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Beyonce and her husband, mogul Jay-Z, tour Old Havana, Cuba, April 4. The power couple was in Havana on their fifth wedding anniversary. Photo: AP/Wide World photo
LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Rappers and music audiences appear to be engaged in a battle over freedom of speech and consumerism with a backlash against negative lyrics.
The latest to feel public pressure is former prison guard-turned rapper Rick Ross, who also uses a former drug trafficker’s name. He recently apologized for controversial rape lyrics belted out as a featured rapper on another artist’s song. Ross glorified drugging and date rape, activists and rape survivors charged.
His initial response, saying there was a misunderstanding with a lyric or misinterpretation, was the wrong response, they added.
The word on Mr. Ross’ official website is there’s much anticipation about his upcoming album, “God Forgives. I Don’t.” Despite his apology, (which at Final Call press time, wasn’t posted online), it seems many will not soon forgive or forget his latest antics.
The powers behind rappers
Reebok, the sportswear company, dropped Mr. Ross, indicating he hadn’t shown enough remorse for the lyrics.
“We have to celebrate our victories and Reebok dropping Rick Ross is important, but we know and obviously the readers of The Final Call are smart enough to know that Reebok did not do this out of humanity or the kindness of their heart. They had no choice but to do this because of the pressure,” said Rosa Clemente, hip hop activist and 2008 Green Party vice presidential candidate.
Ms. Clemente made a video response to Mr. Ross’ lyrics. But the problem is bigger than Mr. Ross and it will continue unless specific acts are taken, she cautioned.
Her video challenges men in hip hop to stand up and say this is unacceptable.
Rick Ross isn’t the only rapper that spews such sentiment, she said, and proof is in the number of radio stations playing the song.
It will continue until the brothers stand with the sisters and denounce it, because it’s not just a woman’s issue, said Ms. Clemente.
Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, there is an average of more than 207,000 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and assault each year.
Understanding the rap industry
Dialogue about the “rap industrial complex” can fuel change, Ms. Clemente said.
But people must be willing to probe what is the system in play, and who are the power players that allow these artists to put out rhymes and lyrics that they themselves don’t even write? Ms. Clemente said.
Why are artists like Ross or Lil’ Wayne or Chief Keef getting constant rotation on radio airwaves but the plethora of incredibly conscious male and female hip hop MCs and artists will never be on the radio? she asked.
“I believe that even if Rick Ross were to get dropped by his record company or Chief Keef gets dropped by Interscope, that they have a lot of mostly young brothers down the pipeline, that they’re saying, ‘Say whatever you want to say and the worst and most violent and misogynistic, we’re going to pay you,’ ” Ms. Clemente told The Final Call.
“Some rappers think that nothing is going to happen to them and the reality is something has happened to Rick Ross, but what about the record company that said it was okay for him to do this and that continues to put him on tour,” Ms. Clemente argued.
Currently, there are at least four different www.change.org petitions, demanding accountability from Mr. Ross and rappers who’ve put out similar controversial lyrics, as well as record label companies and radio stations that support or play their records.
The online petition titled, “Rape, Rick Ross and Responsibility – #RRR,” has nearly 2,100 supporters. It targets a host of record label and radio executives and is demanding a system of safeguards to protect consumers and the general public from illegal references promoting rape, drug use, violence and misogyny.
The petitioner organizers aptly point out what many people say around dinner tables, in barber shops and beauty salons, and at work day water coolers: Mainstream rap has been suffering from repulsive content for a long time but this latest wave of filth is “our breaking point” and society’s hit rock bottom. Lil’ Wayne, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Trinidad James, Chief Keef and music companies backing them are all to blame, the petition says.
Accidents, racism and revulsion
Rap icon LL Cool J got lambasted after the release of the country and western song “Accidental Racist.” Some likened his duet with Brad Paisley to Lil’ Wayne’s vulgar, controversial lyrics about Emmett Till, the child whose brutal murder in Mississippi helped spark the modern civil rights movement.
In interviews, including the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” LL Cool J insisted the song had done its job. People are talking, he said.
“I would never, ever, ever suggest to anyone that we should just forget slavery and act like that didn’t happen, I understand the systemic racism that exists, I get that,” LL said.
Many weren’t convinced branding him “LL Coon J” for a song whose lyrics begin, “Dear Mr. White Man,” and includes words about gold chains, slave chains and forgiveness.
“I don’t know if it’s a one size fits all type of situation,” said Davey D, a hip hop journalist, historian, talk show host and activist. Several things are at stake, he said.
“One is that there’s an audience that has grown up on hip hop that is tired of the stuff that is coming out. They’re tired of the corporatization of it and with the corporatization of hip hop has come the packaging and the wholesale selling of, for lack of a better term, this ratchetness,” Davey D toldThe Final Call.
This isn’t limited to hip hop, but rears its head in reality shows and other venues but those crass behaviors and images sell in virtually any area, he said.
If someone dies or goes to jail in the music industry, companies make money off that as well, Davey D continued.
“That has meant that people have upped the ante in terms of how they can shock people. If you think about it, 20 years ago when you had 2 Live Crew singing explicit songs about sex or you had the Ghetto Boys kind of giving you fantasy type of gory horror movie in their rhymes, that was kind of shocking,” explained Davey D.
“But now, when you think about it, NWA and 2 Live Crew and what the Geto Boys was talking about actually seems very, very plain to what has kind of been normalized in music and entertainment.”
Davey D argued the message is normalized because much of what those artists talked about has manifested in reality TV, which includes the police shows.
Lil’ Wayne has been very public about the fact he “sips syrup” and has a substance abuse problem, and he’s handsomely rewarded by and marketed to people outside the Black community, Davey D continued.
“If you and I happen to say we don’t like him and we’re going to boycott him, when you look at the numbers, it’s like, ‘So what. I’ve got all these other people buying my stuff.’ So that means that Lil’ Wayne doesn’t get checked. He doesn’t have to engage us, and so there are no boundaries and the end result is he’ll talk about Emmett Till and keep it moving like there’s nothing wrong with that.”
With LL Cool J comes a very different political outlook, Davey D said. While some people say LL is naive and doesn’t know better, and it may be true to a certain degree, the near-50-year-old rapper is not afraid to speak his mind on politics, Davey D noted.
“In this thing with his racial analysis, I think he falls into the trap that so many of us do. We feel good. We got access. We’re cool. Let’s have a kumbaya moment and I just think LL’s assessment of what we should really talk about with race is shortchanged because he didn’t give it as much thought as one would think.”
“I do think that the inference that you can be an accidental racist is pretty ludicrous and for L to sort of take a stand at this time, sort of like politically or message-wise is interesting,” said Chuck Creekmur, CEO of www.AllHipHop.com.
“I love L, so I don’t want any confusion there. But I just find it awkward, now, that you get on a country record with a guy that proclaims to be an accidental racist, however you want to flip that meaning, but I think the outrage on L is more like, come on man, you know better than this,” Mr. Creekmur said.
But Lil’ Wayne and Rick Ross represent how far society’s slid as a people to some extent, he continued.
Playing politics and social concerns
Ross has managed to parlay his gangster tales into mainstream success, and with that success he simply forgot to read the tea leaves, Davey D stated. The crux of the mainstream in many arenas is White women who, along with Blacks and other women of color, have been battling a backlash of politicians unwilling to address rape in general and in the military, he said.
Davey D continued, “He did what he did and didn’t care. And when sisters, who were the first to raise the alarm about this, brought him to task, he kind of ignored it. And then when he gave an explanation, it was kind of a half a — —explanation.”
Mega artists Jay-Z and wife Beyonce, on the other hand, have felt a more political backlash for their recent government approved trip to Cuba. Many fans and activists have taken issue with the notion they needed U.S. approval to set foot on Cuban soil.
“Jay-Z’s a different type of beat. He’s the Obama of Rap … Think about what’s in Cuba right now. And you would hope that he would come back and say, “Man they got doctors there. I like the education system.’ You would have just loved him to say some of these things that we can easily be bolstered by and he just won’t,” said Davey D.
Republicans demanded to know who approved the trip and wanted to question the rapper. Jay-Z responded by rapping politicians never did anything but lie to him. And, he expressed love for Cuba and disdain for the political double standard. You want to talk about Cuba and communism when my mic is made in China, Jay-Z said. He invited President Obama, who he has supported, to reject the political madness and come “chill” with him on a beach. The president’s political foes were trying to use the trip to embarrass and hurt Mr. Obama.
Akilah Nehanda, a Houston-based, independent artist and member of the Nation of Islam, also applauds the rap backlash. “I think it’s refreshing to know that people aren’t completely desensitized to irresponsible lyrics because for a long time it seemed like we weren’t holding artists accountable for anything.
“There has to be a knowledge of the importance and value of women, not as tools and sex objects, but as co-creators with God, as mothers, wives, sisters,” she said.
AK-47, a rap duo of brothers based in Chicago, got into music to help reverse the negative trends in the genre they love. The “A” stands for Arshad, the “K” for Khalil, and the 47 for the 47th chapter of the Holy Qur’an, titled “Muhammad.”
Arshad Muhammad enjoys artists who can deliver a good message without sounding preachy. “Music as a whole, I think there are some good artists that aren’t negative. It’s about what you listen to, basically. Mainstream sells a certain idea but if you’re not into that, there are other things you can get into that aren’t negative,” he said.
Khalil Muhammad wants success in the industry so he can give back to the people. “I think of my music as the biggest fishing tool so I can teach the people in a different way that most artists don’t. They don’t talk like me and my brother. They haven’t grown up the way me and my brother have under the Nation of Islam. They don’t know the knowledge that me and my brother know,” he said.
Pioneering artists like Kangol Kid attribute the rap backlash to society’s feeling enough is enough. The problem is not brand new in hip hop, he said.
“Several artists, unfortunately even myself at one point, was pushed in this particular area and it’s gotten to a point to where hip hop artists from back then, who started all of this, are all now adults,” who have joined the masses to effect a change, Kangol told The Final Call.