Nearly every semi-young person today has a passing familiarity with hip-hop.
Conservatives who talk that way don't just forfeit the chance to influence the social norms surrounding the genre. They reinforce the perception that their views are shaped by little more than cartoonish stereotypes. One needn't dig deep into obscure rap albums to find "human feeling." Multi-platinum singles will do. Try "December 4th" by Jay-Z or "Stan" by Eminem. All across America, kids are listening to rap lyrics that resonate with them more than anything else in their lives, capturing the way they feel about their absent father or the bliss of a long afternoon spent in the park with friends or how parenthood changed their perspective or the effect incarceration has on their community, or just about any other emotional situation people encounter. What do they think when a man capable of meticulously analyzing Hammerstein expends so little effort grappling with the genre that he doesn't even grant that it has human feeling?
This lack of effort matters.
If you're worried about what the high-school freshman will sway to at her first dance, suggesting "As Time Goes By" won't get you very far. Acquiring the minimal sophistication necessary to distinguish "It Ain't No Fun" from "The Light" might, on the other hand, prove helpful.
Lazy, uninformed criticism has a way of spreading. After the podcast, Mona Charen posted about it at National Review Online:
The great Mark Steyn discussed rap "music" (a symbol of the decline of the West if ever there was one).
Said her colleague, Jason Lee Steorts, in retort:
Mona, I don't know rap well, but I have heard harmonic progressions in it that are more complex than the arrangements of root-position I, II, IV, V, and VI on which so many pop and rock songs are built -- not to mention raps that involve choruses, duets between the rapper and a singer, etc. I think resistance to calling it "music" is based mainly on the fact that rappers speak rather than sing; but we call Peter and the Wolf "music" despite its narrator, Wozzeck and Moses und Aron "music" despite their Sprechstimme, and so on.
The conversation ended there. So at best, the notion that rap does in fact qualify as music won the day. Suffice it to say that the cultural observers at conservatism's flagship magazine have a ways to go before their rap criticism is sophisticated enough to astutely interpret and even influence the genre*. For now, liberals have a near monopoly on the rapping and the mainstream rap criticism too.
*Hint: Perhaps the crack epidemic, the unwed-teen birthrate, the dissolution of families, the epidemic crime, AIDS, and all sorts of other ills besides are better symbols of decline in the west than the subset of rap music that depicts those realities.