I humbly apologize for last week’s absence…I was fortunate enough to be offered money by the Carbondale, Illinois chapter of the NAACP to facilitate a hip-hop forum entitled “Message Behind the Music” at my alma mater, Southern Illinois University. I also did a show in the ‘Dale while I was there, to try to capitalize off of my dwindling name recognition in my old stomping grounds. The forum went great.
Check out the blurb in the local paper:
(Please disregard the whole “Teacher at UCLA” thing. I volunteer-teach at a community program funded by UCLA. That’s why student reporters don’t get paid…)
Students analyze lyrical content in hip-hop songs
Behind the beats and behind the medley of today’s popular hip-hop songs lie lyrics that are saturated with sexual and offensive content. The SIUC chapter of the NAACP and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity presented a public forum Tuesday night in the Recreation Center’s Alumni Room on the “Message behind the Music.” Led by SIUC alumnus Michael Eagle, many students discussed the tendency of hip-hop artists, past and present, to create distasteful and degrading music.
“We need to have an understanding of the music in that what people see and hear can shape what they think,” Eagle said. Eagle, who graduated from the University in 2003, teaches at UCLA’s 4 Real Hop Institute. In weekly sessions, the program instructs teenagers to analyze the underlining meaning of popular songs.
Eagle also spoke about Essence magazine’s recent progressive attempts toward holding artists accountable for what they write in their songs. The magazine’s campaign, “Take Back the Music,” was launched in January. From the overly sexed lyrics to portraying an ideal type for women, hip-hop music has had questionable content since the 1980s. The students at the forum listened to and analyzed several hip-hop songs of the past and present. Those songs included Slick Rick’s “Indian Girl,” which chronicled the rape of a Native American woman; 2 Live Crew’s infamous “Me So Horny” and the Triville song “Some Cut.”
SIUC student Tracie Williams said sex is just a part of culture and always will be. “It’s human nature,” said Williams, a junior from Chicago studying education. “We are sexual beings, but what is lacking is a sense of creativity in the songs created.”
Williams also said she longs for the days of artists like The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. They sang songs that were sexy, she said, without being over-the-top.
“I would like to move backwards to the times of classic R&B,” she said. Amanda Betts, a junior from Chicago studying advertising, said some recording artists today fail to take into account that young children will be listening to their lyrics and mimicking their musical videos. “Kids don’t know what the song is talking about,” Betts said. “And they are singing along.”
Betts said she does not always listen to what a song says when she first listens to it.
“I always listen to the music first,” she said. “And then I go back to what it says, and sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh my god.’ Instead of hearing the music, we should listen to its message.”
Kelly Williams, a junior from Chicago studying psychology, is the vice president and programming chairwoman for the NAACP. She said the event started as a way to bring social awareness to an issue in pop culture. “We just wanted to talk about the substance on the radio that promotes sexism and degrades women,” Williams said.
Williams also said just because something is popular in music or on television does not mean one has to follow suit. “You don’t have to buy into that,” she said. “You don’t have to be half-dressed or anything like that. We have to be careful for our youth because they could be buying into that.”
We had a packed house and a very energetic audience, and from what I’m to understand, everyone came away with something. The show, however? Not so great. I guess someone forgot to tell the black people that the prodigal son had returned…
…and that kinda got me to thinking.
Why is it that every show that I do or attend is primarily patronized by Latinos and Asians?
I’m all for a multi-cultural hip-hop audience, but I can’t help but notice that over the last ten years, the number of young black folks that pay attention to underground hip-hop has fallen drastically.
In the mid-nineties, since mainstream rap outlets were more accommodating to different styles of hip-hop, your average joe was more informed about the unkempt and non-gangsta acts that dwell somewhat beneath the surface.
I mean it wasn’t too long ago that A Tribe Called Quest had a platinum album, Heltah Skeltah had a couple of videos in heavy rotation on BET, and the Wu-Tang clan were selling out stadiums.
Now the radio airwaves and video shows are less willing to take a chance on a non-crunk clip. So I imagine that the mainstream heads think that this all there is. But why is it just my fellow “negro” mainstream heads that feel that way?
It’s mad apparent out here in LA, too. Every week there’s a world famous hip-hop open mic spot called Project Blowed. It’s probably the livest three dollar hip-hop show in the universe and its located smack dab in the middle of South LA. But if you were to go around the corner and ask a patron of the also-famous Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza if they’ve ever heard of the Blowed they’d more than likely think you were askin about some chronic.
When I asked some of the cali-bred emcees about this phenomenon, I was told that it was the “Hollywood” syndrome. They say that most folks out here would rather wait in line for some New York head comin’ in from out of town than to go around the corner and check for some local unsigned hype. And I guess that’s all fine and dandy, but then why the hell is it also like that in Carbondale, IL?
I for one, think that the reason that most of my peer group has lost interest is because the majority of us aren’t fans of the music, but rather fans of the personas that rappers create for themselves.
From the superstar rappers that grace TV screens every afternoon, to local acts like myself, I listen to the way that rap fans talk about emcees and I get the feeling that audiences feel like they develop a genuine rapport with the performers.
It really hit me when I asked some of the people that used to faithfully attend the underground hip-hop show in C-dale why it was that they had stopped coming. They said, “We used to come see you and some of the other people that we knew, but now it’s boring”.
Hmmm…that’s interesting. Because from my understanding they’ve been booking some of most talented emcees from New York and elsewhere since we bounced. It makes sense, though. I used to always wonder why certain folks attended spoken word performances and hip-hop shows religiously but if you asked them what anybody that had performed had actually said they wouldn’t be able to tell you. I guess they weren’t there to listen. They were there to cheer people that they already knew (or thought that they did) and vibe along with catchy hooks.
In a sense, I’ve been guilty of this, too. I was at a barbershop in Carbondale just last week, having a conversation about the business decisions of 50 Cent, Nas, Fat Joe, the Game, and Memphis Bleek. We were talking about these characters like they were real people that we knew. We were arguing over the motivations of their actions like we had some kind of understanding of the inner workings of these individual minds based solely on songs that they had made or interviews that are designed to sell more units by reinforcing the on-stage persona.
This illusion is created in part by an assumption that is central to hip-hop music. This is the assumption that a rapper is whatever he says he is on a record. This is the illusion that rap is based on. It’s the fact that makes rap so effective and also the inherent aesthetic that makes it so limited. It’s the reason that most emcees write the same rap with rearranged words. It’s also the reason that many who live outside of the ghetto are scared as hell to ever go there.
It’s the reason that no mainstream rapper could ever make even a “fictional” song about homosexuality. It’s also the reason that rappers are more likely than any other kind of musical entertainer (except maybe professional wrestlers) to cross over into acting, hell they’ve been practicing it their entire career.
I’m tempted to say that it’s the reason that there’s a gunfight every time 50 drops a record. But for me to believe that Curtis Jackson is NOT really 50 Cent is to suffer under the same illusion that fans of his may be suffering from: the illusion that I somehow know who he is. All that I can really say for certain is that this illusion is what makes him a household name. In a way, he gets over the same way that George W. Bush or even Bill Clinton did. They each invested enough time in a fictional character to allow it to strike a chord with the public without ever having to be in their presence. Interestingly enough, exploitation of people’s belief in these characters can be translated into record sales, popular votes, television ratings, and even web-site hits…
I received an e-mail recently that really reinforced this idea of illusions in popular media and the emotional effect that operating under these illusions may have on one’s psyche. Take a look at this letter written by reader Richard C. See if you can pick out which illusions he may be operating under, then see if you can pick out which ones he thinks I may be operating under. I’ll tell you one thing, he’s right about at least two of ’em.
This is what Richard thought of my attack on Will Smith:
You’re racist views are what’s sad about this.
First and foremost, I hope you’ve heard the current album. If not, then this little “report” is as worthless as your opinion on hip-hop or any song Will Smith has recorded. If you had heard the album, or any of Will Smith’s/Fresh Prince’s albums, you would know that trying to “convince anyone that there’s any gangsta between them ears” is the last thing Will has ever tried to do.
Unless you are implying that to stand up for oneself, in any way, requires one to be a gun-toting, drug-running, brainwashed bafoon; if that’s what you’re saying than not only is your opinion of hip-hop an ignorant one, but you’re borderline racist…and perhaps mildly retarded.
Look, this song, as with most of his album, isn’t about being hard, it’s about taking a stand. No where in that song, or in Will’s current album Lost & Found, does he try to be something he’s not. His album is about questioning his culture about what it finds important. Is violence necessary? Is misogyny necessary? Will Smith has been on a silent lead-by-example crusade against the ignorance and self-destructive nature of mainstream “gangsta rap” since his inception as an emcee. He’s been fighting against those, like yourself, who feel that hip-hop is about gangstas, thugs, pimps and hoes. Will asks, “can hip-hop be about the regular guy?” And the answer, of course, is yes! It needs to be. Hip hop needs to grow up. Will Smith led the way for mainstream artists with his 1997 Big Willie Style song “Just the two of us.” With that song, hip-hop became a father. It recognized the importance of responsibility. And with rappers like Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem and LL Cool J following suit with the “grown and sexy” trend…hip hop may not be doomed to death like we had once feared.
Will is also questioning our idea of Blackness. Calling Will Smith “Whitebread” just proves you are one of the many brainwashed children of racism who believe that blackness is somehow synonymous with social deviance. Will Smith, the God-fearing man who had children AFTER he was married, avoids violence, promotes education and responsibility in music and entertainment HAS to be White, right? Cause Black people are ignorant cap peeling gutter trash, right? Check out Lost and Found’s “I Wish I Made That” for further expansion on this, rarely touched on, hip-hop topic.
It’s a shame that Will Smith gets the flack that he does. It’s also very telling of the still present racial undertones in American entertainment. Only in this society could Will Smith go to war with Columbia Pictures, insisting that they cast a Black woman for his love interest in Hitch and then, when they refused, get them to cast a woman of color and still can be called “Whitebread,” meanwhile Eminem wears wave caps like blackface and Paris Hilton is pointing out “dumb niggers” like they were French shoes.
Now we’re bending the rules of what’s “ill” just to take away Will’s right to stand up for himself and his wife; even if he does so non-violently? The song is nice. His album is better. Get a clue poser.
Now my immediate emotional reaction was to call the guy a douchebag and a d*ck rider, but after I allowed what he wrote to sink in, I realized that in his douchebagged-ness he managed to make a couple of points. One of which is that there is some prejudice in my sentiments toward Mr. Smith. In that I think that he caters towards a white rap audience. Since he chooses not to speak on any of the drama he incurs being a black man despite being a rich one. But it’s just as likely that he actually tries to make good records for mature hip-hop heads and that his talent is just lost on me. That much I’m willing to admit.
Now this business about Will Smith the silent revolutionary you can just miss me with. I hardly think “Getting’ Jiggy With It” will inspire anyone to buck the materialistic trends if the industry. Again, this is me being judgemental, but if you believe in something you’ve got to draw the line for yourself somewhere. And to me, going from shiny suits and CGI aliens to wife beaters and wristbands screams of a rapper trying to follow the trends in rap rather than change them. But that’s just a (fictional) bitter b-boy’s opinion.
And speaking of illusions…check this shit, out:
WHY I THINK SHE MIGHT BE THE ONE
In this portion of my column, I’ll give you guys a peek into my private affairs. I’ll give you one reason every week why the new lady in my life…just…might…be…the ONE.
This week’s episode…
No witty quips or beautifully awkward moments this week. Just that she gives me the inspiration to be a man and not risk what we have by f*cking around with other chicks even when they throw the ooch at me. It gets no realer than that. If ever any of you gets the chance to hear common’s new album. Listen to the track titled “Faithful” and hear him say it better than me.
And that about does it…
This column had been brought to you by Carbondale, IL., angry readers, Curtis Jackson, Lonnie Rasheed Lynn, Miss Lanoix and the number Seven.
Til next week, cop a cigar for your boy…
…”it’s for the look, I don’t light it…”