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Music Ain't the Answer

The Positive Side of Hip Hop

By Kevin Britton · May 31st, 2006 · The Ledge
C. Matthew Hamby

"We need some unity, to bring together you and me..."

-- Colonel Abrams

On May 3, 2006, I was miserably late to work.

But this time, I had an excuse -- one nearly too far-fetched to explain.

By now, we've all heard the accounts of the deadly shootout between Atlanta rapper T.I.'s entourage and unknown Cincinnati assailants following his appearance at Bogart's nightclub earlier this month. It has been reported that T.I.'s camp descended upon Club Ritz for an after-party and exchanged words with locals who were offended after money was thrown in their direction.

After T.I. (born Clifford Harris) and his entourage left the club in their vans, the group of offended locals allegedly followed them to southbound Interstate 75 as passengers in both vehicles exchanged gunfire at around 3 a.m.

In fairness to T.I., all accounts suggest that he and his crew did the responsible thing and attempted to avoid the incident by quickly leaving the after party. Tragically, T.I.'s longtime friend and personal assistant, Philant Johnson, was struck by a bullet and later died as a result of the melee.

Hours later, my daughter and I were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on southbound I-71 (morning commuters on I-75 had been redirected to other highways) listening to a corny, know-it-all AM traffic reporter make wisecracks about the shooting and the resulting traffic delays (i.e., "that's one way to get the lead out") while police investigated the crime scene.

Weeks earlier, a coworker had asked me if I planned to attend the event. I declined, imagining that something like this could happen.

I don't gloss over Hip Hop with the same broad brush-strokes that many cultural critics use as they point to the growing violence and alienation in our communities. To wit: I had gone to see KRS-One perform several weeks earlier and the most I was worried about was being accidentally kicked by a break-dancer.

But I had a sneaking suspicion that lyrics like " ... if I show up in yo' hood, I bet you ... won't trip/Once I empty out this clip, I bet you ... gon' dip" might have the potential to bring out the worst in envious onlookers inclined to act out what's being portrayed in the music.

The morning following the incident, phrases such as "hip hoppers," "rappers," "hoodlums" and "thugs" were comfortably and interchangeably cast about as talk show hosts and callers clicked their tongues in disdain over the unfolding details. I would later hear the same AM-radio types poking fun at T.I.'s televised comments about Johnson's death.

It was only a matter of time before the culture known as Hip Hop would be blamed for the actions of a few ... once again.

And I stand before you at the "crossroads" -- angry, but unsure where that anger needs to be directed.

It would be too simple to rely upon my predictable differentiation between "Hip Hop" and "Rap" by suggesting that this would likely have never happened if Common or Talib Kweli were in town (even though you and I both know it's true). In fact, the positive-Rap duo's recent, free appearance at the University of Cincinnati went off without any major issues. Go figure.

And it's way too easy to blame lyrics about gang warfare, gunplay and drug dealing, though I often wonder whether similar incidents have occurred while Foreign Exchange's "Be Alright" is playing in the background.

The blame lies with grown men who act like children and apparently have no respect for human life. The type of music they embrace -- as abhorrent as it might be -- seems to underscore a problem that has existed (and been ignored) for generations.

Sadly, there is no single "conscious," politically-aware or socially-responsible song that could fix this mess. I'm no longer convinced -- as I have suggested in the past -- that positive, uplifting Hip Hop lyrics would have any meaning to someone willing to chase a car down the highway and open fire, putting their lives and those around them in danger.

Even more disheartening is the possibility that somewhere, someone might be reveling in the fact that they got buck wild and took out one of T.I.'s crew. It seems that publicly disrespecting high-profile rappers is a surefire way to become a street celebrity.

Just ask 50 Cent.

But life goes on. Hip Hop bloggers will angrily denounce the senseless violence while the Bill O'Reilly types will condemn all Hip Hop, everywhere. T.I.'s stock in the Rap game will probably continue to climb and I'll continue writing columns in a vain attempt to raise awareness that not all Hip Hop is characterized by violence, crime and misogyny.


Dead prez members Stic.Man and M-1 were right when they said this is "bigger than Hip Hop."

But we should be way bigger than this.

5 on theledge

· "Made in America" -- T-K.A.S.H This gritty street tale from Paris' Hard Truth Soldiers compilation exposes the truth about violence and lawlessness. Not a pretty picture.

· "Children Don't Play" -- Hezekiah "Who knows what it is that makes kids kill kids?" asks the Philly native on this melancholy Hip Hop/Neo Soul masterpiece.

· "Fallen Angels" -- Mystic One gets the feeling that this Oakland MC has lost more than her share of friends to street violence on this track from her acclaimed LP, Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom.

· "Just a Moment" -- Nas featuring Quan 'Son pays homage to friends, family members and Rap icons who were taken away before their time.

· "Color Purple" -- Saigon In an early mix-tape classic, Saigon asks Bloods and Crips to put down their guns, warning that "we all bleed the same blood through the same veins."



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