Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Imus and "Gangsta Rap"

Like many people, I found Don Imus's comments to be abhorrent. One thing I did is to check myself because I am a man and, as men sometimes do, they gauge women's looks.

Though I don't try, sometimes men can be sexist (yes, male privilege is real). Why? Because, to me, it wasn't about the looks of the players (who cares about looks when it's time to play some ball? I know I don't.), it was about the game. The two best women's programs this year. Tennessee came out on top but both teams played their butts off and both Coach Summit and Coach Stringer are classy and great teachers/role models.

Since Imus's comments, both coaches have proven that they are the class acts they have been throughout their careers. The Rutgers women's squad has followed Coach Stringer in that path of class and they are to be totally commended. They have class, beauty (inner and outer)...and skills to kick me up and down the court.

But, what I am starting to grow tired of is people trying to tie rap music into what Don Imus said. Don Imus is no friend of hip-hop. It's insulting to be lumped in with him. The misogyny and violence that exists in some hip-hop is an effect of lots of issues, not a cause of misogyny or violence and certainly not the impetus behind Don Imus's comments. Some parties in America are good for regarding effects as causes of problems when they are attached to have-nots and marginalized groups.

But I didn't think that Cleveland would buy in. I read the CoolCleveland e-mail blast and above Mansfield Frazier's article (on a side note, I think it's funny that the column is called "Straight Outta Mansfield", a take on a seminal "gangsta rap" album, "Straight Outta Compton" by the group NWA - also, the late Eric "Eazy E" Wright, a leader within NWA took five guys from the Glenville area and put them on the hip-hop map. The name Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony should ring a bell), there was a quote from C. Delores Tucker that stated"

"It’s a crime that we are promoting these kinds of messages. The whole gangsta rap industry is drug driven, race-driven and greed-driven... it’s not healthy for our children."

Mr. Frazier stated :

"Didn’t we give anyone and everyone license to disrespect us by continuing to allow young, Black, empty-headed, no-talent performers posing as “artists” to continually disrespect Black womanhood? And I am as guilty as the next Black elder for not speaking out sooner. But enough is enough."

The answer to the question Mr. Frazier poses is absolutely not. It is not up to these "no-talent performers" to give license to anyone to disrespect women period. They are wrong for doing so but to insult a whole genre because some of its' practitioners lack of respect for various groups is ridiculous. Also, there have been many black entertainers that have degraded women either in practice or in lyrics before the creation of hip-hop (I suppose no one saw Ray or What's Love Got to Do With It?) so Mr. Frazier's argument suffers from a case of historical amnesia.

While I think that some of the more base and tawdry aspects of hip-hop are getting entirely too much light, attacking artists is like cutting off a leaf and expecting a tree to die. I believe that artists should write about what they know. Quentin Tarentino wouldn't remake Sarah, Plain and Tall. Violence and discrimination are, unfortunately, as American as apple pie. They must be fought but throwing rappers en masse under a steamroller (like Rev. Calvin Butts did with some of their CDs back in the 90's) and calling it the best solution is pointless.

Mr. Frazier is right about one thing: a problem is the major labels. As many of the independent music fans around here can attest, some really poor music is getting lots of press lately. It's no different in hip-hop. Groups that have a more positive and inclusive message get pushed by the wayside. Why? Because they don't sell. Why don't they sell? It's simple. If you have to market hip-hop that's not negative, that means that you have to say *gasp* that you can be true to what you believe and who you are without resorting to negativity. Placing black men in a positive light that aren't selling something is not a strong point for corporate America.

There is no singular black experience. I will say that again. There is no singular black experience.

Earlier, I said that "gangster rap" was an effect and not a cause of some of problems that plague America in general and disproportionately affect the black community. Crime and violence come from lack of educational opportunities. An educated kid has more options for expression and expansion of thought than kids without education. These kids without education aren't stupid (meaning, they have the capability to learn) but they aren't appointed with the proper venue. Once they become adults, they are left to their own devices and too many choose the lowest rung (the illegal life). Before the massive flight (not just white flight, black folks left in droves as well), higher-income black people and lower-income black people lived in the same neighborhoods. A storekeeper would live next to a mailman who would live next to a doctor who would live next to an attorney. You would have a very economically diverse neighborhood which allowed for strong connections. Then, many who saw moving out as moving up, left these community-rich neighborhoods for the 'burbs instead of using their new found, post civil-rights influence to improve their current neighborhood. This is why many predominately black areas of Cleveland are economically depressed.

Music in particular and America in general needs to be more respectful of marginalized groups. Calling one particular genre out and blaming it for problems in society that are caused by people IN NO WAY RELATED to the genre (Imus) is insulting.

Specifically, I am tired of the rap bashing. Hip-hop had been blamed for everything short of global warming (and I think Bush is working on that one). These artists are grown men and women. We should take each individual to task for what they say and see what they have to say...then, we should talk to their bosses. It's more about green than you think...


Cleveland Carole Cohen 3C said...

Derek it was fun 'breaking bread' with you at the Meet The Bloggers tasting at Gypsy. So I had to check out your blog.

It's interesting that people are focusing on rap. What about all the 80s rock music that basically started the whole 'T and A' thing with MTV. Or any of the 60s and 70s folk music that challenged the police. Why is that okay and rap not?

It goes to show you how deep this issue is. Much deeper than Imus.

derek said...

It was nice to meet you

It is true that hip-hop didn't invent salacious or obscene music but it is often today's scapegoat.

Some of it may be the socioeconomic class of the speakers (more often than not, poor to middle class) or the color of the speakers (black).