On April 16, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey held a special two-show townhall meeting-style program, the focus of which was derogatory lyrics and/or language in rap [music] and the perceived double-standard in their usage. Guest panelists included Def Jams co-founder Russell Simmons, singer/musician India.Arie, columnist Stanley Crouch and progressive hip hop artist Common. Simmons initially adamant in his opposition to censoring rappers this week called for a "ban" on certain words:
"The words 'bitch' and 'ho' are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African-American women have experienced in the United States as part of the history of oppression, inequality, and suffering of women." Simmons said. "The word 'nigger' is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression, and multiple forms of racism against African-Americans and other people of colour."
This not-so sudden solicitude over rap lyrics was touched off by the Don Imus controversy of several weeks ago, wherein the "shock jock" referred to the Rutger's University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos". The Imus flap for all its divisiveness would seem to have inspired a much-needed discussion on racism, sexism and the politics of free speech. The aforementioned 'double standard' comes from the contention that Imus a white male was fired for using language that is all-too commonplace in a great deal of commerical rap (which is mainly performed by African-Americans). The same argument was put forth by the defenders of Michael Richards following his racial tirade late last year. Rapper Snoop Dogg seemed to concur with the age-old 'argument' that blacks can say certain things and whites cannot:
"First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls."
In fairness, I've never been a huge fan of rap music. Sure, I enjoyed old school visionaries like Grandmaster Flash and Whodini on occasion. Heck with the arrival of innovative artists like De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, Eric B. & Rakim and a Tribe Called Quest the late '80s and early '90s I actually indulged the genre for a moment. And let us not exclude the ladies: MC Lyte Queen Latifah Monie Love; all spoke from a socially-consciouss, yet appealingly feminist perspective. In recent years, however, rap and its resultant hip hop subculture would seem to have experienced a sort of aesthetic decline (of the type that often befalls many artistic movements that are mass-marketed). These days, commercial rap artists are by way of their music and videos projecting a myopic worldview wherein social awareness and unity are dated concepts and the bottom line money and an opulent living are the first order of the day.
In retrospect, the selfsame '90s that gave us rap pioneers like the Pharcyde, Digable Planets, the Fugees and the Roots, also gave rise to the mainstreaming of so-called "gangsta rap", and consequently the superstardom of artists like Dr. Dre and his protegι, Snoop Dogg. Gangsta rap with its redundant fixations on Kristof champagne, tacky bling and 'hos came to morph a great deal of rap in its profane image thereafter. Indeed, so-called "pop rap" artists like Nellly regularly make use of the term "ho" now. And Dre's legacy continues on in his most current protegι, 50 Cent.
Even worse than gangsta rap (if you can believe it) is its stepchild style, "dirty south"; artists like Trick Daddy, Ludacris and Mystikal typify this subgenre with its focus on excess, profanity and primal sexuality. Its two most prominent female stars Trina and Khia have mic skills that are as negligible as their "sexiness", yet they've somehow managed to eclipse real female rappers like Bahamadia.
Hip hop apologists often make the arguement that rappers are only a product of their upbringing and environment that the profanity, sexism and self-hatred ["n-word"] are only a reflection of what the rap artist has known for much of his/her life. Snoop Dogg made this argument in response to being criticized in the Don Imus controversy:
"We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them muthaf**kas say we are in the same league as him."
This argument while not totally without merit doesn't fully account for rap artists like Nelly, who didn't necessarily come from a stereotypically "ghetto" background. Indeed, one could argue that subscribing to such an argument is in effect accepting low-expectations. When all is said and done, the use of "ho", the "n-word" and the "b-word" is a monetary issue; rappers some of them benefit from their use as much as your average "shock jock".
Let's be honest; Don Imus offended many with his comments and rightly so but the continued use of the "n-word" ,"b-word", "ho" and such are all-too common in commercial rap. This is not a defense of Imus, but rather an assertion that rappers the black community as a whole need to examine the put forth 'double standard' argument that exists in the use (and context) of offensive language. Words like "bitch", "ho" and the "n-word" not to mention the OTHER "f-word" that is cruelly applied to gay men are offensive, to be sure, but they should also be judged as such no matter WHO is using them. The "n-word" is (in my opinion) every bit as offensive when used by blacks as it is when it is used by whites no exceptions.
Though the corporate-owned record labels that release this sort of music are somewhat at fault, the proposed industry-wide censoring of music is not the answer that rests squarely with the producers and performers of rap music and such and their own self-discipline. Rappers needs to step up and stop being corporate "hos".
Categories: Don Imus; Oprah Winfrey; Russell Simmons; hip hop; 50 Cent; Snoop Dogg; Dr. Dre rap; Nelly; dirty south; gangsta rap