Thursday, December 23, 2010
Local Rap Music Video Attempts To Define Nation's "North" As Opposed To "Midwest"
Blog post by John Hoff
Normally, this blog would never, ever post a music video featuring lyrics promoting a dead end "thug lifestyle." This is the very thing we're fighting AGAINST here on Johnny Northside Dot Com: crime, violence, chronically and habitually bad personal choices which, in the aggregate, make an urban neighborhood less than safe and desirable. We're fighting against that and we're winning.
But a gangster rap video on YouTube hit my email inbox several days ago, and it has become an object of intellectual fascination...the purpose of the video is to define an area of the United States as "The North" rather than "The Midwest."
The email came with a succinct message: the sender (NorthCentriCity) was "sorry to spam you" but here was this video, attached. Nothing more. I assume the video came to me because of my involvement in North Minneapolis issues, which is apparent from the stuff I post on YouTube. Somebody probably searched for a bunch of YouTube accounts which might be open to the musical message, and fired off numerous emails with live links, hoping to find interested viewers. I don't know why I clicked on the video, but I did.
At first I thought, oh my word, what is this thug crap? But then I realized the message of this video was highly specific, indeed it was actually a logical argument set to music about how Minnesota and surrounding states should be known as "The North" rather than "The Midwest."
Why was it so important to do that? Well, because if you're a gangster rapper, and you say you're from the Midwest, that sounds vanilla and lame in a rap context. But if you say you're from "North" or "Northside" and you define that as a cold and hard thug lifestyle, that gives you thuggy bragging rights.
But the argument being made goes way beyond the context of creating precious little musical rhymes about what a bad ass you are, set to a hypnotic beat. This argument about "The North" versus "The Midwest" is a much broader issue of regional identity into which weathermen, tourist bureaus and ordinary (non gangster rapper) citizens might take an interest.
I remember when my son, now 13, first started to learn geography in about the 4th Grade. Right away he found fault with the idea of a...
...an area called the "Midwest" that would include Minnesota. How, my child wondered, could Minnesota be in the Midwest when we are so far North? In fact, he went further: why shouldn't there be a region of the country called "North" which would include, of course, Minnesota?
I remember this conversation with my son. I remember we were driving in a car at the time, and it was night, and I was excited to see him intellectually engaged in a geography issue.
In good grownup fashion, I patiently tried to explain to my little son that once something is defined, it's very hard to un-define it. The agreed upon label may not be perfect, but it's the label everybody uses. Trying to re-categorize and re-label creates new problems: if Minnesota becomes part of a region called "North," doesn't that create confusion about the region called "The North" during the Civil War Era?
And yet my little son stuck to his intellectual guns: old labels go away and new labels come into use. Part of the reason old labels go away is because they don't make sense any more. And calling Minnesota "the Midwest" just DOESN'T MAKEK ANY SENSE. Calling our region and several surrounding states "the North" makes more sense. Sure, let the Midwest continue being the Midwest. But Minnesota should secede...at least as far as that label is concerned.
So when the music video "Bomb A Town" by King Larry (Mr. Criminal Beat) hit my inbox, (forwarded by NorthCentriCity) and I watched it and I really THOUGHT about it, I realized Mr. Criminal Beat and my son were making the same basic argument. And I can't help but find myself agreeing: this region of the nation is NOT the midwest, and it should not be KNOWN as the Midwest, and it makes a lot more sense to call it "The North."
But now I'll say King Larry (Mr. Criminal Beat) takes his argument too far. His video features a map at a mere two seconds in showing the area he defines as "North." In an audacious grab for territory which fits his definition of "Northern" identity, King Larry (Mr. Criminal Beat) goes way too far. My word, he included Kansas and Nebraska. NOTHING is so Midwestern as Kansas, and Nebraska isn't very far behind. Indiana and Ohio are also undeniably Midwestern. And what's more Midwestern than IOWA, for crying out loud?
As for Missouri, you can't take the place where Mark (Expletive) Twain grew up and define that as "North." You just can't. That's oh so wrong.
Illinois is a more difficult question, but I say give Illinois to the North because, first of all, it's Abraham Lincoln territory and so many of the people live in Chicago, which is on the northern end of the state. But if I had my way, only HALF of Illinois would be defined as "North," and southern Illinois would remain part of the Midwest.
Now that I've critiqued what King Larry (Mr. Criminal Beat) threw inside his definition of North, I have to address what he left out: MONTANA.
Oh. My. Word.
Montana has more border with Canada than any other state. It's cold, it's distant, it's way North. How can you define an area of the country called "North" and leave out Montana? What, there's no important musical venues in Montana so we're just going to leave that out, while making a grab for (oh my word) FARGO AND GRAND FORKS?! (Seriously, the most ridiculous part of the song has to be where the singer shouts out "FARGO! GRAND FORKS!") Click here for video from the movie "Fargo" and try to imagine Marge Gunderson rocking out to this.
Ultimately, the question of regional identity labels will not be decided by YouTube videos or bloggers. If there is money and power behind the issue, if it becomes economically important to tourism (for instance) to define "The North" as such, then it might happen.
But are people in Minneapolis UNCOMFORTABLE with our slightly ill-fitting identity as "Midwesterners?"
And if the only people calling for a "North" identity are also bragging about how their "nine" is "easy to load," well...
Who cares? And who needs it?