Here’s something that will shock nobody: Soulja Boy did something stupid.
Specifically, he released a song where he made it clear he doesn’t think so highly of the military, as evidenced by the lyric “F*** the troops.” As you might expect, this prompted a bit of backlash, complete with Facebook chain-posts threatening boycotts, and an announcement from AAFES (the DOD agency that runs the military exchange stores) that they wouldn’t sell his CD on base. Of course, once he (more likely, his publicist) realized the public relations firestorm he just lit, he issued an apology.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to express some doubt as to whether or not this apology is sincere. That being said, I would like to express my firm opposition to any attempts to boycott or silence Soulja Boy, or any other rappers, musicians, and artists, from expressing anti-military opinions. If any of you listen to hip-hop, especially the less popular “underground” variety, you’re likely aware that anti-military lyrics are nothing new. Soulja Boy is just a terrible wordsmith who committed the sin of expressing them directly and to a wide audience. There’s a subgenre of hip-hop that is often referred to as “conscious,” which ostensibly refers to being “socially conscious.” “Conscious” rappers are expected to rap about relevant social issues, and not rely on the standard violent and misogynistic themes that dominate mainstream rap. In reality, “conscious” rap often ends up being “rap with leftist propaganda inserted into it.” Conscious rappers do not hesitate to tell you how awful America is, how racist white people are, how capitalism is destroying the world, and yes, how the military is terrible. Because most conscious rappers have to rely on being very good with their words, they’re a hell of a lot smarter about saying those things than Soulja Boy. Typically, they rely on the classic leftist refuge of “I support the troops, just not the war.” The logic behind this statement tends to escape me. By this point, all of the troops either enlisted, or re-enlisted during these wars. How is it possible to support the troops but think they’re part of a machine that is murdering children for the purpose of stealing oil?
The point of this isn’t to get into the politics of being pro or anti-war. The larger issue is to point out that Soulja Boy is not alone. I’m a fan of many conscious rappers, and it pains me that most of their CDs typically feature at least one anti-military song. This anti-military sentiment is not unique to hip-hop, either. It is present in many musical genres, as well as other forms of media. It’s out there, and the proper response is not to silence it and to shout it down, but to be aware of it, and most importantly to ask, “How did we get to this point?” How did we reach a point in our society where the universal opinion of many of our top-selling “artists” is anti-military, anti-American, and anti-capitalism? The reason Soulja Boy released this song featuring lyrics that most Americans find appalling is because in his culture, these opinions are commonplace. He didn’t expect anyone to be offended by them. Doesn’t everyone hate the military? Remember, respected “mainstream” rappers like Ice Cube (who now stars in childrens movies) and Dr. Dre (in Dr. Pepper) commercials burst onto the mainstream by saying “F*** the police.” Do we expect a culture who denigrates the police to have profound respect for the military? Why is this shocking to anybody?
My request, to conscious rappers, to punk rock musicians, to sitcom writers, and to everyone else involved in the artistic community, is to please be honest about your opinions on these issues. Do not censor yourself. Do not apologize. Not because I approve of what you say, but because I want to know who you are. I want to know specifically which rappers hate the military, which writers hate capitalism, etc. That way, I can simply choose not to purchase their products. This is not an organized boycott by any means. Getting back to Soulja Boy, I don’t want him to be thinking “F**** the troops” and saying “F**** the troops” behind closed-doors to his friends, but rapping “Support our troops! America is the best!” just because he knows it will help his sales. This doesn’t just apply to leftists either. I don’t want anyone silenced. I want people to be able to say the n-word on TV. Not because I think the n-word should be heard, but so I can know who the racists are, and know who I need to stop listening to. It does me no good if someone is a racist off-camera, but all of their racism is edited out (either voluntarily or by the network) by the time they reach a live audience. So please Soulja Boy, don’t apologize, don’t change your lyrics. AAFES, don’t refuse to carry his CD. Let the troops make their own decisions. If his content is so objectionable, it won’t sell. This is a problem (like nearly all others) that the free market can solve on its own.
TLDR version: Soulja Boy’s controversial statements are not new or unique, but rather are representative of a common line of thought that runs throughout the entertainment industry. He was the first person dumb enough to express it without any subtlety. Censorship does us all a disservice because it makes it more difficult to identify those with whom we strongly disagree.