Only in America could you hear Don Imus and Hip Hop uttered in the same breath.
That the focus of the Imus fiasco would soon turn toward Hip Hop music and culture came as little surprise to me. After the acerbic radio and TV talk show host made disparaging, bigoted remarks about the mostly African-American members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team -- resulting in his firing from MSNBC and CBS -- Imus' supporters predictably asserted that he was merely doing what Hip Hoppers have done for the last 10 years. I never knew he was such a fan!
Indeed, the disrespect of women has become big business in Hip Hop, and it's not uncommon for Rap songs to routinely objectify women or refer to them as "hos" and other deplorable, offensive names.
In no uncertain terms, however, Imus was wrong and his firing -- or public stoning, as one supporter referred to recent events -- was well-deserved. Furthermore, I predict that it won't be long before pill-popping Rush Limbaugh and fellow media personalities Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage and others will have to answer for their equally hateful remarks.
Yet Imus' comments and the subsequent reevaluation of Hip Hop music does encourage serious introspection into how and why our music and culture places so much emphasis on the destruction (figuratively speaking or otherwise) of black femininity.
After generations of love, nurturing, guidance and support, it would seem that our most visible and prevalent art form, Hip Hop, should celebrate black womanhood. Instead, the vast majority of commercially popular rappers and producers use their talents to verbally destroy African-American women and girls.
What Imus said is neither surprising nor very newsworthy, in my estimation. But the fact that he and his supporters can swiftly turn the tables on a multi-billion dollar music industry that's guilty of the same thing is both ironic and unsettling.
The media focus shift to Hip Hop is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to redirect attention away from the housecleaning that needs to take place within the jocular, good-old-boy network that comprises the quasi-news/talk/shock jock format.
At the same time, few in the mainstream media care to recall that Essence magazine launched a year-long "Take Back the Music" campaign in 2005 aimed at addressing the manner in which women were depicted in videos and music.
How many media outlets have covered Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa's recently issued 10-point platform aimed at regaining control of our urban radio airwaves? He'd like to see radio stations offer more variety of musical genres, artists and content and reflect more diverse cultural and political views and not just the commercial interests of radio's big multi-media corporate owners.
Among Bambaataa's other ideas:
· Radio station directors, programmers and DJs should be held accountable for what's played on their stations.
· The FCC should do more to regulate radio stations that play negative songs with violent/sexual content during daytime hours when children and minors are most likely to be listening.
· Radio stations should dedicate a certain amount of air time to local and regional artists who put out quality music.
· Use radio, video and any other form of communication to educate, enlighten and entertain and not to control, exploit and manipulate.
Very little mainstream media coverage has been given to these other efforts to address the prevalence of negative images in our music:
· Conrad B. Tillard (formerly Conrad Muhammad) founded A Movement for CHHANGE (Conscious Hip-Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment) in the late 1990s to encourage political activism within the Hip Hop community. (see www.blackelectorate.com)
· The women of Atlanta's Spelman University forced rapper Nelly to cancel a scheduled concert after protesting his demeaning lyrics and the video for his "Tip Drill" single.
· The underground rapper NYOIL has launched a verbal assault on rappers and their liberal use of violent, misogynistic lyrics and images. His recently posted YouTube video, "You're a Queen," celebrates the strength and beauty of African-American women.
· Journalist/activist Davey D. is considered by many one of the most powerful and consistent voices within the Hip Hop community. His Web site (www.daveyd.com) is updated daily with news articles and blogs concerning Hip Hop's impact on popular culture.
· Fidel Rodriguez' weekly broadcast and Internet-based Divine Forces Radio show (formerly known as Seditious Beats) features a mixture of politically- and culturally-relevant Hip Hop music and programming aimed at raising community awareness. (www.divineforces.org)
· The Web site Antithug.com continues to address the stronghold that corporations have on media outlets and the negative stereotypes projected in popular music.
No, this isn't a new conversation started by Don Imus' bad attempt at humor. But it apparently takes the words and actions of a crotchety 66-year-old shock jock to launch a nationwide dialogue about something that true school Hip Hop heads have been discussing for the last 10 or more years.
Thanks, Don. Only in America.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Kevin Britton is a regular contributing writer for CityBeat's music section. His Hip Hop column, "The Ledge," ran monthly from 2003 to 2006 and consistently critiqued Hip Hop's messages and messengers.
CONTACT KEVIN BRITTON: letters(at)citybeat.com