The Damage of Generalizations in Musical Culture: from Wagner to Shapiro

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 2055 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 2055|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Richard Wagner
  4. Ben Shapiro
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography


This paper includes a look at cultural generalizations in the past to the present of music and how it damages the perception of the community at heart who presents it. In particular, the reader will learn about the ideology of German Composer Richard Wagner, who made disparaging remarks about the Jewish community and their musical composition going as far questions the legitimacy of their artistic identity.

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Secondly readers will be informed on claims by Jewish political commentator, and Musician Ben Shapiro, who argues that Rap isn’t a valid musical artform, but a degraded form of expression. I'm not comparing Wagner and Shapiro as likeminded individuals. Wagner is a racist, while Shapiro simply is misinformed on the true qualities of hip-hop. Shapiro is allowed to have an opinion, but I will prove why his inflammatory statements on rap music are incorrect and a disservice to the development of music.


The generalization of any particular form of expression as a descriptor of every participant in that form is a testament to ignorance. It will be a challenge for societies to function off of presumptions made by popular sources. From Richard Wagner writing essays on the illegitimacy of music created by his Jewish contemporaries to Ben Shapiro, a political commentator who recently targeted Rap as an invalid form music. These two men are very different respectively with Wagner being an anti-Semite fueling his rhetoric with racism and Jewish Conservative Shapiro whose rhetoric on specifically Rap music is built on a lack of understanding.

In the end however their words showcase a dangerous type of pretension that achieve the same humiliation on those who put in the time to bring people together and ultimately share music. There are conditions to interpret the moral compass of expression, but it shouldn’t be used to generalize an entire body of people or their art forms. For this reason, we must look at the words of these individuals so we don’t assess music in arrogance anymore.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was born on May 22nd, 1813 in Germany and is known for composing his four-part opera The Ring, but more importantly, his deep ties of anti-Semitism seen in “Judaism in Music”. He published the essay anonymously under a pseudonym before making it public that he in fact wrote the pieces himself. The first thing to notice is his pessimistic and demeaning uses of diction as he describes the place of Jews in art. He states that Semitic pronunciation as “outlandish and unpleasant”, which explicitly shows his negative view of Jews and presents a strong bias in his argument. It seems that Wagner wanted to paint Jews as a clear outsider to his culture and alienate their role in the music as being too inspired by others.

The truth is that Wagner’s inflammatory views would be shared by the Nazi party years after his death and would be respected by Adolf Hitler. Wagner believes that Jews don’t have a language that is pleasant sounding and it naturally makes them “incapable of giving artistic enunciation” to their music. Moreover, Wagner argues that The Jewish Community lacks a musical artform of their own because of the diasporic nature of their culture suggesting that they only know how to borrow from others. The true fallacies of Wagner's argument are seen in his personal bias and sheer racism that is clearly depicted in his speech. He primarily analyzed The Jewish community in Germany through his own opinion. The speech was dangerous and isolated a group to be targeted for reasons beyond logic or fairness.

He credits religious music as the Jewish community’s only original contribution to sound and he doesn’t appear informed on their perspective or history to even cite any counters to his claim. In turn Wagner is known as being ambitious and so “confident that some considered him conceited” which reflects his character. He makes his arguments about another culture from strictly his perspective, and his opinionated word choices diminish his ability to make a concrete statement with evidence. He offers an unprovable explanation on what music should be in his eyes, but as a result reduces another culture off of that view. He comes from a musical background, but doesn’t study or make music with his Jewish contemporaries to even validate any critical form of speech on Jewish music.

The Traditional music of the Jewish community included the music of the synagogue in worship, but there were also ceremonious and dance invoking forms seen in Klezmer, which was written by a great portion of Jews telling musical stories of their daily life. Klezmer has a theory of its own and therefore distinct aspects that contribute to the artistic expression of its users. The modes of Klezmer disprove Wagner’s claim that Jewish composition lacks originality on theoretical terms. In his argument he does stress that Classical Theory is too visible or borrowed by his Jewish contemporaries, but he doesn’t even consider the possibility of the musical ideas merging and producing great contributions to music as whole.

Furthermore, Josh Horowitz suggestі that each of the main Klezmer modes “implicitly contain a mood and a set of motives which are specific to it.” If the mode has such a quality, then it should be a valid form of artistic expression. One goal for many artists is to reflect the world around them in their own creative way. This could include something historical, the moods of the people, or ability of the mankind. The Jewish Community has particular modes of music or cantorial pieces that can reenact a feeling, so it should be acknowledged as an artistic expression in contrast to Wagner’s school of thought. The interpretation of someone’s art is subjective, but their effort to express it is not.

Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro argued that Rap music isn’t a musical artform and has rescinded the claim recently, however we still need to understand why Shapiro’s dialogue on Rap is an inflammatory inaccuracy that shouldn’t be seen as anything truthful. Rap and music built off the traditions of the Jewish culture are separate expressions, but the thought of disqualifying its legitimacy purely through biased dislike is shared by Shapiro and Wagner.

Shapiro is allowed to dislike rap, but he is in no place to disqualify its musicality. His generalizations about the music come from comparisons to classical being the least degraded form of music. Anyone who performs with humility and respect for the craft of music, would understand how false it is to acknowledge one artform as supreme over the other. In the end it's a great artist that transcends from musical bias and delivers consistent ideas through sound to the audience.

Mozart, George Gershwin, Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, and Kendrick Lamar are just a few examples of an artist in their own lanes who have made pivotal contributions to growth and direction of music. That in itself is a selfless task, which is evident in the way music is standardized and appreciated. Hip-Hop still carries on this tradition, one must simply listen to right forms of it to understand.

The Hip-Hop culture starts from a movement in The Bronx during the 1970s and is heavily inspired by the Jazz and Funk of the generation before it. Schools in the urban city where it originated however, were often mis funded and lacked formal musical programs compared to their suburban counterparts. The musical tradition was passed on through record collections that were sampled in Rap. UCLA Professor of Ethnomusicology Cheryl Keyes suggests that Hip- Hop commonly refers to four elements: “disc jockeys, MCs, break-dancers, and aerosol artist”. Today Hip-Hop has expanded to include RnB singers as well. For modern production the sampling process is a very intensive and pivotal part of Rap music.

It is important to understand that Rap is like a re-imagined form of Jazz without live instruments. Rappers today are breaking those limits and include live musicians in their acts or recordings. Analogously Jazz has its own form of sampling seen in quoting. Dexter Gordonwas known for quoting standard melodies such as George Gershwin’s “Summertime” in songs like “Night in Tunisia,” as recorded on the album “Our Man in Paris.” Holding to that tradition, sampling is a similar process of using your ear to quote and repurpose a musical idea into a different one.

The sample in hip-hop has evolved incorporating new forms of melodic layering and polyrhythms. The production in hip-hop continues to grow as an art that includes the likes of formal Jazz Harmony. Producers like Madlib, and J Dilla are pushed the constraints of technology and humanized the process into a rare craft that matches the complexity to any classically trained or jazz trained musician.

Shapiro’s argument comes from the notion that classical is the only form of music to achieve perfection and this is seen when he refers to Rock as “a degradation of skill from Jazz”, and Jazz as “a degradation of skill to Classical”. The statement is false because Jazz has a lot of theoretical components to its craft that classical musicians could be very poor in such as improvisation. Jazz isn’t better, but it values different technical aspects than classical music and as result balances out as a means of expression.

In Rock the technicality in harmonic structure converted over to the showmanship and lyrical songwriting ability. Genres should be seen as individual crafts that re-evaluate their priorities for the audience not a hierarchy. While they are individual, they all play a role in the development of what music is and could be. Shapiro criticized Hip-Hop on the constructs of melody and harmony. It is true that Rap is a rhythm focused music, but to suggest that is doesn’t even have melody or harmony is ignorant.

Shapiro even acknowledged that he doesn’t listen to a lot of rap music, which dismantles his credibility to criticize Rap on his conditions. He doesn’t have the grounds to speak on something he doesn’t thoroughly understand and insist it’s a factual assessment, especially in an inflammatory way.

He suggests that rap lacks melodic and harmonic content, but clearly hasn’t listened to songs like Saba’s “Prom/King” which features a neo-soul progression that uses b9s and 13 chord extensions. The melody itself goes through a piano that is de-tuned slightly to offer a reminiscent tone as is passes to a choir that sings the melody to create suspense. The arrangement of the song is very musical featuring a live drum break that matches the intensity of Saba’s lyricism and delivery. Songs like this deteriorate Shapiro’s argument because the musicality is so evident if one listens to it.


Just like any form of music there are expressions within that genre that do prioritize the dollar and sacrifice the musical integrity and this is the only case that Shapiro could be basing his arguments on. Popular music can degrade some virtuosity in place for the dollar, but one can’t generalize every artist in that genre as a contributor to the money chasing stigma. Wagner obviously wasn’t attacking just the music but also the heritage of the Jews and made claims of inferiority due cultural difference. Shapiro isn’t expressing that form of hate towards the different minority groups that comprised the roots of hip-hop, but he still attacked the validity of their artistic expression. Shapiro’s opinions made remarks like “Fact: If you think rap is music, you’re stupid”.

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The irresponsibility of that statement damages the perception of what it actually takes to make rap music. Ben Shapiro has no relation to the anti-Semitic German Composer Richard Wagner. I don’t regard Shapiro as an overt racist, but, he used his opinions just like Wagner, and presented them like factual information. It is dangerous to mislead the public with insinuations of another culture because the public may very well buy into those insinuations. Generalization have no place in the assessment of music’s validity.


  1. Wagner, Richard. Das Judenthum in der Musik, Samtliche Schriften und Dichtungen: Volume V, 1850, Translated by William Ashton Ellis
  2. Editors. “Richard Wagner Biography”, A&E Television Networks
  3. Published April 2nd, 2014, accessed November 22, 2019
  4. Loeffler James. “Richard Wagner’s ‘Jewish Music’: Anti-Semitism and Aesthetics in modern Jewish Culture, Indiana University Press, 2009
  5. Horowitz, Josh. “The Main Klezmer Modes” The Klezmer Shack July, 24th 1999, (accessed November 10th, 2019)
  6. Keyes, Cheryl. Rap Music and Street Consciousness, University of Illinois Press 2005
  7. The Daily Wire. “Is Rap Music Real Music?”. YouTube September 15th, 2019. (accessed October 17th, 2019)
  8. Shapiro, Ben. “Fact: If your think rap is music, you’re stupid” January 8th, 2012
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Damage Of Generalizations In Musical Culture: From Wagner To Shapiro. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
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