Mervin Malone
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Saturday, April 28, 2007
Hip Hop's Defiance - A Call to Reasoning

On April 16, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey held a special two-show townhall meeting-style program, the focus of which was derogatory lyrics and/or language in rap [music] and the perceived double-standard in their usage. Guest panelists included Def Jams co-founder Russell Simmons, singer/musician India.Arie, columnist Stanley Crouch and progressive hip hop artist Common. Simmons – initially adamant in his opposition to censoring rappers – this week called for a "ban" on certain words:

"The words 'bitch' and 'ho' are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African-American women have experienced in the United States as part of the history of oppression, inequality, and suffering of women." Simmons said. "The word 'nigger' is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression, and multiple forms of racism against African-Americans and other people of colour."

This not-so sudden solicitude over rap lyrics was touched off by the Don Imus controversy of several weeks ago, wherein the "shock jock" referred to the Rutger's University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos". The Imus flap – for all its divisiveness – would seem to have inspired a much-needed discussion on racism, sexism and the politics of free speech. The aforementioned 'double standard' comes from the contention that Imus  – a white male – was fired for using language that is all-too commonplace in a great deal of commerical rap (which is mainly performed by African-Americans). The same argument was put forth by the defenders of Michael Richards following his racial tirade late last year. Rapper Snoop Dogg seemed to concur with the age-old 'argument' that blacks can say certain things and whites cannot:

"First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls."

In fairness, I've never been a huge fan of rap music. Sure, I enjoyed old school visionaries like Grandmaster Flash and Whodini on occasion. Heck – with the arrival of innovative artists like De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, Eric B. & Rakim and a Tribe Called Quest  the late '80s and early '90s – I actually indulged the genre for a moment. And let us not exclude the ladies: MC Lyte – Queen Latifah – Monie Love; all spoke from a socially-consciouss, yet appealingly feminist perspective. In recent years, however, rap – and its resultant hip hop subculture – would seem to have experienced a sort of aesthetic decline (of the type that often befalls many artistic movements that are mass-marketed). These days, commercial rap artists are – by way of their music and videos – projecting a myopic worldview wherein social awareness and unity are dated concepts and the bottom line – money and an opulent living – are the first order of the day.

In retrospect, the selfsame '90s that gave us rap pioneers like the Pharcyde, Digable Planets, the Fugees and the Roots, also gave rise to the mainstreaming of so-called "gangsta rap", and – consequently – the superstardom of artists like Dr. Dre and his protegι, Snoop Dogg. Gangsta rap – with its redundant fixations on Kristof champagne, tacky bling and 'hos – came to morph a great deal of rap in its profane image thereafter. Indeed, so-called "pop rap" artists like Nellly regularly make use of the term "ho" now. And Dre's legacy continues on in his most current protegι, 50 Cent.

Even worse than gangsta rap (if you can believe it) is its stepchild style, "dirty south"; artists like Trick Daddy, Ludacris and Mystikal typify this subgenre with its focus on excess, profanity and primal sexuality. Its two most prominent female stars – Trina and Khia – have mic skills that are as negligible as their "sexiness", yet they've somehow managed to eclipse real female rappers like Bahamadia.

Hip hop apologists often make the arguement that rappers are only a product of their upbringing and environment – that the profanity, sexism and self-hatred ["n-word"] are only a reflection of what the rap artist has known for much of his/her life. Snoop Dogg made this argument in response to being criticized in the Don Imus controversy:

"We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them muthaf**kas say we are in the same league as him."

This argument – while not totally without merit – doesn't fully account for rap artists like Nelly, who didn't necessarily come from a stereotypically "ghetto" background. Indeed, one could argue that subscribing to such an argument is – in effect – accepting low-expectations. When all is said and done, the use of "ho", the "n-word" and the "b-word" is a monetary issue; rappers – some of them – benefit from their use as much as your average "shock jock".

Let's be honest; Don Imus offended many with his comments – and rightly so – but the continued use of the "n-word" ,"b-word", "ho" and such are all-too common in commercial rap. This is not a defense of Imus, but rather an assertion that rappers – the black community as a whole – need to examine the put forth 'double standard' argument that exists in the use (and context) of offensive language. Words like "bitch", "ho" and the "n-word" – not to mention the OTHER "f-word" that is cruelly applied to gay men – are offensive, to be sure, but they should also be judged as such no matter WHO is using them. The "n-word" is (in my opinion) every bit as offensive when used by blacks as it is when it is used by whites – no exceptions.

Though the corporate-owned record labels that release this sort of music are somewhat at fault, the proposed industry-wide censoring of music is not the answer – that rests squarely with the producers and performers of rap music and such and their own self-discipline. Rappers needs to step up and stop being corporate "hos".

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Posted at 07:32 pm by Mervin Malone

May 1, 2007   12:54 PM PDT
Here is a question that I think needs to be addressed by the rappers and non rappers alike that use the N word.

What does it mean?

I associate the word with the era of slavery and the confederacy. Whenever I hear someone using the term, it means that you think of that person as someone less than human that can be owned.

I don't think I am the only white person with this view.

The way I interpret the word if you use it to define one member race, you use it to define white and black people not just a specific member.

White people have no business using the word so I am only talking about when it is used by blacks on blacks.

The word helps to perpetuate the evil of a past era when whites thought they where better for being born white. The use of the term by one black person on another serves only to bring both down in a larger societal discussion.

(I also want to point out again, I use the term black because My wife who is black prefers it. NO offense is meant)
M.E. Grant
April 30, 2007   12:02 AM PDT
Snoop's rhetoric is pretty questionable. It assumes that these aggressive and sabotaging forms of expression are a right afforded to us by the struggle of racial oppression. They've been through a lot, so let the kids have their tantrum. Instead, there's a perverse interpretation of the American dream in the music, videos, and now the minds of common folk out on the street. In a mix of criminality, misogyny and homophobia, the best aspiration is to show as little humanity as possible. When I look back, this trend not only finds its beginnings in the gangsta rap of old. By ushering in an era of music almost entirely composed by sampling the songs of others, the industry set up a standard that made craft an inconvenience. Don't get me wrong, I think the appropriation of previous work is very progressive, and certainly the logic behind any remix. But now that lazy approach has been married to the lyrical filth of today. I don't think the execs ever wanted to pimp the best material they could. It was much easier to sell these blaxploitation records, "authentic" chronicles of life in every ghetto, 'hood and inner city. It's by the grace of God that Missy Elliott has a successful career not built around tales of hustling, hoes and homicide. What I'm also missing in the music is hope. If these records are about the horrors people of color endure, where is their message of change? Negro spirituals, the blues, Motown's move toward social consciousness. Those periods identified strife and promoted resolutions. Now, the "artists" wallow in a wild west mentality largely manufactured for the sake of image. Now that the backlash has begun, I wonder who will step in and pick up the pieces when the dust settles.

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