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Responsible Hip-Hop

There are significant black speakers and leaders in the community that are not getting their due. I don’t necessarily mean Al Sharpton and the usual suspects. I know there is probably someone in your community that is a local activist for civil rights like Alvin Sykes, for instance, in Kansas City, MO. Their missions are always geared to help uplift the Black community and the community at large. Unfortunately their platform typically doesn’t extend beyond their local evening news shows. They are usually unsung on a national level. Just think, a lot of people hadn’t even heard of Barrack Obama until he was considered a probable presidential candidate.

By contrast, a national platform is allotted to music artists. Be it through marketing or word of mouth. They are almost effortlessly delivered to the listening public via the internet, free mixtapes, the radio and video shows. This is a great communications network that reaches its audience regardless of social standing, despite economic status and, most importantly, regardless of age. That said, it is highly important for us and the artists making the music to consider what message they are sending.

WIse Intellect of Poor Righteous Teachers speaks on the influence of hip-hop in the Black community.

It’s easy for artists to say they are keeping it real and singing or rapping about their experiences. It’s clear that publicists have helped craft responses that they think legitimize the guns, violence, drugs and disrespect of women that is the core of today’s music. We’ve heard rappers refer to themselves as “street reporters” that don’t condone what they see but feel the need to provide insight into the ghetto. I call bullshit. Half the time they aren’t reporting on sh*t. Nine times out of ten, artists portray THEMSELVES as the ones dealing drugs or perpetrating crimes. Negative elements in the community are touted as the default go to move growing up in the 'hood. Like "of course, I sold drugs. What else could I do?" or "my moms was on drugs so I had to rob to get mine". Simplified examples of course, but these messages are on repeat daily.

Dear artists (and I use that term loosely),

There is a point where you choose to talk about slapping hoes and running trains on our daughters or how important money is held over all else. You have to choose to talk about how willing you and/or your goons are to kill anybody. Just, anybody. You actually DECIDE to glorify weighing out cocaine and selling it, or to promise, through song, how lavish life becomes when you deal drugs. It’s a choice to tell our daughters that stripping is a viable path out of poverty that allows them to be REAL bitches and keep their street cred. Oh, and sprinkle in how being the nastiest slut possible for money is the way to be down with the ballers and money crews. These are conscious messages that musicians and artists have to opt in on.

I lived in the projects a few years growing up. Wayne Minor projects in Kansas City. So yeah, I understand there really are drug dealers in the hood. Doesn’t mean you have to make selling drugs sound like it’s simply the thing to do or that drug dealers are simply SUPPOSED to be part of the landscape. Nobody in the limelight raps about not wanting them in their neighborhoods or about how many people lose their lives and families to the plague that drugs bring to a community. I don’t think I’ve heard a song lately about college or condoms or peace or community. Or love. Well, maybe love. But the modern day love song has to include how shorty drops it like a stripper, goes both ways and is down to rob and

kill alongside the artist. Plus, all imagery, by default, requires the central star sagging with a fair portion of their ass showing at all times. Females included; thong optional. So, the ongoing themes in hip hop are…

a) Crime is cool.

b) Being a criminal kingpin in the hood translates to success

c) School is for suckers and squares.

d) Going to jail is honorable and earns you stripes in the ghetto

e) Artists find a way to confess to state and federal crimes to a beat with no consequences

This imagery is delivered unfiltered to our children. We, as adults, do have an obligation to protect our kids from as much of the profanity-laced diatribe as possible; and rappers are quick to point that out. “I ain’t no role model” or “The parents should be the ones watching their kids, not me” are common responses from hip hop artists when put under the microscope. But, if you’re really from the ‘hood, you already know how many single parent homes there are where kids are often left to their own devices for day to day survival; so nobody’s looking when they are deciding what artists they will listen to or look up to. Regardless of how artists want to divest themselves of responsibility there is a role they play. It’s not rocket science when you, the artist, think back to how you wanted to be the people you saw on television and in the movies. You have to recall how you adjusted your swagger in some measure from the influence of the music around you, the images presented to you AND the parenting you received, if any. Some of y'all know you wore Hammer pants and rocked the Gumbie haircut. You have to acknowledge that, at some point, you listened less to your parent(s) and went more your own route. You may even have paid more attention to what your friends and your idols were doing than what your parents were saying. And you are more likely from an era where your parents were given more credence than parents today. Soooooo, yeah. You’re culpable. What you contribute to society is an ingredient to what overall society becomes. In whatever degree you’re willing to admit it, it happens. People emulate the reality they glean from the TV and music they’re exposed to.

So when you get a message that, God forbid, a relative has been gunned down or your mom has been robbed or worse, just know that you are partly responsible for the current circumstance. Partly, yes; but responsible, also yes.

It’s a story whose ending can gradually be changed by altering the message. Simple as that. Someone has to have the guts to be the first to make hip hop respectable again. To create the national message that there is a choice we make to kill and steal and destroy our communities. A choice to kill our community members fast, through murders and violence, or slowly, through drugs. I say, it can be done. Artists, please keep the banging beats, the clever wordplay, the live performances, the rock star swagger, the free mixtapes, hell, maybe even keep the monkeyshine gold chains… but change the message. The message has got to go. The message kills. The payoff for the message only benefits you; and at what cost? You have control of the message. But radio program directors, producers, and labels have a responsibility too. Well, I know the record labels are pretty much scumbags but still… artists, it’s YOUR message regardless of who is pulling your strings. Have some $%@# integrity. Believe me, your fans are open to it. Someone has to make the first move.

With today’s technology, it’s not even REQUIRED to bow to the will of major labels in order to get your message out. As I stated before, the internet makes artists far more accessible these days without the requirement of a major label to manufacture and distribute their product. Artists don’t usually even press CDs or vinyl any longer so mp3 downloads have been the state of the art for some time now. If you’re about your business you already know this. All you need is a computer, an internet connection and some clever ideas to market yourself and you can do the same things record labels are now doing for their artists. The playing field is level so there is no excuse for perpetuating the modern day Minstrel cycle that is hip hop. You don’t have to sell out your message to get the coveted record deal. Now, artists make garbage by choice. All the ‘hood anthems and strip clubbery (new word for y’all) and the fake “brand new dance” songs and videos, the drug dealing

and fish scales, the gunplay and the robbery after robbery after murder after robbery is your choice. You don’t HAVE to sell out... you just do it anyway.

And let’s be 100 about it, ¾ of y’all are lying anyway!!!

V. Ray




real quick...

Readers may wonder why I'm always going after rappers and hip-hop. The answer is simple. I'm a HUGE FAN of hip-hop. Hip-hop, like jazz, the Blues and a few other art forms, is ours. Created in and derived from the Black community. It used to be our way of speaking out on issues, raising social awareness and inspiring consciousness and just renewing the point that we are a fertile source of cultural growth in American society. In its short existence, it was once a source of empowerment and pride.

The current state of hip-hop gives me the feeling I get when I watch us rioting and tearing up our own communities on TV. How we tear down our own sh-t and, in the process, discredit ourselves. We have turned something Black folks once considered beautiful into something most hate so see coming; turned poetry to poison. To me, modern hip hop is like having a junkie in the family. That cousin that used to be the cutest litle boy or girl growing up that's now a corrupt version of something once viable that's now only dirty, ragged and pitiable. Rap used to be a force to be reckoned with. Congress used to try to shut down rap and rap shows when the narrative was "fight the power". With the destructive messages in hip-hop now, you don't hear jack.

I'm old enough to say that I was around when hip-hop first came on the scene. I've seen the progression from party songs to social commentary to blueprints for destruction of an impressionable generation. I loved hardcore hip-hop when it came along in the form of Kurupt and Cube, Notorious B.I.G., N.W.A. (the original few records), and Death Row Records. I was with it. But with the new commentary they ushered in, you could see the mindset of the Black teen start to change. Gangbanging became the in thing. Blue and Red scarves and sagging started showing up in Arkansas and Idaho. Pics started surfacing of kids in their rags posing with guns and money. All with a soundtrack of instructions from the hot artist of the moment. Today, no one blinks an eye over this as the culture has just accepted this as just how we do. So my coming to this attitude was not overnight.

It's now obvious that no good can come from daily bombardment of messages, from radio and video idols, mind you, of how a willingness to kill, rob and deal drugs is the mindstate of choice. To our kids and adults alike. And the world is watching as we wallow in bullsh-t and uplift money, drugs, strippers, killing, scamming the system, etc. etc. ad nauseam. I'm not saying if a kid robs a store, blame Wiz or Kanye. But rappers have to take ownership of their role in shaping Black culture. I won't even go into how rap is now being auctioned off or how Black rappers aren't even the top or most respected in their own art form sometimes. (Cue Elvis and The Beach Boys)

So yeah, as responsible as I hold rappers for their message and steering cultural attitude, I hold them to the task of hitting their turn signals and taking things in a different direction. It's time for a new generation of artists that bring something different to the table. To aspiring artists, I beg you.. take control of your music and change the conversation. Don't let record companies dictate your content. You don't even have to say something positive, for starters, just stop saying all this mindless, destructive sh-t. And throw in some original flows while you're in the booth. Straight up.

A die-hard hip-fop fan,


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