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

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4 Comments on “Deaf Jam: Dialogue About Hip Hop Problems Not New, Just Not Listened To”

  1. citybeat Says:

    He is much to modest to point this out, but I’d like to note that Kevin’s CityBeat column, The Ledge, talked about these very issues for over four yearsm starting in 2003. Check out his back-columns here: http://www.citybeat.com/authors/kevinbritton.shtml


  2. The problem is cruelty in our society. Institutionalized culturally based cruelty. Indiscriminate cruelty for its own sake. On hearing the case (allegedly put forth by Snoop Dogg in defense of his own misogynistic lyrics) that these particular women, the basketball players should not have been spoken about that way, Brooks said with sad derision, “We can only step on the downtrodden.”

  3. The Negro Agitator Says:

    Blame the victim is the societal response to every assault on Black people. The words and actions of some misguided, self-hating rappers – aided and abetted, nay bought and paid for by mostly non-Black, money hungry, souless record executives – have now equipped society with the “They do it to each other so don’t look at me?” excuse. Nevermind the fact that every sentiment expressed by Imus and those of his ilk predates “hip hop” and “rap” by at least, what, a couple hundred years? It’s the Black-On-Black Crime Defense. Black people rightfully protest police brutality and the societal response – coming from misguided Black people even – is to launch into a discussion about “Black on Black” crime. Huh? Where is the correlation? I guess the violent actions of a small, albeit unacceptable, percentage of the Black community renders the entire popluation fair game for insitutionalized mistreatment by Whites and others. The overwhelming majority of violent crimes are intra-racial – yet I have never hear anyone using the existence of White-on-White crime or Asian-on-Asian crime to justify general mistreatment of Whites or Asians based on membership in their respective racial gruop. Maybe I’ll just join the chorus instead of ranting. The next time I hear complaints of how affirmative action displaces white males I’ll just tell the aggreieved that before we can truly discuss how affirmative action negatively impacts white males we’re going to have to discuss how we can get them to stop going into schools and killing their white classmates…… Everybody raise your Kool Aid glasses!

  4. citybeat Says:

    Great points Jackie and Agitator. People, with big help from the media, seem to need to put “blame” in a nice, easy package. I’m waiting to see what tangent the Virigina Tech shooting takes our “national dialogue.” I’ve already heard it’s all Hollywood’s and video games’ fault. If the shooter turns out the be a hip hop fan, hold tight, because we’ll be going back to the “Rap music is destroying society” argements, pronto.

    I wrote a bit about society’s co-opting of hip hop as scapegoat earlier this year: https://citybeat.wordpress.com/2007/02/22/hip-hop-poison-art-or-slam-dunk-sweeps-stunt/

    I highly, highly recomend seeking out the PBS film mentioined in that piece, called Beyond Beats and Rhymes. It is an amazing deconstruction of hip hop’s internal problems and how they are damaging, but it’s not done in a finger-pointing way. It’s coming from a lifelong hip hop fan’s perspective, somebody who is frustrated with where it’s at and where it’s going.

    Here’s the film’s Web site: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/hiphop/ I strongly urge you to check it out.

    – breen


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