Archive for the ‘Race’ Category

Little Brother On Point…

March 18, 2007

Another line from that AP story discussed below really jumped out at me.

…Last summer, as the “Chicken Noodle Soup” song and accompanying dance became a sensation, Baltimore Sun pop critic Rashod D. Ollison mused that the dance — demonstrated in the video by young people stomping wildly from side to side — was part of the growing minstrelization of rap music.

“The music, dances and images in the video are clearly reminiscent of the era when pop culture reduced blacks to caricatures: lazy ‘coons,’ grinning ‘pickaninnies,’ sexually super-charged ‘bucks,’ ” he wrote.

Isn’t this exactly the statement that Little Brother was making with “The Minstrel Show”? Those are some smart brothers, and they deserve props–even if they kicked out 9th Wondra (kidding). But I’ll be damned if this isn’t the most scathing sort of criticism to lob at the hip-hop industry right now. It really hits on the underlying, messy issues of race at work here, and it comes from a voice within the hip-hop community. Hip-hop will never die with guys like this around.



Has Rap Music Hit a Wall?

March 18, 2007

That’s the question posed by a recent AP feature story, and the same question we touched on here. This article was too good to pass up mentioning it in a post.

The answer I think is all in how one defines the wall. If the “wall” is defined as the ongoing mainstream commercial viability of hip-hop, then I think it’s possible that the wall has been “hit.” But if the wall is end of the genre, or the utter lack of creativity or vibrancy within this culture, then I think you are dead wrong, and acts like ISWHAT?! are proof of that.

Some of the empirical evidence cited by the author was interesting.

Though music sales are down overall, rap sales slid a whopping 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and for the first time in 12 years no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year.

A recent study by the Black Youth Project showed a majority of youth think rap has too many violent images. In a poll of black Americans by The Associated Press and AOL-Black Voices last year, 50 percent of respondents said hip-hop was a negative force in American society.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll bracket off the race issue (because that’s even more interesting). But like any market, there must be a point where the pop music market becomes saturated with thug rap. But are we seeing that right now, at this particular juncture? I can’t say that for sure (and I don’t necessarily think so), but the prospect is an interesting one to ponder as it is coming, at some point.

But you know what? Even if we are witnessing the end of the commercial viability of hip-hop, I’m not worried. I actually think hip-hop music is as strong right now as it’s ever been. The mere utterance of names like J Dilla, Ta’Raach, Black Milk, Platinum Pied Pipers, (Detroit is in house right now), Madlib, et al. is enough to rebut any suggestion that the genre is dead. And we should throw ISWHAT?! in there as well. People might write off hip-hop, but it’s been written off before–so that doesn’t worry me. Should the hip-hop “bubble” burst, the worst that could happen, in my view, is that Young Jeezy has to pinch a few pennies to make that Def Jam money stretch a little bit further… boo hoo.

viva la hip y la hop…


March 16, 2007

I love hip hop as well, and I like its diversity (allowing me to pick & choose). My taste goes in cycles. At times, my scope is narrow; other times, I consciously try to be more open to things that I may not ordinarily listen to. Right now, I’m in a state more aligned with the former. I usually make judgments (perhaps quickly at times) as to whether I like something based on the artist’s background. I love emcees and beatmakers who demonstrate a clear knowledge and respect for music (playing an instrument is a bonus but not a requirement). J Dilla – crazy beats; clearly knew music, innately it would seem. This quick litmus test is the reason I love guys like Madlib, Common, Pharrell, and Aloe Blacc. I listen to their music, and I can hear somebody who is an artist, lyrically or otherwise.

Often times, perhaps to a fault, I write guys off who I don’t think know jack about or respect music; guys who rely heavily on an image or gimmick to make a quick buck. Often, these gimmicks are built on perpetuating some stereotypical image, or some cheap topic, e.g. “how delightful it is to receive sexual gratification from this select bevy of women.” Like Kyle mentioned, I’ve too have become more sensitive to this as I read about real issues, for example, family dynamics in urban areas. It seems to me, while I claim to be no advertising expert, that a significant amount of this music is targeted at impoverished areas. Songs that make light of “beat[ing] the p*$sy up” are heard by children (despite the stickered warning). This, I find, is problematic for children who are internalizing these messages. Research has demonstrated that misogynistic lyrics have a similar effect as pornography on male listeners. Note that the subjects in most research has been college males (due to some ethical obligation not to expose young children to pornographic material, seen, heard, or otherwise) – think of the impact on an 8-year old who is still formulating his or her gender roles and identity. This doctor (Dr. Michael Rich), drawn at random (i.e. not hired by me) suggests in an interview with that:

“The connection to misogynistic music and behavior may be evident in other areas of young people’s lives, too, says Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Media Matters campaign.

“The music portrays this kind of dating violence and coercion around sexual activity as normal relationships,” said Rich.

“I see an acceptance among teenagers – both girls and boys, of the kind of sexual objectification celebrated in this kind of music. There is this notion that it’s okay to be used for sex and that there is not any emotional commitment necessary.”

That being said, it’s often difficult to draw the line to what I like or dislike; when do I use my musical judgment? When do I use my social judgment? Which brings me to Kyle’s post on positive rappers. I try to always give props to emcees who present lyrics that sound thoughtful…or even attempt to push a prosocial message. For example, Common’s “Love is” from Be. (Dilla, Dilla, Dilla). On it, Com explores the travels & travails of love in the ghetto. Also, The Procussion’s “Water’s Edge,” where they preach respect and love for others in a way that is still hip hop. The end soliloquy is one of my favorites , right up there with Common’s Pop’s monologues. (By the way, keep an ear open for Blu)

For me, the question always remains, how much art and I willing to sacrifice for social responsibility, or vice versa. I don’t pretend to know, nor do I think I’ll ever figure it out. Like other forms of art, a lot depends on feeling, something immeasurable, and situational. I’m satisfied knowing that for every gimmick, there’s an artist with integrity, artistic and/or social.

All I know is, “if I don’t like it, I don’t like it, it don’t mean that I’m hatin,” Com.


Armstrong, E. (2001). Gangsta misogyny: A content analysis of the portrayals of
violence against women in rap music, 1987-1993. Journal of Criminal Justice and
Popular Culture, 8
(2), 96-126.

Barongan, C., & Hall, C. N. (1995). The influence of misogynous rap music on sexual
aggression against women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 19, 195-207.

P.S. The above are just some example studies that explore the misogynistic influence of “rap” music. Kyle & I are trying to run a clean ship here so I did not link to the original studies, although I think you would have needed a password to access them even if I had. There is plenty of similar research out there, as well as the specific damage done to young boys. For a great read, check out Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.

Positive Rappers

March 16, 2007

I’m writing now just to give due props. Napoleon Maddux is an intelligent, insightful, and positive emcee, and accordingly, he deserves our praise for that. This might sound like a fairly uncontroversial proposition, but it’s honestly an issue that I struggle with, and here’s why:

On one hand, when I’m just clowning around or on my commute, I’ll bump tracks like Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s” , U.G.K.’s “The Game Belongs to Me” or something from T.I., and I really enjoy them. I write them off as “hot tracks” that get your head bobbing, and I’m not bothered by the lack of substance and/or promotion of immorality because I don’t ultimately endorse any of it–I’m just there for the beat and the style, I’m not listening to ponder the world’s dilemmas.

I find some support for this care-free approach to hip-hop from its early days. Old school emcees weren’t really rapping about third world debt relief or warrantless wiretaps, they were just popping shit, saying anything to get your ass moving. So does Rich Boy. Ditto for Lil’ Jon.

Moreover, there is an unconditional facet to my love for hip-hop. I’ve never endorsed the “Hip-Hop Is Dead” argument. When Pimp C remarked that hip-hop needs Laffy Taffy as much as it needs Nasty Nas, I agreed to a certain extent (though choosing Laffy Taffy is probably a poor example). To me, it’s always evolving, and because I love hip-hop so much, I want to absorb every permutation of the artform and enjoy it like a parent enjoys whatever it is that their offspring choose to pursue as a career. Like any parent would attest, this isn’t totally unconditional, but it’s pretty open-minded nonetheless. So when the Whisper song dropped, I listened and bumped for a while. When Lil’ Jon blew up, I bumped, and I still keep an ear open for his unique sound. The message is utterly ignorant and morally reprehensible, but it’s all still hip-hop to me–and at the end of the day, it’s just a song to get asses moving, so who’s really harmed?

But on the other hand, it’s hard to look at the sorry state of urban America today and say that the criminal, gangster culture that these artists promote is utterly innocuous. The fact is that it’s not, and for someone like myself who considers urban renewal–particularly urban education reform–the civil rights issue of our time, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the kids, who lack better role models, end up admiring these rags to riches dirtbags.

I’m also moved by the criticisms of black intellectuals. Torrance Stevens, a contributor at, writes here about what he calls “The New Knights of the KKK”

“It really is the best dream of the Knights of the KKK – I mean have people they despise and deplore do their dirt for them. To make it simple, they continue to encourage the stereotypes and promote self destruction to the extent that it has reached pandemic proportions. I hear songs that proclaim the manliness of killing and shooting another. I hear songs that encourage women to be unfaithful to their commitment to their men. I hear songs that give confidence to the ill importance of school. There even seems to an inordinate amount of songs that target “baby mommas” and how delightful it is to receive sexual gratification from this select bevy of women. And last but not least, songs that proclaim the material riches that you accrue are more important than anything else – in particular if they are displayed on one’s car.”

Stevens adds:

“Please folk, especially my men in the entertainment industry, lets try and check ourselves and decide what type of legacy you desire to leave for your kids and others, one of self-enhancement, or one of self-destruction by a new invisible empire.”

But it’s also heartening to know that I’m not alone in this state of tension. Paul Butler, also of, writes about his inner-conflict over Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s”:

“Any black person who practices the politics of respectability would say [“Throw Some D’s”] sets Negroes back ten years… So every time this song comes on the radio I crank up the volume. When the chorus comes around I shout out at the top of my lungs “throw some d’s on that b.” (they bleep out “bitch” on the radio). Yes, I hate myself afterwards. But the flow is frigging irresistible.” (emphasis added).

This is one of those things for which I have no answer, so I write only to capture my thoughts at this particular moment in time; and to offer Napoleon and the rest of ISWHAT?! my unqualified appreciation for their effort to strive for the best of both worlds: fun music that is also socially conscious. Being from the ‘Natti, they know as well as anybody that the hood needs it right now. Props.