By Boyce Watkins, PhD
Last night, I was up watching last year’s Hip-Hop honors on Vh-1. I knew that it wasn’t live, since the rappers T.I. and Gucci Mane weren’t in jail. In fact, I find it interesting that I had to count and remember which artists were incarcerated out of the bunch, since it seems that hip-hop has now made it cool to go to jail, at least for a little while.
As a fan of hip-hop, I enjoyed the music being performed by various artists. I couldn’t, however, help but be disturbed by trends that become more and more apparent to me as I get older. At one point, there were three “interesting” songs performed in a row, one by an artist by the name of “Bone Crusher,” a second performed by Gucci Mane and a third performed by the Ying-Yang Twins. Bone Crusher rapped about “popping the trunk” and killing another “n*gga” who spoke to him disrepsectfully. To be more precise, the lyrics were as follows:
Let a choppa go PLOOOOOOWWW! to yo melon
Now the plasma is oozin outta yo cerebellum
AttenSHUNNNNN! F*ck n*gga, now you swellin
You ain’t talkin hardcore, now is ya? Lil’ b*tch!
He then goes on to mention that he’s “on dat crank and on some of dat drank,” with the drugs apparently fueling the rage that leads him to murder another human being, most likely a fellow black male. Bone Crusher’s imagery of a black man’s brains being splattered on the street made me think about my best friend who was shot in the head right in front of his daughter. The police don’t always send someone to your house to clean up after a homicide, so my friend’s brother had to clean his brains off the floor.
After Bone Crusher, there was Gucci Mane, who performed his song “Wasted.” In the song, he basically tells the audience that everyone should drink as much alcohol as possible, including the fact that we should “Wake up in the morning, 10 o’clock dranking.” The song becomes an anthem, as this “black leader” continuously repeats the chorus, “Party party party, let’s all get wasted.” This song made me think about the young black college students I know who’ve died this semester alone in incidents surrounding excessive alcohol consumption.
Finally, the Ying Yang Twins and Lil Jon performed their song “Get Low,” where they are effectively talking about making “b*tches crawl” in the strip club, and all the nasty things they want to do to them after the night is over. This reminded me of people I know who’ve died of AIDs, some of whom thought it was OK to put their sex organs to use at every available opportunity.
These three songs represent the formula for hip-hop commercial success: Rap about going to the club, getting drunk and/or high, degrading women, and killing another black man. Yes, corporate America has done a good job of training us to destroy ourselves. There is nothing more profitable than genocide.
Most interesting is the fact that the NAACP has jumped on board by promoting artists who use sexist and violent lyrics in their music. Perhaps in their misguided efforts to remain hip and relevant, the NAACP has featured artists like Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj, each of whom is responsible for quite a few objectionable lyrics in their music (I encourage you to look up the lyrics of some of their songs). While the NAACP is not as bad as Vh-1 in condoning anything that comes out of the mouth of an artist, one has to wonder why the organization which stands as our community’s moral compass would agree to such a thing. After all, aren’t they the ones who held a funeral for the n-word just a few years ago? If so, then why are they the first to dig the word back up and sell it to the general public?
The cast of the Tom Joyner Morning Show defended the NAACP, arguing that rewarding hip-hop artists is a way for the organization to remain relevant.
“This is show business…and if you want them (the NAACP) to be prime time, and air their awards show on a major network, then you’re going to have to have the rappers,” said Joyner.
I’ll admit that Joyner’s remarks confuse me, because I never thought that the NAACP’s job was to be “prime time” and on a major network, especially Fox. NAACP leadership never learned that in a capitalist society that once held black people as slaves, money has been a consistent tool of oppression. So, by forming an addiction to the commodity being used to oppress your people, you can become a conductor of the oppression itself.
The battle has come to a head, as the “Enough is Enough” movement has confronted both the NAACP and the Tom Joyner Morning Show for simply accepting the status quo as it pertains to hip-hop. According to Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, MD, the NAACP is going too far with their promotion of hip-hop artists:
“These sad and unfortunate remarks represent a fissure among African-American progressives regarding the appropriateness of glorifying negative images and offensive messages of Black people in the public square. It is quite unfortunate that Mr. Joyner thinks degrading women, using the ‘N’ word, and portraying today’s youth as pimps, gangsters, and thugs has entertainment value.”
When I hear this dialogue in our community, I am reminded of the Opium Wars, an epic battle over trade disputes between England and China that occurred in the middle of the 19th century. The British had found that they could make lots of money by exporting Opium to the Chinese people. As a result, China was inundated with addicts, many of whom had come to accept Opium use as a way of life. Citizens were dying before the age of 50, productivity was at an all-time low, and the foundation of the Chinese family was in serious decay. Many of the Chinese leaders who were once responsible for protecting the people had given in to the financial temptations of compromising their values.
There were, however, leaders in the community who didn’t go along with the crowd. They spoke up about how Opium use was killing the community. They even went as far as doing anything it took to stop the trade of Opium within the borders of their home country. Because they hadn’t become dependent on money being provided by the British, these leaders were free to speak honestly about the problems of Opium use. If they had not taken a stand, I wonder if China would be the powerful nation that it is today.
Perhaps when it’s all said and done, we must reflect deeply on the cultural double-standard that exists within hip-hop. The death and destruction of African Americans is being mass marketed to our community, where kids are being told to get high and drunk at every available opportunity, to kill one another, to have promiscuous sex and to engage in other forms of irresponsible behavior. When we see our kids letting their pants sag, getting tatoos from head to toe, engaging in the use of drugs and embracing violent behavior, do we blame the youth for their behavior or do we blame their elders for failing to confront the music that is brainwashing them?
One would expect that the most righteous within our community, meaning the NAACP, would be first in line to say that these messages are not good for any of us. Instead, we are left feeling that the NAACP is more concerned about appearing to be cool, wealthy and hip than they are about serving as guardians of our children’s futures. Mingling with Hollywood superstars can be intoxicating, and some of our leaders are getting just a little bit tipsy.
Let’s be clear: Pastor Coates is right about hip-hop. He admits that he’s a fan of much of the music, but that something must be done to confront the destructive messages. The Anti-Defamation League, which protects the Jewish Community would not, in a million years, host an awards show that promotes artists telling Jews to murder one another, use drugs, have irresponsible sex and waste their money. So, I can only wonder if it is their quest for financial resources that leads the NAACP to promote artists who serve to undermine the values that the organization claims to hold dear.
Three little girls who formed the group “Watoto from the Nile,” recently sang an open letter to the artist Lil Wayne. In their song, they question his behavior, his promotion of drug use and his disrespect for women. While the NAACP has not endorsed Lil Wayne in their awards show, it should be noted that they did nominate Nicki Minaj, an artist whose brand is owned by, performs with and is heavily-associated with Lil Wayne. By speaking up about the problems of hip-hop, these three little girls have shown more courage than the rest of us.
Perhaps we should start listening to the children.