Quoted: David J. Leonard On “Frat Rap” And The New White Negro


Image via act.mtv.com.

Image via act.mtv.com.

In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “white Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”

As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”

While similarly embracing hedonistic pleasures, the idea of frat rap positions these artists apart from those other artists, those of color, who may offer a similar style and performance. Akin to going uptown during the jazz era without having to leave the confines of white spaces, frat rap is nothing new. Whereas the other rap purportedly celebrates violence, sexism, and materialism, and pollutes hearts, frat rap is fun. What happens in college stays in college.

Historically white colleges remain immensely segregated. The growing popularity of frat rap, which has seized upon the power of online technologies and the stigmas associated with (black) hip-hop, continues not just a history of appropriation and the idea that blackness is merely a culture or an aesthetic that can be borrowed or purchased at the local dollar store; it also continues the American tradition of segregation that is a cornerstone of American colleges and Universities.

–From “Frat Rap And The New White Negro,” The Chronicle Of Higher Education: The Conversation” 8/29/13

  • Miles_Ellison

    I guess the “visual preference for whiteness” explains all of the insultingly non-ironic blackface we’ve been seeing from white people over the last few years.

  • anonymous

    I think it’s unfortunate that Macklemore has been chosen as the image for this piece on “frat rap.” David J. Leonard describes “frat rap” as: “…frat rap rhymes about all things white and middle class: desires that begin and end with parties, drinking, girls, and fun.” Macklemore’s lyrics tend to be (with some exceptions) much more critical. It seems (unless I’m reading incorrectly) that David J. Leonard agrees when he makes the aside: “…Ryan Lewis and Macklemore—who can be heard interrogating white privilege, marriage, and materialism in their music—”

    It seems unfair, then, to imply here that Macklemore is a producer of or participant in “frat rap.” (which isn’t to say he shouldn’t or couldn’t be criticized for other things, but it seems clear he’s attempting to do something more substantive than frat rap.)

    From Macklemore’s “A Wake)”:
    I grew up during Reaganomics
    When Ice T was out there on his killing cops shit
    Or Rodney King was getting beat on
    And they let off every single officer
    And Los Angeles went and lost it
    Now every month there is a new Rodney on Youtube
    It’s just something our generation is used to
    And neighbourhoods where you never see a news crew
    Unless they’re gentrifying, white people don’t even cruise through
    And my subconcious telling me stop it
    This is an issue that you shouldn’t get involved in
    Don’t even tweet “R.I.P Trayvon Martin”
    Don’t wanna be that white dude, million-man marchin’
    Fighting for a freedom that my people stole
    Don’t wanna make all my white fans uncomfortable
    “But you don’t even have a fuckin’ song for radio
    Why you out here talkin race, tryin’ to save the fuckin’ globe?”
    Don’t get involved if the cause isn’t mine
    White privilege, white guilt, at the same damn time
    So we just party like it’s nineteen ninty nine
    Celebrate the ignorance while these kids keep dying