My heart goes out for kids running the streets,
Ten years old with nothing to eat, playing in dirt,
Hair never combed, been the same since birth,
And they moms gets too high to change they shirt,
Pardon me this is my vision, the shit that I live in,
Crack heads,baby mothers with n_gg_z in prision,
Stack bread playing the dozens with liqour and izm,
Clap lead, spraying your cousin for sticking your Wisdom,
Ransom - "Hood Visions"
From the 2006 mixtape: DJ Lust Presents Ransom Is The Best In The City
The effigy has been burning for a while. But the long time apprehensions of black activists like Chuck D, Rev. Sharpton and others has taken on new impetus since Bill O'Reilly, Paula Zahn, Anderson Cooper and other mainstream (read: white) commentators have jumped on the bandwagon in the aftermath of the Don Imus fallout (Pitiful, that if it doesn't have White America's imprimatur it remains a fringe issue). And the hollerations are clear: blame hiphop!
Blame hiphop for the fact that influential white Radio Jock, Imus, called some high achieving Black women nappy-headed hoes and got crucified for it; that many of the images you see in Black Entertainment involve misogynistic and derogatory images of women; blame it for the subversive street messages like those that exhort all and sundry to stop cooperating with the police; that Inner City violence continues. Blame hiphop that words like Bling bling have made into the official American Lexicon. Blame hiphop!
Hiphop, like Blues, has always exhibited a blunt-force-trauma style of presentation. While Michael Dyson, Sharpton and others were trying to put together soundbytes for the media castigating the Federal Government as it wrung its hands early in the Hurricane Katrina Disaster, rapper Kanye West put it thus at a national telethon appearance: "George Bush doesn't care about Black People." You may have thought it, may have thought it was too contentious to say around the watercooler or at the supermarket checkout queue to the lady from next door, but there. Kanye stated without apology what he thought was the bottom line on a prime time national tv broadcast.
And hiphop has been saying it. Pinpointing the destruction that is part of the way of life of one of most endangered species on the Planet: the black man. Saying it in ways that the middle and upper class find uncomfortable to face. Jay-Z said "I can't see them coming down my eyes so I gotta make the song cry," rappers stunt like they're uberthugs in search of the next hapless victim to exact a 200 shot drive-by on, but beneath that, they are people wailing for a way out. Just like a drunk will stand up proclaiming he's fine to drive home and then totter dangerously on his feet quietly hoping the performance will elicit a volunteer from his audience to shuttle him safely home.
Before we blame the bearer of the unpalatable news, there are issues that have been ignored for far much longer than hiphop was born in 1974. The disenfrachisement of the American Lower Class - populated by a majority of the black population - in wealth generation and education is not a hot button topic on Anderson Cooper 360 ( "Tonight on The O'Reilly Factor...Libraries. Where are they in the Ghetto?"). The misogyny directed at the Black Woman is a long-standing blight. Think Hottentot Venus, or the scores of black women sexually violated during slavery. Was that perpetrated by Nelly with Snoop keeping watch? The glorification of the Barbie ideal as the standard of beauty that has led Black People to reject their own kinky-headed and dark skinned beauty for horse hair extensions and skin lighteners, was that Uncle Luke's fault? When civic actions by elements of the Los Angeles Black society grew into the nationalist Black Panther Party, the FBI got involved in shutting it down for good and put black people in jail. In the early 20th Century Jewish immigrants in New York, for example, uplifted their lot by forming socialist type groups that created businesses, housing and social support for their own. Contrast that to the demise of the Black Wall Street. There are 2.2 million black males in american prisions, which is directly related to consistent long term discriminate vicitmization of black men by the Police and the Justice system.
Against this backdrop, with dilapidated neighborhoods that are simply economic deserts, the resultant crime and the violence it creates, drug abuse, prostitution and the ultimate disaster,the dismemberment of the Black Family, Hiphop Culture lives. What do you expect rappers to talk about? And while it's true that the billions in revenue hiphop generates come from a mostly white audience, the the audience a rapper directs his music to is the people who are from or bear a similar background to the rapper, or understand it. The rest of the world simply dials in, like watching a gripping reality show.
Another major issue that all the commentators gloss over is the American Recording and Radio Broadcast sectors which bear similarities with professional sports. While Blacks excel as performers in the arenas, they are a small presence in the boardrooms where billion dollar decisions that affect the game are made. And the Federal Trade Comission has been a cheerleader as the recording industry has dwindled to four major players through mergers and acquisitions (Sony, BMG, Universal & EMI) and 80 percent of all the radio stations in America are owned by two companies (Clearchannel and Infinity). The radio aquisitions were initiated by a Clinton-era law that a Republican majority Congress approved. It eliminated the cap on the number of radio stations a single company could own.
Let's not forget the main music video outlets that broadcast urban music (BET, MTV, VHI) are all owned by Viacom. There are simply no avenues today for rappers with an alternative voice to reach the mainstream without going through these corporate gatekeepers. And they are not interested in these rappers. In the early ninties for example, when the marketing formula wasn't set in stone yet, it was possible to contrast the NWA guntalk with the positive philosophies of the Native Tongue Collective. Both perspectives were on blast on major outlets and thus the audience was able to get a more nuanced message out of rap music. At the very least, there was a choice available to listeners.
Similarly in Hollywood, the gatekeepers dictate the content of black films: comedies and action flicks that exploit the common sterotypes. That's what's proven to deliver favorable box-office returns. Any attempts at creating dramatic or serious films that don't make a play on the sterotypes is simply not on the table.
The profit motive will always reign, and simply, vice sells. Be it violence, lust, pride or prejudice. Training Day is feted before Malcom X. Similarly, the recording industry knows now after the trials of the 80's and 90's and the runaway success of some rappers who lived and died by the gun in their lives and music (RIP), that 50 Cent will raise more eyebrows - and hence generate more revenue - than Common Sense. The radio broadcast industry, long in bed with the recording industry through a system of payments-for-airplay, bows to the the will of its symbiotic partner. When the decision is made to promote crime and gunplay, empty antagonism, excess materialism, pimpery and rump shaking and the stifling of messages of upliftment and genuine explorations issues in the ghetto, the rappers have no say. The ones that want to move from Hollis to the Hamptons, from Bankhead to South Beach, from Long Beach to Palm Springs, they have to hop to the masters organ tune and make music along these lines. Radio obliges and plays the same 30 or so songs the record companies want to sell the the most over and over, all day long. The playlist on a hiphop & r&b radio station in Boston is similar to the one in Chicago or St Louis or San Diego with few variations. Independent Labels that currently support messages alternative to the status quo in rap simply have no pull on mainstream networks, and therefore, their records never reach the larger part of the listenership.
And there is the problem, O'Reilly, Anderson Cooper et al. First, the opportunities for Rap and other Black music to fully express its First Amendment Right to Free Speech has been slaughtered at the altar of the Greenback Temple. The corporations involved do their best with marketing blitzes that leave the listenership no option but to swallow the drivel that is force fed to them.
Secondly and most important, the destructive issues that plague the ghetto haven't changed for generations, and thinking banning certain words from lyrics will change things in the ghetto, where these messages hit home the hardest, is window dressing. Parking the blame in front of the Rap driveway is myopic and futile. Integrated solutions that address the socio-economic issues as well as harmful messages in rap music are in order. So burn the Hiphop effigy. Paint it as the Bad Guy. Find Killa Cam and ask him why he won't snitch. Boost ratings, work up a lather among the Leafy Surbub Set whose kids buy the music and solve nothing.