How Hip-Hop Holds
Blacks Back

By John H. McWhorter
City Journal

Not long ago, I was having lunch in a KFC in Harlem, sitting near eight African-American boys, aged about 14. Since 1) it was 1:30 on a school day, 2) they were carrying book bags, and 3) they seemed to be in no hurry, I assumed they were skipping school. They were extremely loud and unruly, tossing food at one another and leaving it on the floor.
Black people ran the restaurant and made up the bulk of the customers, but it was hard to see much healthy "black community" here. After repeatedly warning the boys to stop throwing food and keep quiet, the manager finally told them to leave. The kids ignored her. Only after she called a male security guard did they start slowly making their way out, tauntingly circling the restaurant before ambling off. These teens clearly weren't monsters, but they seemed to consider themselves exempt from public norms of behavior - as if they had begun to check out of mainstream society.
What struck me most, though, was how fully the boys' musichard-edged rap, preaching bone-deep dislike of authorityprovided them with a continuing soundtrack to their antisocial behavior. So completely was rap ingrained in their consciousness that every so often, one or another of them would break into cocky, expletive-laden rap lyrics, accompanied by the angular, bellicose gestures typical of rap performance. A couple of his buddies would then join him. Rap was a running decoration in their conversation.
Many writers and thinkers see a kind of informed political engagement, even a revolutionary potential, in rap and hip-hop. They couldn't be more wrong. By reinforcing the stereotypes that long hindered blacks, and by teaching young blacks that a thuggish adversarial stance is the properly "authentic" response to a presumptively racist society, rap retards black success.
The venom that suffuses rap had little place in black popular culture - indeed, in black attitudes - before the 1960s. The hip-hop ethos can trace its genealogy to the emergence in that decade of a black ideology that equated black strength and authentic black identity with a militantly adversarial stance toward American society. In the angry new mood, captured by Malcolm X's upraised fist, many blacks (and many more white liberals) began to view black crime and violence as perfectly natural, even appropriate, responses to the supposed dehumanization and poverty inflicted by a racist society. Briefly, this militant spirit, embodied above all in the Black Panthers, infused black popular culture, from the plays of LeRoi Jones to "blaxploitation" movies, like Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which celebrated the black criminal rebel as a hero.
But blaxploitation and similar genres burned out fast. The memory of whites blatantly stereotyping blacks was too recent for the typecasting in something like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song not to offend many blacks. Observed black historian Lerone Bennett: "There is a certain grim white humor in the fact that the black marches and demonstrations of the 1960s reached artistic fulfillment" with "provocative and ultimately insidious reincarnations of all the Sapphires and Studds of yesteryear."
Early rap mostly steered clear of the Sapphires and Studds, beginning not as a growl from below but as happy party music. The first big rap hit, the Sugar Hill Gang's 1978 "Rapper's Delight," featured a catchy bass groove that drove the music forward, as the jolly rapper celebrated himself as a ladies' man and a great dancer. Soon, kids across America were rapping along with the nonsense chorus:
I said a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie, to the hip-hip hop, ah you don't stop the rock it to the bang bang boogie, say up jump the boogie, to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.
A string of ebullient raps ensued in the months ahead. At the time, I assumed it was a harmless craze, certain to run out of steam soon.
But rap took a dark turn in the early 1980s, as this "bubble gum" music gave way to a "gangsta" style that picked up where blaxploitation left off. Now top rappers began to write edgy lyrics celebrating street warfare or drugs and promiscuity. Grandmaster Flash's ominous 1982 hit, "The Message," with its chorus, "It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under," marked the change in sensibility. It depicted ghetto life as profoundly desolate:
You grow in the ghetto, living second rate And your eyes will sing a song of deep hate. The places you play and where you stay Looks like one great big alley way. You'll admire all the numberbook takers, Thugs, pimps and pushers, and the big money makers.
Music critics fell over themselves to praise "The Message," treating it as the poetry of the streets - as the elite media has characterized hip-hop ever since. The song's grim fatalism struck a chord; twice, I've heard blacks in audiences for talks on race cite the chorus to underscore a point about black victimhood. So did the warning it carried: "Don't push me, 'cause I'm close to the edge," menacingly raps Melle Mel. The ultimate message of "The Message" - that ghetto life is so hopeless that an explosion of violence is both justified and imminent - would become a hip-hop mantra in the years ahead.
The angry, oppositional stance that "The Message" reintroduced into black popular culture transformed rap from a fad into a multi-billion-dollar industry that sold more than 80 million records in the U.S. in 2002 - nearly 13 percent of all recordings sold. To rap producers like Russell Simmons, earlier black pop was just sissy music. He despised the "soft, unaggressive music (and non-threatening images)" of artists like Michael Jackson or Luther Vandross. "So the first chance I got," he says, "I did exactly the opposite."
In the two decades since "The Message," hip-hop performers have churned out countless rap numbers that celebrate a ghetto life of unending violence and criminality. Schooly D's "PSK What Does It Mean?" is a case in point:
Copped my pistols, jumped into the ride. Got at the bar, copped some flack, Copped some cheeba-cheeba, it wasn't wack. Got to the place, and who did I see? A sucka-ass nigga tryin to sound like me. Put my pistol up against his head - I said, "Sucka-ass nigga, I should shoot you dead."
The protagonist of a rhyme by KRS-One (a hip-hop star who would later speak out against rap violence) actually pulls the trigger:
Knew a drug dealer by the name of Peter - Had to buck him down with my 9 millimeter.
Police forces became marauding invaders in the gangsta-rap imagination. The late West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur expressed the attitude:
Ya gotta know how to shake the snakes, nigga, 'Cause the police love to break a nigga, Send him upstate 'cause they straight up hate the nigga.
Shakur's anti-police tirade seems tame, however, compared with Ice-T's infamous "Cop Killer":
I got my black shirt on. I got my black gloves on. I got my ski mask on. This shit's been too long. I got my 12-gauge sawed-off. I got my headlights turned off. I'm 'bout to bust some shots off. I'm 'bout to dust some cops off. . . . I'm 'bout to kill me somethin' A pig stopped me for nuthin'! Cop killer, better you than me. Cop killer, fuck police brutality! . . . Die, die, die pig, die! Fuck the police! . . . Fuck the police yeah!
Rap also began to offer some of the most icily misogynistic music human history has ever known. Here's Schooly D again:
Tell you now, brother, this ain't no joke, She got me to the crib, she laid me on the bed, I fucked her from my toes to the top of my head. I finally realized the girl was a whore, Gave her ten dollars, she asked me for some more.
Jay-Z's "Is That Yo Bitch?" mines similar themes:
I don't love 'em, I fuck 'em. I don't chase 'em, I duck 'em. I replace 'em with another one. . . . She be all on my dick.
Or, as N.W.A. (an abbreviation of "Niggers with Attitude") tersely sums up the hip-hop worldview: "Life ain't nothin' but bitches and money."
Rap's musical accompaniment mirrors the brutality of rap lyrics in its harshness and repetition. Simmons fashions his recordings in contempt for euphony. "What we used for melody was implied melody, and what we used for music was sounds - beats, scratches, stuff played backward, nothing pretty or sweet." The success of hip-hop has resulted in an ironic reversal. In the seventies, screaming hard rock was in fashion among young whites, while sweet, sinuous funk and soul ruled the black airwaves - a difference I was proud of. But in the eighties, rock quieted down, and black music became the assault on the ears and soul. Anyone who grew up in urban America during the eighties won't soon forget the young men strolling down streets, blaring this sonic weapon from their boom boxes, with defiant glares daring anyone to ask them to turn it down.
Hip-hop exploded into popular consciousness at the same time as the music video, and rappers were soon all over MTV, reinforcing in images the ugly world portrayed in rap lyrics. Video after video features rap stars flashing jewelry, driving souped-up cars, sporting weapons, angrily gesticulating at the camera, and cavorting with interchangeable, mindlessly gyrating, scantily clad women.
Of course, not all hip-hop is belligerent or profane - entire CDs of gang-bangin', police-baiting, woman-bashing invective would get old fast to most listeners. But it's the nastiest rap that sells best, and the nastiest cuts that make a career. As I write, the top ten best-selling hip-hop recordings are 50 Cent (currently with the second-best-selling record in the nation among all musical genres), Bone Crusher, Lil' Kim, Fabolous, Lil' Jon and the East Side Boyz, Cam'ron Presents the Diplomats, Busta Rhymes, Scarface, Mobb Deep, and Eminem. Every one of these groups or performers personifies willful, staged opposition to society - Lil' Jon and crew even regale us with a song called "Don't Give a Fuck" - and every one celebrates the ghetto as "where it's at." Thus, the occasional dutiful songs in which a rapper urges men to take responsibility for their kids or laments senseless violence are mere garnish. Keeping the thug front and center has become the quickest and most likely way to become a star.
No hip-hop luminary has worked harder than Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, the wildly successful rapper, producer, fashion mogul, and CEO of Bad Boy Records, to cultivate a gangsta image - so much so that he's blurred the line between playing the bad boy and really being one. Combs may have grown up middle-class in Mount Vernon, New York, and even have attended Howard University for a while, but he's proven he can gang-bang with the worst. Cops charged Combs with possession of a deadly weapon in 1995. In 1999, he faced charges for assaulting a rival record executive. Most notoriously, police charged him that year with firing a gun at a nightclub in response to an insult, injuring three bystanders, and with fleeing the scene with his entourage (including then-pal Jennifer "J. Lo" Lopez). Combs got off, but his young rapper protege Jamal "Shyne" Barrow went to prison for firing the gun.
Combs and his crew are far from alone among rappers in keeping up the connection between "rap and rap sheet," as critic Kelefa Sanneh artfully puts it. Several prominent rappers, including superstar Tupac Shakur, have gone down in hails of bullets - with other rappers often suspected in the killings. Death Row Records producer Marion "Suge" Knight just finished a five-year prison sentence for assault and federal weapons violations. Current rage 50 Cent flaunts his bullet scars in photos; cops recently arrested him for hiding assault weapons in his car. Of the top ten hip-hop sellers mentioned above, five have had scrapes with the law. In 2000, at least five different fights broke out at the Source Hiphop Awards - intended to be the rap industry's Grammys. The final brawl, involving up to 100 people in the audience and spilling over onto the stage, shut the ceremony down - right after a video tribute to slain rappers. Small wonder a popular rap website goes by the name
Many fans, rappers, producers, and intellectuals defend hip-hop's violence, both real and imagined, and its misogyny as a revolutionary cry of frustration from disempowered youth. For Simmons, gangsta raps "teach listeners something about the lives of the people who create them and remind them that these people exist." 50 Cent recently told Vibe magazine, "Mainstream America can look at me and say, 'That's the mentality of a young man from the 'hood.'" University of Pennsylvania black studies professor Michael Eric Dyson has written a book-length paean to Shakur, praising him for "challenging narrow artistic visions of black identity" and for "artistically exploring the attractions and limits of black moral and social subcultures" - just one of countless fawning treatises on rap published in recent years. The National Council of Teachers of English, recommending the use of hip-hop lyrics in urban public school classrooms (as already happens in schools in Oakland, Los Angeles, and other cities), enthuses that "hip-hop can be used as a bridge linking the seemingly vast span between the streets and the world of academics."
But we're sorely lacking in imagination if in 2003 - long after the civil rights revolution proved a success, at a time of vaulting opportunity for African Americans, when blacks find themselves at the top reaches of society and politics - we think that it signals progress when black kids rattle off violent, sexist, nihilistic, lyrics, like Russians reciting Pushkin. Some defended blaxploitation pictures as revolutionary, too, but the passage of time has exposed the silliness of such a contention. "The message of Sweetback is that if you can get it together and stand up to the Man, you can win," Van Peebles once told an interviewer. But win what? All Sweetback did, from what we see in the movie, was avoid jail - and it would be nice to have more useful counsel on overcoming than "kicking the Man's ass." Claims about rap's political potential will look equally gestural in the future. How is it progressive to describe life as nothing but "bitches and money"? Or to tell impressionable black kids, who'd find every door open to them if they just worked hard and learned, that blowing a rival's head off is "real"? How helpful is rap's sexism in a community plagued by rampant illegitimacy and an excruciatingly low marriage rate?
The idea that rap is an authentic cry against oppression is all the sillier when you recall that black Americans had lots more to be frustrated about in the past but never produced or enjoyed music as nihilistic as 50 Cent or N.W.A. On the contrary, black popular music was almost always affirmative and hopeful. Nor do we discover music of such violence in places of great misery like Ethiopia or the Congounless it's imported American hip-hop.
Given the hip-hop world's reflexive alienation, it's no surprise that its explicit political efforts, such as they are, are hardly progressive. Simmons has founded the "Hip-Hop Summit Action Network" to bring rap stars and fans together in order to forge a "bridge between hip-hop and politics." But HSAN's policy positions are mostly tired bromides. Sticking with the long-discredited idea that urban schools fail because of inadequate funding from the stingy, racist white Establishment, for example, HSAN joined forces with the teachers' union to protest New York mayor Bloomberg's proposed education budget for its supposed lack of generosity. HSAN has also stuck it to President Bush for invading Iraq. And it has vociferously protested the affixing of advisory labels on rap CDs that warn parents about the obscene language inside. Fighting for rappers' rights to obscenity: that's some kind of revolution!
Okay, maybe rap isn't progressive in any meaningful sense, some observers will admit; but isn't it just a bunch of kids blowing off steam and so nothing to worry about? I think that response is too easy. With music videos, DVD players, Walkmans, the Internet, clothes, and magazines all making hip-hop an accompaniment to a person's entire existence, we need to take it more seriously. In fact, I would argue that it is seriously harmful to the black community.
The rise of nihilistic rap has mirrored the breakdown of community norms among inner-city youth over the last couple of decades. It was just as gangsta rap hit its stride that neighborhood elders began really to notice that they'd lost control of young black men, who were frequently drifting into lives of gang violence and drug dealing. Well into the seventies, the ghetto was a shabby part of town, where, despite unemployment and rising illegitimacy, a healthy number of people were doing their best to "keep their heads above water," as the theme song of the old black sitcom Good Times put it.
By the eighties, the ghetto had become a ruleless war zone, where black people were their own worst enemies. It would be silly, of course, to blame hip-hop for this sad downward spiral, but by glamorizing life in the "war zone," it has made it harder for many of the kids stuck there to extricate themselves. Seeing a privileged star like Sean Combs behave like a street thug tells those kids that there's nothing more authentic than ghetto pathology, even when you've got wealth beyond imagining.
The attitude and style expressed in the hip-hop "identity" keeps blacks down. Almost all hip-hop, gangsta or not, is delivered with a cocky, confrontational cadence that is fast becoming - as attested to by the rowdies at KFC - a common speech style among young black males. Similarly, the arm-slinging, hand-hurling gestures of rap performers have made their way into many young blacks' casual gesticulations, becoming integral to their self-expression. The problem with such speech and mannerisms is that they make potential employers wary of young black men and can impede a young black's ability to interact comfortably with co-workers and customers. The black community has gone through too much to sacrifice upward mobility to the passing kick of an adversarial hip-hop "identity."
On a deeper level, there is something truly unsettling and tragic about the fact that blacks have become the main agents in disseminating debilitating - dare I say racist - images of themselves. Rap guru Russell Simmons claims that "the coolest stuff about American culture - be it language, dress, or attitude - comes from the underclass. Always has and always will." Yet back in the bad old days, blacks often complained - with some justification - that the media too often depicted blacks simply as uncivilized. Today, even as television and films depict blacks at all levels of success, hip-hop sends the message that blacks are... uncivilized. I find it striking that the cry-racism crowd doesn't condemn it.
For those who insist that even the invisible structures of society reinforce racism, the burden of proof should rest with them to explain just why hip-hop's bloody and sexist lyrics and videos and the criminal behavior of many rappers wouldn't have a powerfully negative effect upon whites' conception of black people.
Sadly, some black leaders just don't seem to care what lesson rap conveys. Consider Savannah's black high schools, which hosted the local rapper Camoflauge as a guest speaker several times before his murder earlier this year. Here's a representative lyric:
Gimme tha keys to tha car, I'm ready for war. When we ride on these niggas smoke that ass like a 'gar. Hit your block with a Glock, clear the set with a Tech... You think I'm jokin, see if you laughing when tha pistol be smokin - Leave you head split wide open And you bones get broken...
More than a few of the Concerned Black People inviting this "artist" to speak to the impressionable youth of Savannah would presumably be the first to cry out about "how whites portray blacks in the media."
Far from decrying the stereotypes rampant in rap's present-day blaxploitation, many hip-hop defenders pull the "whitey-does-it-too" trick. They point to the Godfather movies or The Sopranos as proof that violence and vulgarity are widespread in American popular culture, so that singling out hip-hop for condemnation is simply bigotry. Yet such a defense is pitifully weak. No one really looks for a way of life to emulate or a political project to adopt in The Sopranos. But for many of its advocates, hip-hop, with its fantasies of revolution and community and politics, is more than entertainment. It forms a bedrock of young black identity.
Nor will it do to argue that hip-hop isn't "black" music, since most of its buyers are white, or because the "hip-hop revolution" is nominally open to people of all colors. That whites buy more hip-hop recordings than blacks do is hardly surprising, given that whites vastly outnumber blacks nationwide. More to the point, anyone who claims that rap isn't black music will need to reconcile that claim with the widespread wariness among blacks of white rappers like Eminem, accused of "stealing our music and giving it back to us."
At 2 AM on the New York subway not long ago, I saw another scene - more dispiriting than my KFC encounter with the rowdy rapping teens - that captures the essence of rap's destructiveness. A young black man entered the car and began to rap loudly - profanely, arrogantly - with the usual wild gestures. This went on for five irritating minutes. When no one paid attention, he moved on to another car, all the while spouting his doggerel. This was what this young black man presented as his message to the world - his oratory, if you will.
Anyone who sees such behavior as a path to a better future - anyone, like Professor Dyson, who insists that hip-hop is an urgent "critique of a society that produces the need for the thug persona" - should step back and ask himself just where, exactly, the civil rights era blacks might have gone wrong in lacking a hip-hop revolution. They created the world of equality, striving, and success I live and thrive in.
Hip-hop creates nothing.
Copyright The Manhattan Institute
From Morgan Klein
Regarding the 'hip hop holding blacks back' article, while what is written is all true, the author does not consider that as like attracts like. Those inclined to already view the world from such a position as the disenchanted black youth will seek the rap artists that validate a violent perspective. However, those who are more intellectually/spiritually oriented will naturally gravitate toward the hip hop artists that center more around those views and positivity, and there are plenty of them out there. There is a whole culture of positive hip hop that decries most of the values associated with the rap culture of which the author speaks, and ultimately it falls into the responsibility of the individual to either accept what facets of hip hop culture the mainstream media has chosen to popularize, or to hunt for something with more profundity. Blaming rap for the black kids in KFC's rude behavior is like blaming the tobacco industry for an individual's decision to smoke.

Alton Raines

Rap is a culture -- not a musical art form. If it were merely music, a pastime, a diversion... it would not have anywhere near the impact it has on people, black or white. We have suburban white kids now "pimping" and walking and dressing and talking and emulating "Gangsta" and "Hip Hop" and "Rap" inner-city CULTURE and its icons and overlords, and that includes the drugs, the demeaning of women and an attitude of self-destruction disrespect for authority and aggrandizement of ignorance and personal failure otherwise utterly foreign to the suburban white communities, so it's no leap of rationale to realize what its doing to the black community. The culture of rap/hip hop is a culture of apathy, spawned by the welfare state, and like a sexually transmitted disease, it's spreading itself and infecting others in different strata. There's nothing redeeming about it, nothing artistically unique or worthy. Its gutter trash and it makes people into gutter trash. It's not a fad, or a phase. It's a disease, or better yet, the symptom of a disease.
From Nick Helt
Dear Jeff,
I am white. I am part of the minority. I listen to "underground" independant rap. I dont listen to the garbage that continually gets fed to the masses. There is a movement going on that isnt about the materialistic nonsense that they portray on television. I can tell by the comments you chose to post, that these people have no idea what hiphop started as. It was not about what it is today.
Hiphop started as a way to stay out of trouble. When people had a disagreement, they would battle not with fist or guns, but with skill. The skill on the microphone or the skill to break(as in breakdancin'). There are many independant performers out there that are making alot of cash, but choose not to get signed to major labels because that would limit their freedom(of creativity & speech).
I can understand why people see that rap is nothing but negativity, but thats just what "they" want people to see. The corporations only want you to see the worst. Its my belief that they know it could be used as a revolutionary tool for the masses. Thats why they keep everyone distracted by the masonic dollar bills. Its to keep most people distracted from reality and the truth that is going on under the radar.
The problem is not rap, its the corporations that choose what to show as rap. Rap has many faces and just because you only see one side to it, doesnt mean it is ALL trash.
Please, if there is any positive comments about rap, would you post them.
I love your site, but it seems like this issue only has one side.
Sondjata Olatunji
This article was recently posted to a discussion group that I frequent. While the initial hook about the obnoxious young men at the Harlem KFC sparked my interest, the ensuing "facts" were erroneous and would be very misleading to the untutored reader.
At the outset let me say that I agree that Rap music has taken a rather nasty turn in the past decade and there is an unfortunate massive influence on the today's youth. However, not all of the ills that were described here are ascribable to Hip-Hop.
The first error was the confusion of Rap music, and it is music, and Hip Hop. Hip Hop is a culture four distinct elements: Rap Music, DJaying, Break-dance and Graffiti art. From the Break-dance portion we could derive the Hip Hop clothing that began somewhat with jumpsuits and sneakers to the Phat Farm, Sean Johns, etc of today.
McWhorter errors continue with this statement:
"The venom that suffuses rap had little place in black popular culture - indeed, in black attitudes - before the 1960s. The hip-hop ethos can trace its genealogy to the emergence in that decade of a black ideology that equated black strength and authentic black identity with a militantly adversarial stance toward American society. In the angry new mood, captured by Malcolm X's upraised fist, many blacks (and many more white liberals) began to view black crime and violence as perfectly natural, even appropriate, responses to the supposed dehumanization and poverty inflicted by a racist society."
Surely McWhorter is not suggesting that Malcolm X actually thought that black crime and violence was a natural phenomenon to be acceptable by blacks. Also, that Militant mood is how many of the gains that blacks earned were obtained.
Next McWhorter writes:
"But rap took a dark turn in the early 1980s, as this "bubble gum" music gave way to a "gangsta" style that picked up where blaxploitation left off. Now top rappers began to write edgy lyrics celebrating street warfare or drugs and promiscuity. Grandmaster Flash's ominous 1982 hit, "The Message," with its chorus, "It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under," marked the change in sensibility. It depicted ghetto life as profoundly desolate:"
As if to prove to those of us who are familiar with the track in question that he does not know what he is talking about. "The Message" as in no way shape or form "celebrating"
Urban pathologies. This track was a historically accurate description of some places in NYC. Stating the obvious is not necessarily celebration, and in this case is definitely not celebration. The chorus in question can be viewed in many ways. McWhorter decided that it should be seen as an excuse for black crime and violence. Perhaps it could be interpreted that the narrator may be contemplating suicide or as happened to many black men of that era, indulge in drug use, go insane, beat his wife, etc. You would think that McWhorter has never had a day where he felt that if one thing else went wrong, he would go over the edge. I think not.
McWhorter then attempts to say that "The Message" was the song that kicked off Hip Hop's rise to a multi million-dollar industry. Not true. It was not until Run-DMC's cross over hits such as My Adidas and "Walk this way." Along with PE "bring the noise" cross over hits and the advent of Music Videos, did Hip Hop set its foot into the mainstream.
The next and most common mistake that McWhorter made was the citation of Ice-T's "Cop Killer" track. First it should be known that the group that Ice T produced this under was a Thrash Metal group and not a Rap group. This means it was not even directed at Black youth. In fact if you asked most black youth about said track, they probably have heard of it but never actually heard it. The only connection this track has with Hip Hop is the tangential fact that Ice -T also raps.
Having dealt with those glaring errors, we should keep the following in mind; Black people do not own or control the media apparatus that continually pumps out the garbage that we hear. It would be easy to blame Simmons and Puff, but in reality, just as it was possibly to find Africans willing to cooperate with European slave traders, you will always find a black willing to anything for a buck. The fact of the matter is that once Hip Hop crossed over and Time Warner, BMG and Arista found out that they too could make money selling rap not only to blacks but to the wider white youth market who fed on "counter-culture" to annoy their parents and be "independent" they found what works. Furthermore, as pointed out by other artists, When Hip Hop came to its own with groups like Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, and PE's Fear of a Black planet, NWA gangsta rap came out and pro black, anti-violence got pushed aside by these same record companies. Along with this the consolidation of radio ownership between Clear Channel and Radio One resulted in narrowcasting of music to the younger people whose ability to discern garbage is very overrated. Again the purse string holders and gatekeepers were 99% white. These same whites devised rules that determined that certain things could not be said on air in records. Certain commentaries about Jews, Italians, etc. have been reported by artists such as Chuck D, of PE fame, to be things that will get a record or single stopped dead. Meanwhile Blacks are free to call each other all manner of "nigga, bitch, ho.' Sounds like a insidious double standard if you ask me.
Lastly, to say that Rap is not music and has no value is to say that Poetry is not literature and has no value. Rap is poetry regardless of the subject matter. Rap music is music in as much as beating a drum is music. It may not be what McWhorter wants to listen to, but he does not get to determine what is music. Back to the rude kids. I'll tell you what the problem with the kids are: their parents. I listened to Rap Music as a child and had a healthy fear of my mother's belt. I spoke and still speak "properly." I enjoy Rap, Jazz (not that junk on CD 101), Reggae and R&B, and I Play the piano. I am the result of a parent that made it clear to me that regardless of what music I liked, I was to be in school on the daily, get nothing less than a B, graduate from college and move out the house upon graduation. I would wager my next months income that these fellows parents are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. That is what is really holding blacks back.
From Andrew Simmons
This has been a hot topic between myself and co-worker/good friend. While he enjoys the pop culture world spear-headed by Britney Spears (no pun intended) I enjoy the Hip Hop culture and Dance music culture of the inner city. While I tried to explain to him that Britney Spears is doing nothing but showing young pre-teen and teenage girls how to carry themselves as sex-objects (inspired by your "Girls Gone Wicked" article) I described to him how the rappers are destroying the chances of the young black community with their illogical, nonsense-filled and self-destructive ideologies. Coincidentally today I find this article.
Our rappers as well as Ms. Spears have no idea that their record companies and media managers have chucked them into a spotlight which blinds them and they are left with a translucent view of their followers and the effect that they have on their followers. How? Well as an aspiring entertainer you want to gain attention and feel as though you are pleasing your audiencewhich they are (as well as fortune). Unfortunately what they are administering is negative, a negativity which embodies a host of warped values.
It seems as though in the case of the rap music the defamation machine gets the day off. There is not as much of any need to work over-diligently at painting the Black community as bad or negative, these rappers are doing it for a small piece of the pie. In the community the NY Post sells the most (no offense to NY Post readers). Average conversation is about rap music and the performers; a star gazing discussion which produces a need to emulate. The people are not reading as much. They let AOL show them the headlines. The stage has been set years ago. The radio in NYC which is dominated by HOT 97 (WQHT 97.1) promotes this retarding culture with such volume. The disc jockeys have no idea or clue how they effect the youth which says a lot about them. I also believe the station owners and program directors are in the game for fortune. Proper English is a thing of the past although I can really understand why someone as a descendant of African slaves would not want to accept English as their language but that is another discussion. This culture makes all cultures but the Hip Hop Culture RICH. I visit the local "Street Wear" store owned and operated by immigrants who count their profits while watching the patrons every second they are in the store. Blasting this hypnotic music.
I have TOO many feelings about this topic.
My thought which prompted this message is that these zombies don't even have views so please understand that they don't represent Black Culture. They get the most airtime but they don't speak for me.
PS. I am happy that I can visit your site for ANOTHER view.
From Vinson Johnson
The problem that no one has addressed here is economics. Just like any other business, the bottom line is money.
If people would not buy the bulls..t that these rappers were putting out, then they'd be forced to write about other things. But because Eminem sold 7 million records and 50 Cent sold 5 million, that content is what the record labels will sell.
There was a time when we had positive rappers. But because their records were not selling to millions of people, the companies yanked their contracts. The bottom line is money. As long as the so called "black trash" music sells, then that kind of music will be promoted.
I don't appreciate anyone calling this art form not music. Some of the best musicians have participated in this music and it is real music and it is here to stay. What the problem is, is that we have a society that is a glutton for this type of entertainment.
You've got mimics of these lyrics in all parts of society, not just the "black" community.
This type of stuff has been going on in politics for centuries. Destroy your enemies and all that.
It blows my mind as to how shallow people are in terms of casting blame for the actions of people.
The KFC thing and the subway thing is a reflection of a system that has failed. Don't blame the music for a society gone bad and the greed of Corporations.
From Max
Hi, Jeff. I have been reading the postings at the top of your web page today concerning rap music. I have to say that I deplore the largely misogynistic, violent lyrics of rap. In fact I would say if you put the letter C in front of rap then you will get the general drift of how I feel about this particular genre of music. Sorry, Jeff, about the language but it's important you understand how much I dislike this music for you to appreciate my next comment.
Having said the above there is one rap song I heard many years ago, and actually bought the record, and I would wholeheartedly recommend that you give it a listen, Jeff. Even today, about 10 years after I bought this record the intelligence, insight and, dare I say it, prophetic insight of the lyrics still send shivers down my spine. If George Orwell had been born in the rap era he may well even have written something along similar lines himself.
The artist is: The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
The song is: Television, The Drug of The Nation
It is freely available from P2P.
Best Regards

YES - Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back
By Heather Sheridan
I am African-American, and I agree: hip-hop and rap culture are dangerous to blacks. The level of cultural damage being wreaked by this so-called "music form" is chillingly incalculable. A think tank of supremacist Klansmen could not have envisioned a more efficient method of ridiculing and disempowering a despised race of human beings. I consider rap and hip-hop the artistic versions of the AIDS virus. They arose during the same period in history, they attach themselves to a host and then destroy it from within, and every time you think you're about to defeat them, they mutate into another form and then replicate. Similarly, the people most at risk to be infected by each of these devastators are the most mystifyingly enthusiastic about engaging in the reckless and stupid behaviors that wind them up infected.
An entire generation of males has been brainwashed into no longer thinking, no longer writing or speaking intelligently, but instead mumbling rap lyrics like mantras, nodding their heads like catatonic idiots to a beat the rest of us cannot hear - all day - and doing what the lyrics suggest in their own lives, to their own detriment. A generation of females now think their bodies are gaudy currency, to be traded and negotiated at will for burgers, fries, and baby's formula for the day. Ask yourself: would you hire a young person with a deliberate limp, clutching his testicles in one hand, clutching a cellphone in the other, with straggled, ugly hair, poor hygiene, and gold teeth and jewelry, whose only language is an unending stream or poorly rhyming couplets about shooting, robbing businesses, and impregnating?
Would you hire a young woman with flashy copper hair, outrageous jewelry, rhinestone-studded dragon talons on her fingertips, a baby on her hip and a second baby on the way, wearing a thong you can see jutting out of her mall-level denim jeans, with an invented name like Taniqua or Sheniquieyah, who won't even answer phones when asked, and whose idea of a hard day's work is to gossip the 8 hours through about what babydaddy did this, and what babydaddy did that? Thanks to Affirmative Action, which I, a black woman, oppose, this is what is probably going on downtown at your local capitol's government offices, and is part of the reason customer service is so poor today, and nothing in America runs on time anymore.
And if whites continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that there are two black Americas -- one comprised of educated blacks, the other of what could impolitely be termed "black trash" -- and if white America continues to lump all African-Americans into one huge monolithic demographic they are afraid of offending by declaring rap "offensive", this is the hiring pool you and I will be forced to choose from for the remainder of the decade. Whites will miss availing themselves of the very blacks -- millions of us -- who would stand right beside them driving this "music form" into its belated grave.
In less than two complete decades, by a single form of repetitive, mind-numbing so-called "music", all the previous struggle and eloquence of the former black America has been reduced to ruin: swaggering, foul-mouthed, gimp-legged, testicle-clutching, prowess-faking, loud-talking, gun-toting, beeper-packing, prostituted ruin. And whom have we to thank for it?
One could offer that it is the nameless hierarchy behind all the record labels and television networks, they who have ever made all the decisions about how many times which race should be depicted and in what way, making yet another faceless and ultimately racist decision to keep pumping rap and hip-hop music out like rotted meat pulsing out of some national grinding machine, like poisonous piped-in lullabyes to pacify and entertain some despised collective black "baby" -
But ultimately this is the fault of black people themselves.
As a black woman, I was excoriated profoundly and with great, ridiculing mass malice whenever I dared to say openly that rap was not music and hip-hop was going to eventually call in a price from the black community. Uneducated blacks brayed with laughter and pointed scorn at me, calling me "Wanna Be White" and other names, for opting to step out of the company line and call, for lack of a better phrase, a spade a spade. (Educated blacks always agreed with me.)
As a member of the entertainment industry, which I am, I was ignored by colleagues when I asked why rap was still being signed, produced and promoted when it has clearly hit the limits of every music genre's twenty year lease on the collective consciousness. I may be politically incorrect on your site for saying this, but Jews were the most supportive of my views and asked me, mystified, "Why do blacks LISTEN to this stuff? Don't they realize what it's SAYING about them? YOU realize... why don't THEY?" But the young whites in my industry seem hypnotized. Some of them adore rap. Their children have bought hip-hop materials, be they clothing, CDs, what have you. Most of what I perceive is an industry-wide white horror of disavowing rap culture in any way lest they be categozied as racist. That seems to be the cause of all this from the media end.
So, I am saying to whites now:
Educated African-Americans agree with you and always have: rap is not music; hip-hop is not a valid music form; and even if it were, its time is up; the music itself is aurally destructive; its lyrics and iconography are less than healthy; all in all it presents a poor aesthetic, and one we frankly, as the Americans who created it, need to disown now in favor of The Next Big Thing Coming Up The Block. Rap is not rock music. Hip-hop is not soul. This is McMusic, counterfeit mass produced product for a counterfeit mass produced consumer base. But the jig is up, fellows:
As a black person, I'm playing the race card here and declaring it now safe for whites to say out loud that rap's reign is over. If you want rap and hip-hop to go away, you as white Americans must begin by making the unified decision to admit, publicly, that there is such thing as black trash, just as there is such thing as white trash. Rap and hip-hop are the music of black trash.
They are not all our race has to offer culturally, and have never been, and never will be. They do not speak for our people, and we call out for an immediate end to this epidemic. Rap and hip-hop, in my opinion, are indeed the cultural equivalent of AIDS: they arose at the same time, they attach to a host and destroy it from within, and every time humanity thinks it has it licked, it mutates into another form and replicates. But just as the medical community will eventually lay HIV in its cemetery, for every kingdom hath for certain a grave, white and black Americans will eventually come together as one and put rap and its diseased sister hip-hop six feet under, for good. That day must surely come for us, as flowers follow rain.
Dear white America: Rap and hip-hop are the pop music of black trash America.
Pass it on.


"As black men we should
be building a nation of strong
black leaders, not a nation of superenergized,
drunk pimps."
- Minister Paul Scott, founder
of the Messianic Afrikan Nation




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