The Hip-Hop Generation Gap

August 25th, 2007

Here we go again with the latest round of attacks from elder black leaders on rap music. For those of you who have been in space for the last few months, let me provide a couple of examples. Esther Lee, president of Bethlehem NAACP in Pennsylvania expressed her discontent about Ludacris performing at the August 4th Musikfest by stating: “All I know is he’s a rapper, and rap music is lousy.” The Reverend Jesse Jackson has released a statement condemning rapper Bomani’s video “Read a Book” (watch here), which parodies all the negative images in hip-hop videos and flips the message from buying rims and grills to reading books and buying land. Said Jackson through his Rainbow-Push organization: “The video insults reading, personal hygiene, family values and frugality. ‘Read a Book’ heaps scorn on positive values and (un)intentionally celebrates ignorance.”

We still don’t get it in 2007. Our elders are still quick to cast all of us involved in rap music into a pit of worthless degenerates. They are also quick to use the white-controlled media platform (coincidentally, the same group that distributes this “vile” music they condemn) to express their discontent. Post-Don Imus, I was naïve enough to believe that America was really going to start recognizing artists who celebrate positivity and uplift their community. I thought that maybe guys like myself and even better-known rappers like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Lupé Fiasco were going to top the charts in ways not seen since Will Smith was in his rapping prime. Boy was I an idiot.

Rap music as a whole is still being trashed in the media. Reverend Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, Oprah Winfrey, Bill O’Reilly, Michelle Malkin, Stanley Crouch, Jason Whitlock, Roland Martin, Lauren Lake and others are still quick to condemn the negative lyrics as opposed to uplift the positive rappers. I bring those names up directly because these are just a few of the names on the list of people I had either e-mailed or called almost weekly and said quite plainly: “If you guys could just say the names of the rappers who are promoting positivity as opposed to giving ‘vile rappers’ more airtime, you could do more to change the face of hip-hop that appears on television.” I have written Oprah on several occasions asking her to start a “Hip-hop Club” to promote people she thinks are positive. Out of all of the letters I wrote to the above people, I only received one response from one of them, who said simply: “Good luck in your career.”

So I have concluded that America doesn’t want it. America doesn’t really want positive rap music in the mainstream. As rapper Lloyd Banks stated: “Fuck being positive ‘cause negativity spreads faster.” If he was wrong, more of us clean rappers would have record deals instead of struggling to pay bills. Reverend Jesse Jackson could have easily had his secretary call Bomani to talk about the video, but he chooses to organize protests around BET and send out press releases. This is the same argument rapper/producer David Banner made in his critique of Jackson and Sharpton, stating:

“If you got a problem with my music, see me. You don’t have to call us out and embarrass us in front of all of America. I’m the child. Y’all are supposed to be teaching me. What if I didn’t know any better. Don’t stomp my CDs and talk bad about me. Some of these other ‘leaders,’ these old, Black people who ain’t standing for their people, they’re standing for whoever endorses them.”

So here we are again. We are going back to the future. We are back to the 60s where many elders thought rock & roll was devil music and back to the 90s era of C. Delores Tucker and others condemning rap music. I must say that I do respect the late C. Delores Tucker for many of her efforts and for the record, Reverend Sharpton and Oprah have been involved in many aspects to clean up rap music outside of the mainstream media. At the end of the day, however, our elders aren’t doing enough talking with us. Esther Lee and others who condemn the hip-hop generation need to know that we are executives, lawyers, college professors, Ph.D. students, doctors, motivational speakers, actors, husbands, wives, policemen, soldiers in Iraq, and much more. If she and others won’t talk to us directly, what other choice do some of us rappers have but to put their names in songs? Lee and others fail to realize that our music is still a desperate cry for help.

To call rap “lousy” is to call us all lousy. Ms. Lee, please do not forget that we are your children too. We are the product of your generation. If my daughter becomes something I do not approve of, I have to accept how I may have contributed to that and try to heal my family, not condemn her in front of the rest of the world. When will our elders reclaim their responsibility to guide us in the proper direction? When will they stop being scared to talk to us in the streets about our behavior? When will they stop using white-controlled media to speak at us? Until our elders take serious stock of where we are and what they did or did not do that caused us to be here, we will continue to let generation after generation fall by the wayside. I call on Oprah, Sharpton, Jackson and others to spend more time engaging us directly than condemning us publicly. It may not be the sexy thing to do. It may not get your show high ratings, or keep you in front of a CNN camera, but it is the right and necessary thing to do.

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