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Easter Show hip hop ban is a typically tone-deaf response

Demonising a popular artform is no way to move forward.


Have we learned nothing from Footloose? It's an obvious comparison, and not a particularly modern reference, but given the archaic decision this week to ban "rapper music" from Sydney's Royal Easter Show, just like dancing was outlawed in the '80s classic, it seems the most apt.

Continuing their war on hip hop, NSW Police and the Royal Agricultural Society announced that ride operators are forbidden from playing rap music to deter violent gangs from attending the show, in response to the stabbing death of a 17-year-old boy at last year's event.

The decision comes just a few weeks after police barred popular drill-rap group ONEFOUR from performing during a boxing match at Qudos Bank Arena, due to concerns their performance would incite violence. Imagine that! Violence! At a boxing match!

Sydney Royal Easter Show
You won't heard rap music at Sydney's Royal Easter Show this year. Source: Getty

Police allege the Comanchero bikie gang has infiltrated the Australian music scene "to lure youth into a life of crime" through drill music, a hip hop subgenre with its roots in gangsta rap of the 1980s and '90s. They have repeatedly suggested that ONEFOUR, a Mount Druitt-based Pasifika group who chronicle so-called "postcode wars" through their music, are actually a youth gang "carrying out serious violent crime on behalf of the Comanchero gang".

Given ONEFOUR's critical acclaim both locally and internationally, this is an incredible claim by the police, and as someone who's been involved in the music industry for the past decade, I must say it's an impressive achievement by the Comancheros if true. Considering the gang's apparent meteoric rise through the treacherous local music landscape, it wouldn't surprise me to see a bikie guest judge on the next season of Australian Idol, or on the red carpet at this year's ARIA Awards.

Here we go again

Pearl clutching in music has a grand tradition — we need only look at the fear around rock'n'roll in the '50s or the alleged subliminal messages in The Beatles' records of the '60s, or the demonic messages Christian fundamentalists were "finding" in Electric Light Orchestra albums in the '70s, through to the attempts to draw links between youth violence and heavy metal in the '90s.

And despite the Easter Show's general manager Murray Wilton asserting that "there is scientific fact of the type of music that is played actually predicts somebody's behaviour", there currently exists no actual scientific evidence that this is true.

Police have repeatedly forced Western Sydney's ONEFOUR to shut down shows over the years, despite the group saying "fans have never caused any issue at our concerts". Source: Getty

Cops miss the target

It's no surprise that rap, an artform born of the struggles of Black America, is used as a bogeyman by authorities the world over, because it's easier to demonise an artform that speaks about societal violence, crime and chaos, than it is to actually remedy the violence it's reflecting. It also provides an easy dog whistle for racists.

Banning rap music, a genre that speaks to the struggle of minorities, out of fear for public safety reinforces a narrative that "good" and "decent" people aren't safe in places rap music is being played, although anyone who has turned on Top 40 radio, or been to a spin class at their local gym recently can attest that this simply isn't true.

We are at a point where hip hop is irrevocably enmeshed in mainstream modern culture. Perhaps it's time to ask why the police won't join us there.

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