Deaf Jam: Dialogue About Hip Hop Problems Not New, Just Not Listened To
Only in America could you find the name Don Imus and Hip Hop uttered in the same breath.
That the focus of the Don Imus fiasco would soon turn towards Hip Hop music and culture came as little surprise to me. After the acerbic radio and TV talk show host made disparaging, bigoted remarks about the mostly-African-American members of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team (resulting in his firing from MSNBC and CBS), Imus’ supporters predictably asserted that he was merely doing what Hip Hoppers have done for the last 10 years. I never knew he was such a fan!
Indeed, the disrespect of women has become big business in Hip Hop and it’s not uncommon for Rap songs to routinely objectify women or refer to them as “hos” and other deplorable, offensive names.
However, in no uncertain terms, Imus was wrong and his firing (or public stoning, as one supporter referred to recent events) was well-deserved. Furthermore, I predict that it won’t be long before pill-popping Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage and others will have to answer for their equally hateful remarks.
Yet, Imus’ comments and the subsequent reevaluation of Hip Hop music does encourage serious introspection into how and why our music and culture is unique in the fact that — as a form of entertainment — so much emphasis is placed on the destruction (figuratively speaking or otherwise) of black femininity. After generations of love, nurturing, guidance and support, it would seem that our most visible and prevalent art form (Hip Hop) would celebrate black womanhood. Instead, the vast majority of commercially popular rappers and producers use their talents to verbally destroy African American women and girls.
What Imus said is neither surprising, nor very newsworthy in my estimation. However, the fact that Imus and his supporters can swiftly turn the tables on a multi-billion dollar industry (Hip Hop) that is guilty of the same thing is both ironic and unsettling.
That the media focus has been shifted to Hip Hop is, at best, a thinly-veiled attempt to cover up the housecleaning that needs to take place within the jocular, good-old-boy network that comprises the quasi-news/talk/shock jock format. Don’t drink the Kool Aid.
And, speaking of Hip Hop, few in the mainstream media care to recall that ESSENCE Magazine launched a year-long Take Back the Music campaign in 2005 aimed at addressing the manner in which women were depicted in videos and music. Other efforts to address the prevalence of negative images in our music include:
• Conrad B. Tillard (formerly Conrad Muhammad) founded A Movement for CHHANGE (Conscious Hip-Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment) in the late ’90s to encourage political activism within the Hip Hop community.
• The women of Atlanta’s Spelman University forced rapper Nelly to cancel a scheduled concert after protesting his demeaning lyrics and the video for his “Tip Drill” single.
• Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa recently issued a Ten Point Platform aimed at regaining control of our urban radio airwaves.
• The underground rapper NYOIL has launched a verbal assault on rappers and their liberal use of violent, misogynistic lyrics and images. His recently posted YouTube video, “You’re a Queen,” celebrates the strength and beauty of African-American women.
No, this is not a new conversation. But it apparently takes the words and actions of a crotchety, 66-year old shock jock to launch a nationwide dialogue about something that true school Hip Hop heads have been discussing for the last 10 or more years.
Thanks, Don. Only in America.
— Kevin Britton