April 15, 2007

Hip Hop Return To Your Roots

With the release of Nas' "Hip Hop is dead", the rapper has made a powerful comment about the state of Hip Hop. I wrote in my previous posting that I thought Hip Hop might be in its last throws, I believe I said it was "on life support". The recent incident with Don Imus and the public reaction may spell the final throws for Hip Hop. One of the main excused Don used in his defense of using the term that he did was that certain words like "nappy" and "hoe" originated in the black community and is often used in Hip Hop culture. First the word nigger did not originate in the black culture of which nigga is a slang, and hoe is just a slang for the word "whore", we did not invent these words. I do think the good thing to come out of the Imus fiasco is that the debate has started. While yes, we do need to address the situation in our own house, we must not miss the opportunity to expand the debate beyond Imus and hip hop culture. 

Maybe we can start talking about racism and sexism in the American culture as a whole. The underlying issue with the Imus comments was the roots it had in slavery, check my previous post - "Beating Imus", that African-Americans are still considered inferior to whites by whites. That the equality that this country brags about is just an illusion. I say lets expand the debate, it is the only way to really heal this nation and bring about true equality and freedom for all.

Though Don's defense seems contrived by he and his media and political buddies; Don, the pundits, and those who have been questioning the hip hop culture are raising a valid and important point. With the outcry behind the Imus comments many have come out and stated where they stand on the issue of language and content displayed in the music, via lyrics and videos.

I am disturbed when I watch a rap video these days, every rapper should print their lyric with the CD. Wouldn't that be great, but maybe that would expose the fact that there is very little rapping going on in the songs that we hear today. Today all the lyrics are the same, everyone is talking about the same thing. Every song has the same subject; niggaz, cars, rims, bitches, hoes and freaks; but not before the ice, drugs, guns, and violence. 

Check out Young Joc's lyrics, he is a new rapper that gained popularity in the past few years. In one of his hits "I'm going down" this is a verse from that single:
 " Oh I thank they like me betta yet I know, Lights camera action when I walk through the door Niggaz know my crew we certified stars, Valet in the front 'bout 35 cars B****es in the back, Black beamer coups Girls like girls time to recruit, If ya got a problem say it to my face. We can knuckle up any time any place" --Young Joc, Goin Down 
When you address the lyrics of rap artists they will say that is not all I rap about, but check out the lyrics of another song "Picture Perfect" from Young Joc, one that did not get much radio play and could only have been heard if you bought the album:
 "Yeah I'm off in magic city, Trickin them ass and titties B****es blowin me kisses makin me wanna hit it I must admit, got a good chick and she been holdin me down But I ain't f***in around cuz there is too much sh*t goin around Like the rims on my pickup--Young Joc, "Picture Perfect" 
In both songs Young Joc, is talking about the same things. 50 Cents another of the newer rappers have extremely violent lyrics like those from his "Rotten Apple" single:
"Nigga you play around, I lay you down. That's how it's goin' down. I be in court throwin' signs like I'm a maaaaaason. Nigga witness against me, I'ma eraaaaaase 'em. If they try an runaway, I'ma chaaaaaaase 'em. Now with the pound, and I'm a lay 'em down. That's how it's goin' down"---50cents "Rotten Apple"
I could go on and on. When you check out the rappers that get the major radio play there is definitely a common thread. Years ago I had a discussion with a friend about the direction that Hip Hop and R&B were going. I predicted it's death because the content was changing and I saw everything became about bling and benjamins.  They disagreed and said that's what people wanted to hear. Well I didn't, but whenever I brought it up I was drowned, I had many arguments about it. 

I was listening mostly to roots reggae by then because I was totally turned off by what I was hearing on the radio at the time. This was during the height of the R-Kelly, P Diddy fascination. I have to admit when R-Kelly first came out with "Bump and Grind" I did. I rocked with it. Loved the hard base, and catchy lyrics, so we rocked to that. Then came "I'm ****in you Tonight", this song went too far.  Although it was cleaned up for the radio, it was a turn in explicit lyrics and considered acceptable. R-Kelly pushed the limits and we let it ride and even though were songs from the R that were positive, his sexually explicit lyrics have given way to videos that are more pornographic in nature. 

Many of the videos that are on music television feature women with thongs and leaving virtually nothing to the imagination. There is often simulated sex, or the illusion that a sexual act is going to occur. When I was coming up videos used to be interpretation of the lyrics and thoughts expressed in the music, a way to showcase the artist, the music videos have become more and more outrageous in their depiction of women and violence, mostly fantasy from the mind of the "artist". It's been about ten years and yes R-Kelly and PDiddy are still talking about the same thing. They have not evolved, now others who are up and coming are trying to emulate what they consider successful rappers because they are the ones getting the constant air play. 

I am not saying there is not an artistic way to talk about sex or violence in music, there are also many positive rappers, some curse some don't, Andre3000, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Lauren Hill, Will Smith, etc.  I have no hang ups about language, sometimes you might need to call someone a hoe or a b**tch if that's how you really feel about them, but if every woman is a b**tch, and every guy is a nigga, then to me you have just reduced the entire group to an offensive slur, and that can never be good. Imagine if Latinos referred to each other only as "spics" or Jewish people walked around saying "what's up kike".  It is ridiculous. We can try to say we are taking back the word and turning it into something positive. The fact is that the words nigga and hoe are intrinsically negative words. The definitions are negative in nature, you can't have a positive perspective when you are using words like that. Plus I don't want nigga(nigger) be a regular part of my vocabulary. 

By the way the men of Hip Hop are not the only ones objectifying women. The women of Hip Hop have also chimed in, their videos are mimicking their male counterparts, with the same backdrop, the mansion, the pool, the bikini girls, the guy in his underwear's, the cars, the ice. Female rappers and R&B singers often appear scantily clad in their own videos and are usually advertising their sexual abilities. The obsession with material possessions and sex, has permeated and the influence can no longer be denied.

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