Claims as to the origins of rap music are as many as its styles. There are some frankly bizarre suggestions as to elements of rap before it truly burst onto the global music scene in the late 1970s. One, and I kid you not, was from the theme to the sitcom Are You Being Served?, which was clearly a great distance removed from gangsta rap.
As with other popular musical genres, especially the more controversial ones, there have been societal justifications for their development. Gangsta rap has had its, as in being a reflection of urban suffering and neglect that spilled over into crime and violence. Yet it also spawned misogyny, homophobia and serial killings. Rap therefore acquired a self-serving justification for its anti-social messages (not all of it, obviously, given the various styles that exist and have existed). It also attached to itself the notion of art form because of lyrical styles and phrasing. In so doing, rap lost sight of what may have one time been a pure form and wrapped itself within a blanket of pomposity and desperate cleverness in a similar way that rock did with progressive music before punk took such a clear aim at it.
Punk, though, serves as a reminder of how rapidly a genre can descend to the level of parody. Indeed, all genres end up going the same way and sometimes find themselves being satirised, which is what happened to hard rock through Spinal Tap and the Comic Strip's Bad News Tour. Likewise, rap seems endlessly trapped in its parodical urban posturing, constantly straining to maintain credibility through the assertion of the art form.
Art, freedom of expression and imagery, non-censoriousness have long been advanced as the justifications for the ground-breaking. But the art form has also long suffered with being chastised for going beyond the mere ground-breaking and advocating the tasteless. Challenging society's mores and attitudes is both positive and negative, and society occasionally decides that the negative outweighs the positive. It does so by merely rejecting, by excoriating or by going to court.
The test, in a sense, is if there is gratuitousness. Is the tasteless or the offensive being displayed for the sake of it? If so, then the art form evaporates and is replaced by a meanness of spirit. On top of which, one keeps returning to the propensity for parody. Combine this meanness with an "attitude" of the urban gun-fingered style exported from the American inner city to an island in the Mediterranean, graft onto it notions of Republicanism, and you end up with someone like Valtonyc, otherwise known as Josep Miquel Arenas Beltrán.
In August 2012, I suggested that the then 17-year-old rapper was likely to be receiving a visit from someone in the near future. He had, variously, nominated the former king for assassination, the founder of the right-wing Circulo Balear Jorge Campos for death, and the mayor of Sineu for a silver bullet. He was to also have suggestions to make about various Partido Popular politicians and the one-time leader of PSOE, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.
The visit came, and Valtonyc has been appearing before the Audiencia Nacional, with the prosecution service calling for a sentence of three years and eight months for insulting Juan Carlos and a further two years for exalting terrorism (e.g. ETA). Whatever society might think of Valtonyc, there is the slight matter of legality: you can't go around insulting kings and the crown and necessarily expect to get off scot-free.
Valtonyc has played the art form card. He told the court that he is both a poet and an artist. His work is designed to provoke rather than to, for instance, humiliate the victims of terrorism. On leaving the court, he announced that he will continue to say that the Bourbons are "mafiosos". There's provocative.
Should he be in court? Certainly under the law that safeguards the honour of the crown, then he deserves to be. He isn't the first to find that a dim view is taken of such an attack and he won't be the last. One of the more celebrated cases of this type was when the editor and cartoonist from the satirical magazine El Jueves were taken to court for insulting the then Crown-Prince Felipe. They were fined.
A few days ago there was a benefit event for him Arta, at which performers made clear their beliefs in his freedom of expression. And it is for this reason that I have some sympathy for him. Moreover, placing him in the legal spotlight fuels the very messages that caused the legal system to take action. Valtonyc has thus been granted a greater sense of self-importance than he merits. He cloaks himself in the art form defence, when he's little more than a mean parody. What's the point of his being in court?