I found this article written by Rosenthal quite interesting, while at the same time a bit of a stretch. Rosenthal mentions the uniqueness of her research. The connection between rap music and the environment has never elicited scholarly attention until the writing of this article. The unique and innovative nature of her research requires some level of praise for its originality. At the same time, Rosenthal’s argument is weak and poorly constructed.
Rosenthal begins by uniting Black narratives with a theme of the urbane, suggesting that in traditional slave narratives, the city is offered as a shelter, a place of freedom from slavery, a place where ownership of the self is granted. After an extensive discussion of slave narratives, Rosenthal provides examples of rap lyrics that discuss and describe urban cities and the hood. Rap music, she acknowledges, describes the city as a place that is restrictive and rundown, one lyric describes a housing project: “hasn’t been up for long. A few days after it was up it seemed uninhabitably new, now, of course, it’s already rundown” (p. 665). Another song describe the city as having “killing streets” (p.665). Rosenthal proceeds to draw an unwarranted connection between the environment described in slave narratives (a prosperous city of hope) and that of rap music (a rundown slum that limits), “rap music is generically related to a long history of black urban discourse. Rap, however, complicates this discourse with its racialization of place that territorializes sexuality, violence, and criminality” (p. 665). There are many themes from slave narratives that are seen throughout rap music including violence, hope (or the dissolution of hope), the search for freedom, etc., but it seems to me that the discussion of the city in the slave narrative is vastly different than that described in rap music.
Furthermore, Rosenthal’s argument is structured around Lawrence Bell’s 4 characteristics that “gauge the environmental tilt of a work” (p. 666). Rosenthal proceeds to point out that much of rap music does not meet these criteria, particularly the third criteria. So, first Rosenthal says here are the four criteria that make a text an environmental text, and then she says but they do not fully apply to rap music. Thus, she is admitting that her argument is immensely flawed. Another thing that I find discounts Rosenthal’s argument is her mention of Eminem during her discussion of the relation between slave narratives and rap music. Eminem is white. Yes, he grew up in the hood. But, because of his whiteness he lacks any inherent connection to slave narratives. Overall, the article is interesting, and perhaps there is some validity to the argument being made. But, it seems to me that Rosenthal needs to find new criteria upon which to structure her argument and perhaps the direct comparison of the environment as described in slave narratives vs. that described in contemporary rap music was not the best way to arrive at her conclusion.