Wednesday, April 18, 2007

THE DEATH OF HIP HOP . . . PART III (Notes & Comments On The Hearse Ride To The Cemetery)

SIGH . . . The other night, I watched the 2nd half of Oprah's "After Imus: Now What?" town hall discussion. All I can do is shake my head. It truly saddens me to see & hear so many smart & talented Blk men speak & act as if they were in complete denial about a phenomenon that adversely affects so many of us.

For the most part, these men, all of whom are in positions of leadership, came across as a bunch of belligerent, whiney, 3 year-olds. Okay, here's a clue. When a grown azz Blk woman says, "Listening to rap artists call me and folks who look like me (be they nappy-headed or not) all kinds of bitches and ho's 24/7 is both insulting and demeaning," the proper response from a grown azz Blk man ought not be, "Uh-uh! No, it ain't! You're not the boss of me!" Sheeesh . . .

Russell Simmons. I don't know brother. I think you are a brilliant business man. I love what you're doing with Def Poetry. But the statement you made about Hip Hop doing more for race relations than the entire civil rights movement is A BIG, FAT LIE, plain and simple. If you actually believe that mess you are either sadly deluded, incredibly mis-educated or a mad man. Yeah, I said it. Meant it too.

Something tells me both Mr. Simmons and Kevin Liles, the entertainment executive who appeared on the show, have both bought into their own hype and now want us all to drink the Kool-Aid. Mr. Liles went into what can only be described as the Black male version of the neck-swerve when Stanley Crouch used the word "clown" in reference to the folks reponsible for the distribution and perpetuation of this demeaning garbage. The brother's near hysterics would have been comical were the situation not so sad.

No, Mr. Liles you're not a clown . . . you, sir, are the freaking RING-MASTER if you are sitting up behind a desk somewhere ALLOWING this crap to go on, as the one sister said, ON YOUR WATCH. And your little speech about going from intern to executive, I mean really, what is that? Another tired version of the "don't hate the player, hate the game" type of ignorance? Just so you know, for what it's worth, that's like telling folks you went from being a two-bit street corner pimp to running a brothel. And hey, that just might impress some of the simple-minded folk you obvioulsy run with, I don't know.

Common, I ain't mad at you bro. Matter of fact, I'm jamming "The Food" from your cd "Be" as I type this. I understand and appreciate your desire to elevate the "game" and represent another side of the discussion. Like I've stated before, censorship isn't a bandwagon I'm fixing to jump on for NOBODY. I appreciate both the beauty and power of words. And within the proper context, I don't object to the use of even the most vile of them. Now, when they're repeated hurled as weapons and they're used to hurt, malign and defame, that's another story.

So, Common, all I ask is that if you're going to continue to ride with those other clowns and fools, try to steer them away from the gutter and the drainage ditches. And for heaven's sake, if you see that those jokers are about to ride off a cliff or down some other street of no return, step off and tell 'em "later." Keep in mind, "thug solidarity" is what killed Tupac. Ain't no need of you going out like that. And oh, for the record, a lot of sisters, elders and quite a few brothers too have been trying to critique y'all in a spirit of love, but the knuckle-heads and puppet-masters in your crew ain't been trying to hear it. So, now we got to go summon up the ghosts of John Henry, Harriet Tubman and 'Nem and come back at 'em with the Hammer.

So, if nothing else, try to stay true to your own verses Common. Like you say in Chi-City" ... "it's a war going on . . . you can't fake being a soldier" and what's that you and Kanye say in "The Food" . . . "I know I . . . I could make it right, if I could just swallow my pride . . ." That's right C, keep "writing FREEDOM songs for the Real People."

Ben Chavis. I'm disappointed. But then again, maybe I ought not be. Didn't he get run out of the NAACP for improprieties with women? I'd hate to think this was yet another case of the Blind, trying to lead the Blind. But when you KNOW BETTER, aren't you supposed to DO BETTER? Yeah, I guess that's just another one of those things I learned back in the day that folks obvioulsy don't believe in any more.

Henry Louis Gates? Wait, wasn't he one of the chief defenders of the misogynistic filth being spewed by the likes of 2 Live Crew back in the early 90's? Please. With all due respect, he's a part of the problem. An academic hustle, is a hustle, none-the-less.

The only brother who really represented and came correct on Oprah's show yesterday was the attorney, Londell McMillan, the young man who said he'd represented a lot of the rap artists from Lil Kim to Kanye West and all those folks in-between. Big Ups to this brother for his poise, his leadership and his clarity.

Mr. McMillan said there were a lot of responsible parties who needed to be called to the table and held accountable for the misogyny and demeaning imagery in Hip Hop, among them the rappers themselves, producers, label heads, artistic development folks, consumers and radio stations. He dismissed this "oh, but they're poverty stricken and don't know any better" line of bull Simmons and Liles were trying to pitch. Like we don't know some of the worst of these fools come from middle class backgrounds . . .

Anyway, Mr. McMillan mentioned how some artists feel boxed in, obliged and are often aggressively encouraged to go the whole, "nigga, bitch, ho" route in their music. What's that I hear? The resounding echo of a "Whoop, There It Is!" Tell 'em 'bout it LM. In the Good Old USA, money is always the bottom-line. ain't it? The entertainment industry heads have latched onto this whack-azz formula and as long as it's fattening their wallets, they're not about to let it go without a fight.

Mr. Simmons, Mr. Liles and Mr. Chavis . . . it's not about hating Hip Hop. A lot of us love Hip Hop, we're just ready for all the blood-letting, name-calling, half-naked boot-shaking, stripper club behavior, pimping and thuggery to be over and done with. We're just tired of all the lame azz excuses and historically incorrect rationales for why it's okay for Blk men to call Blk women out of their names.

We're just tired of mourning what really and truly could have been a beautiful thing had not a bunch of greedy, opportunistic hustlers been allowed to muck it up. HELL, We're Just Tired . . . SIGH . . .


JER said...

hi Lori,

thanks for this perspective on hiphop music and culture, as well as your thoughts on Imus-gate. The story has been a lot less reported over here in the UK. And, while I disagree wholeheartedly with Imus' opportunistic attempt to shift attention from his own sexism and racism, this clearly goes to the heart of the kind of music the hiphop community wants in the future.
All good material for a lecture on hiphop I'm currently writing!
Take it easy - and congrats on the book deal.

Lori said...

Thanks for dropping in and adding your voice to "The Mix."

Yes, the remarks Imus made were DEAD WRONG. But the discussion about the disturbing portrayal and treatment of Blk women in HIP HOP is one some of us have been trying to wage for years. No one wanted to hear us. Still don't (smile).

Thanks for the congrats and best of luck on your own up-coming lecture.

Lori said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith said...

Honestly, I'd rather not focus on the rappers. I truly do believe that it's a conversation worth having, but I'd rather focus on the parents and the overall values of society. I want us to ask the general question: Why does sex, violence, profanity, racism, and sexism sell so well?

I watched a cute little girl of about 5 tell her mother as she skated up to her yesterday that she almost "busted her F%#*& A@+" Her mother laughed. There is a real possibility that that same girl will be swinging from a pole in 15 years and I will blame her mother and father.

At this point I'm not sure I want rappers to be responsible for setting the moral tone of my child's life. I want to be the person that does that. If rappers choose values over money on their own, I'll be there applauding them, but I'm not holding my breath.

Lori said...

I hear you. Parenting is an important part of the discussion, but the conversation doesn't necessarily end there.

While it might be nice to parent in a vacuum, the reality is few, if any of us, do. From the time our children are born, they are subjected to outside influences--even if it's only the conversation of others. Even when we try to monitor what they read, watch on television, see at the movies, read in books and magazine, we can't possibly be with them 24/7.

The truth is, we send our children to daycare, to school, to summer camp, outside to play, over to the neighbors' or to our relatives' homes . . . in other words out into the world. And there is no getting way from the fact that not only do we live in the world, but the world also lives in us.

Given the way we've constructed our lives, society, ie. "the village" will have a hand in rearing our children, whether we like it or not.

My thing is this--if I don't like the world, neighborhood, village, etc., my child lives in--don't I have a responsibility as a parent to do what I can to change it and make it better?

If I choose to turn a blind eye to the con artists, hustlers, predators, racists and all of the other ignorant, low-life types running amuck in my community, what does that tell my child about me?

Ehav Ever said...

Another aspect of this is something that remember MAD TV once did in a comedy sketch. A few years back they did a segment where some gangster rappers won a grammy for a song that had all kind of obsenities in it. The first thing these rappers did when they received the award was to thank God for the inspiration to write the song. All of a sudden God shows up and makes it clear that He did not inspire them to make the song and that He never influenced anyone to use such lyrics.

I found the MAD TV skit interesting since I remember a lot of gangster rappers, sexually explicity R&B acts, etc. always thanking God for the inspiration to make their music. Being who I am, I simply assumed that they had to be talking about a different God then me, because like the MAD TV skit I remember God requiring humanity to be Holy because He is Holy. Yet, maybe these rappers, R&B artists, record execs, and the thir fans all worship a different Higher Power than I do. In the Hebrew Tehillim (Psalms of David) it does state that God gives sunshine to both the rightous and the wicked.

In any case, a few years ago I think that Oprah had a similar show about rappers and their lyrics. Luke was on the show and he talked about how he did not allow his daughters to listen to the music he was making. So if you go back far enough this issue has come up before numerous times, and it keeps resurfacing.

So this brings everything back to something that is missing. Morality and also common sense. I mention this every time a subject like this comes up, and I may end up sounding like a broken record because of it, but I feel that the whole issue revolves around it.

In the end I think that on some level popular media is a bit of a lost cause, mainly because of the morality issue. So my belief is that people who are fed up with it have to push themselves and their children to a higher standard. There are a number of children who listen to this music INTERNATIONALLY and they believe that these rappers are telling it like it is for ALL African Americans, so to speak. I have met people over seas who don't believe their is poverty or social problems in black communities in America. One of the reasons is that they see these videos and movies, and they believe that this is who African Americans are.

Also, there are a number of African American kids imitating these rappers in full view of everything further giving the impression that is who they are. This is why I believe Imus shifted the blame for his statements. He more than likely has also seen youth imitating or taking on the persona's of some of these entertainers.

Lori said...

Ehav E.,
Thanks for adding your voice to the "Mix." I think I saw that skit with the rappers thanking God, or something similar. It's not really so surprising though, is it? Some of us have become so deaf, dumb and blind, we don't readily recognize our own hypocrisy.

Like you, I too have lived overseas. But I've come to the sad conclusion that we (I'm speaking in general terms, of course) aren't all that concerned about having a good rep, whether it be in the world, in our own communities or even before the Higher Power we call God.

I mean, why else would we spend so much time chasing bling, acting like gangsters, players, freaks and fools, partying, frontin' and trying to get over? *smile*

Rather than attempt to better ourselves and our communities, it appears that some of us would rather ignore, excuse or revel in just how truly trifling we've become . . .

Ehav Ever said...

Hello again Lori,

There is a section of a book in the Bible called Mishle (in English Proverbs) where King Shelomoh (King Solomon) makes a statement that what exists now is no different than what has existed in the past. In a sense certain things in reality never change, in regard to human nature.

In response to what you said, that is where I think that individuals like yourself and others who band together can turn the tide. Once when I was young I was shown the results of chasing after the wrong lifestyle can lead to. I was also shown where leaving behind my families traditions would place me. At that moment I knew I had to make a choice between what was popular and who the real me was.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Conan, of all movies. There is a scene where Conan's father takes him to the top of a mountin in their land. It is there that Conan's father introduces him a riddle called "The Riddle of the Steel." In a sense it is a moment where Conan's driving force, even after loosing his family, culture, and land tragically is defined. It was through that one lesson his father kept him grounded in his culture even when the world was against him.

In another book/movie Dune there is a scene where the ruler of a planet calls to his son. He tells his son the following. "I'll miss the sea, but a person needs new experiences. Without change something sleeps within us and very seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken!" Frank Herbert's Dune.

For me I came to the conclusion that people who stand up for negativity aren't related to me in any sense. They represent themselves and those who cast their lot with them. When I looked at it that way I no longer had to make excuses for what they did or didn't do. Instead I could stand against them when they stood for what was wrong, and with them when they stood for something correct. On some level we all fight these battles everyday in our lives.

Yet, I believe that we can individually and collectively turn the tide by standing up for something. The fact that you have started this blog is testement to the fact that you are standing for something. The fact that you are publishing in some major magazines is also evidence to the fact that people can stand up against a tidle wave. Sometimes it takes drametic examples to shake people out of apathi.

Yet, in any case I believe that we can only truly be responsible for what we cause or allow.

Sharon J. said...

Most of the fans of the crudest form of rap are young white males. Much of what many rappers write about appeals to the negative stereotypes their white male fan base has about blacks in general and black women in particular. Personally, I think they're just a bunch of modern day minstrals. However, they also are artists who have a right to say what they feel. Not all, but some are telling stories based on their experiences in the streets. Every woman they meet is not always virtuous. Some stories they tell call for rough language. They shouldn't be made to censure their speech. The market will eventually quiet their dirty mouths anyway. People already are getting tired of the vulgar language. I believe Rap music will have to change if it is to survive.

Lori said...

Ehav E.,
Thanks for adding a spiritual as well as a philosophical dimension to the conversation. I agree, "We can only be responsible for what we cause or allow." I also believe that most atrocities occur when good people remain silent about things that deep down in their hearts and souls, they know are wrong.

Sharon J.,
I think all artists have a right to self-expression. But that right doesn't exempt them from behaving responsibly.

When I was a kid, Richard Pryor was all the rage. I saw him on TV and I was aware of his records and his "bluer" material. But because my parents didn't own any of his records, I wasn't exposed to the latter until I was an adult.

You know why? That kind of stuff wasn't being played on the radio. You couldn't see his bluer work on television. And no self-respecting adult was gonna sit up and let a child listen to that type of material, even if the adult listened to it himself.

Too many lines have become blurred. Hate-speech now passes for music. What used to be romance literatue is now straight up pornography. On the so-called family hour on network tv, they're pretty much doing and saying the same stuff they're doing after 9:00 and on cable. And of course, kids are welcome to partake of it all . . . We really do appear to be on the verge of an anything goes society.

I happen to like Pryor's work, by the way, even the bluer material. Pryor was not only funny, he was a master-story teller. There even came a point when he evolved beyond the simplistic use of the word "nigger." But even before then, his jokes were seldom angry attacks on specific groups or individuals. A lot of his humor was actually self-deprecating.

Gunfighter said...

"Modern day minstrels"


Coon it up so white people can point their finger, make you rich, and laugh at your bufoonery... While your brothers and sisters imitate you to the point that they think your blackface routine is real-life.

The result is that white record executives and consumers are now dictating what is passing for black culutre in America today.

Lori said...

That's right, talk about it (smile)! We're so lost and clueless, we've begun imitating the parodies (on radio, tv & in film) that others have drawn of us. We have become little more than grotesque caricatures of ourselves.

Oh, and thanks for stopping by the Mix . . .