[On Hip-Hop, A Rhapsody (Full Text)] [Playlist]
“Johnson Machine Gun” was the result of a contractual arrangement between a black artist and two Jewish entrepreneurs (plus an unseen network of listeners). Think about it. In 1947, the year of the song’s release, Sunnyland Slim and the Chess brothers represented two groups of people more often the target of hate than its perpetrators. It is a dubious honor, but songs such as “Johnson Machine Gun”—and there are a good many of them—signal what we might call the “democratization of rhapsody.” Distributing venom and bile is no longer the exclusive privilege of vested power.
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