What should I be doing instead of this?
Home · Articles · Music · The Ledge · The Reclamation

The Reclamation

The Positive Side of Hip Hop

By Kevin Britton · January 26th, 2005 · The Ledge
Brian Vanaski

"Not a thug, not a drug seller, not a gun shooter/Not a stripper, sex symbol or anything you're used to."
-- Jean Grae

On "Shine," a track from Jadakiss' 2004 Kiss of Death album, Calvin Broadus (aka Snoop Dogg) says, "Once you get that ho, you can rip her lining out."

Now the real shocker: I am actually in favor of Snoop's "right" to suggest such a vile act. The moment we begin supporting censorship, we risk losing the raw, politically-charged anger of dead prez and Immortal Technique along with Snoop's more irresponsible, weed-induced lyrics.

But because Snoop has the right doesn't make it right. And we don't have to buy it (or buy into it).

Fortunately, I'm not the only one who recognizes the need to begin holding artists accountable for what they say. Essence Magazine's 2005 "Take Back the Music" campaign will examine the consistently negative portrayal of women in Hip Hop music. The year-long initiative will also include conversations with industry insiders (video directors, choreographers, label execs and artists) as well as dialogue about the impact that these images have on consumers.

Now, why didn't I think of that?

I support Essence Magazine's efforts and have long considered this to be one of the major cultural battles we'll see in our time.

Over the last 10 years, we've witnessed countless debates about sexuality and violence in Hip Hop culture; we've also seen senate committee hearings, CD bonfires, lawsuits, Hip Hop summits, town hall meetings and useless attempts to boycott an industry that generates over 10 billion dollars in annual revenue.

I can assure you that any business entity generating that type of cheddar is only going to offer more of the same thing. Change -- in my opinion -- will have to come from within.

There are those who believe that as long as there is strong, consistent parental and community involvement, music has little influence on the type of lifestyle a person decides to adopt. Perhaps I represent an example of this theory -- in fact, I'll let you in on a little secret: Back in "the day," Dr. Dre's The Chronic was one of my favorite albums. Despite this startling fact, I have yet to refer to a woman as a "ho" or a "trick." Mom and Dad raised me better than that.

But having alternatives probably didn't hurt. Once I grew tired of Dre, Snoop, Daz and company, I could switch gears and listen to any number of artists and groups representing a much more positive listening experience. Today, the negative images in music and video are so pervasive that few, if any, readily available commercial alternatives exist.

In the past I've been quick to blame record labels for irresponsible lyrical content; however, it's becoming more obvious that the faceless entity we refer to as "The Industry" is merely eavesdropping while we carelessly toss about negative, worn stereotypes of urban femininity. (Watch BET's Comic View one evening, and you'll quickly see what I mean.) The Industry simply recycles what it sees and hears, adds a bouncing track, a few catchy lyrics and a hit single is born! Or, alternatively put, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Malcolm X once said that the only revolution would be a revolution of the mind. We need to momentarily step outside of the entertainment realm and re-evaluate the way we perceive women in our communities. Eventually, perhaps, this type of music and the way of thinking that accompanies it will become "un-cool" to the 45 million consumers who represent Hip Hop's greatest purchasing demographic.

Those of us who "are" Hip Hop (as KRS-One would suggest) are the only ones with the power to regain control of our music and hold artists accountable for their lyrics and the images they project. So the next time Jadakiss steps into the studio, he needs to think long and hard about the artists on his collaborations list while understanding that the tone and direction of his lyrics could directly impact his record sales.

After all, at the end of the day, isn't this really about the C.R.E.A.M.?

Ask Nelly. In 2004 the St. Louis-based rapper had to cancel a performance at Atlanta's Spelman College due to planned protests over the manner in which women were portrayed in his videos. According to Asha Jennings, the head of Spelman's Student Government Organization, the protest was a response to The Industry's characterization of women as "over-sexed, non-intelligent human beings." Nelly, whose name is also attached to the products Pimp Juice and Apple Bottom Jeans, certainly isn't the only artist with these types of videos in rotation. Yet the message is clear: There is a war being waged, and Nelly happened to be one of the first casualties.

This revolution won't be televised either. Whose side will you be on?

KEVIN BRITTON writes about Hip Hop music and its impact on popular culture. His column appears monthly in CityBeat.


comments powered by Disqus