By Bob Ruggiero
By Hilary Hughes
By Peter Gerstenzang
By David R. Adler
By Devon Maloney
By Brian McManus
By Jessica Hopper
By Harley Oliver Brown
Po' White Trash, on the other hand, has gained attention through the single "Po' Punch," which has made significant progress on the sales charts that deal with rap. Produced by black Atlantan Lil Jon (whose "songs" are noted for their ability to cause youth to simulate sex acts in public), the tune celebrates a cartoonish version of Southern white life: "Bet you drink man, bet you bet you stink man, bet you lie man, bet you high man, bet you fry man." On Po' Like Dis (Pocket Change), Trash, a/k/a sometime bartender Roy Thorne Jr., trades in a thinly disguised burlesque, with a manic, shock-jock-ish vocal approach and lyrics that revel in general dissipation. Despite this, Trash is not as "hardcore" as one might expect. He is less sexually explicit than others of his genre. And while his backing music (by the disgracefully named "Trailer Park Symphony") bows occasionally to the simplistic synthesizer stylings of degenerates like Trick Daddy and Cash Money Millionaire Mannie Fresh, it just as often ventures (in "Hold On," for instance) into live instrument styles that would not sound out of place on mainstream television.
This canny pop catering reveals a knowingness that, in context, is offensive. Thorne has shown an ability to work the angles within today's societyhe attended predominantly black North Carolina Central University on a minority scholarship. Yet instead of using immersion in this dark world to the advantage of his brethren, he uses it in an ill-advised exercise in white self- flagellation. Seeing such output from an individual who should obviously know better is depressing, suggesting a level of depravity more treacherous than tragic.
Apologists for this sort of swill will likely cite the historical proximity of Southern whites and poor blacks, and assert that that interaction has produced some of our finest music, from country to rock and roll. In Haystak's words, "There's nothing funny about the struggle of lower-class people, white or black." Bubba Sparxxx, for his part, attempts to justify his hip-hop status by similar methods on "Well Water" ("Did you know that they're closing down the only factory in this town?/And you have the nerve to say there's plenty work to go around").
The point about historical proximity is highly debatable. Country is at its best when it disguises, ignores, or disassociates itself from contemporary black cultural influences, as it often did during its great pop rebirth in the early '90s. And rock's over-acquiescence to said influences has resulted in the banishment of melody, lyrical meaning, and craft from much of contemporary music over the past four decades.
The argument about lower-class struggle, meanwhile, is only half true. White Americans do, in fact, swell the welfare rolls, indulge in and deal drugs in inordinate per capita quantities, and slaughter one another under alarmingly flimsy pretexts (being made fun of in high school, for example). But the white man's true burden is not to elevate others, but to elevate himselfto lead not through empathy, but through example. Though this imperative cuts across regional lines, it is the Southerner's responsibility to rekindle the damaged and enfeebled spirits of his Northern brethren. Haystak is right, but for the wrong reasons: The struggle of lower-class whites is not funny, which is exactly why his, Bubba's, Rehab's, and White Trash's lack of cultural pride is so shameful. Instead of glorifying the worst in us, white artists, Northern and Southern, should magnify the best in us (see Sudhalter's excellent "The White Contribution to Jazz"). Is that too much, in these times of crisis, to ask?