Wynton Marsalis Compares Rap Music to ‘Minstrel Show’

Wynton Marsalis. (Credit: Lincoln Center)

Wynton Marsalis is sharing his thoughts on what he considers the “damaging” effects of rap and hip-hop music on the African-American community.

The jazz legend opened up about race in an interview with the Washington Post’s Cape Up podcast. During the hour-long conversation, Marsalis criticized rap music for its often-misogynistic lyrics.

“You can’t have a pipeline of filth be your default position,” he told journalist Jonathan Capehart. “It’s just like the toll the minstrel show took on black folks and on white folks. Now, all this ‘n-gger this,’ ‘bi-ch that,’ ‘h-e that,’ that’s just a fact at this point.”

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Marsalis, 56, is the artistic director of Jazz at The Lincoln Center in New York City. He has won nine Grammy Awards and in 1997, became the first jazz musician to win a Pulitzer Prize for Blood on the Fields. Next month The Ever-Funky Lowdown, his extended work on America’s relationship with racial matters, will premiere at The Lincoln Center.

The trumpeter, composer and music educator said he has been expressing his concerns about rap and hip-hop for decades, but they’ve fallen on deaf ears.

“My words are not that powerful. I started saying in 1985, I don’t think we should have a music talking about n-ggers and b-tches and h-es. It had no impact. I’ve said it. I’ve repeated it. I still repeat it. To me that’s more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee,” the New Orleans native said, referring to a statue of the Southern general who commanded the Confederate States Army during the Civil War.

Marsalis has worked with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to remove Confederate statues in the city. But he feels the lyrics in rap music are more damaging to African-Americans than those statues.

“There’s more n-ggers in that [music] than there is in Robert E. Lee’s statue,” he said.

Marsalis compared rap and hip-hop to Blaxploitation films in the 1970s. He said his late mother didn’t want him to watch “pimp” films back then, and he doesn’t think young people should listen to rap music now.

Though did praise one rap song, Childish Gambino’s This is America.

“I applaud his creativity and what he’s doing,” Marsalis said.

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He was less complimentary of Kanye West when asked his thoughts on the rapper’s recent comment that slavery was a “choice.”

“I would not give seriousness to what he said, in that way. Okay? This guy is making products. He’s making him some money, got probably a product coming out that he’s selling,” Marsalis said.

The Jazz musician then explained why he doesn’t think West’s words carry much clout.

“It’s not like Martin Luther King said it, a person who knows or is conscious of a certain thing,” Marsalis added. “[H]e’s entitled to whatever it is he wants to say. The quality of his thought is in the products he makes.”

You can listen to the podcast below.

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