hiphop raising consciousness of ghetto poverty starting in the late 1980s, _______." Fill in the blank. Note the difficulty.
I think that the point about "legislation" is important, because it underlines the problem with McWhorter's critique. A commenter said this earlier, but this notion that rappers should be responsible for inspiring legislation is rooted in some kind of weird communist/utilitarian view of art, that holds that any "political art" which can't be directly tied to a political act is entertainment. Fair enough--as long as we acknowledge that "Change Is Gonna Come" is also entertainment. I don't think Sam Cooke signed any civil rights legislation. I don't think Bob Dylan ended the Vietnam War.