Bad Rap i Bad Rap Cindy Sloan English 106 Dr. Zhang December 5, 2008 p. 701, #8 Bad Rap ii Abstract Rap music has become a controversial subject on whether it is an artistic expression or an avenue used to promote violence and demean women. The musical industry is exploiting the negative aspects of the African-American culture to become rich and famous. Because the general population hears musicians use phrases and words that have a demeaning tone, there have been instances of confusion on what can be said by whom. Rap music has had a negative impact on minority youth as well. Rather than using rap music to help African-Americans better their community, this type of music instills in the youth that violence and demeaning women is the way life should be. Rap artists and their backers need to re-examine what the messages are that they want to provide for future generations. They need to look back at the roots of African- American music and see that the music that their ancestors sang about wasn‟t about violence or demeaning women. It was about faith and getting through trying times during slavery. It is up to rap artists and the community to sing about ways to benefit the African-American community so that their youth will see the positives of the world and the value of women. Bad Rap 1 Bad Rap Artistic expression is demonstrating one‟s imagination or skill through music, art, words, or movement. Rap music, which evolved from the African-American culture, is a form of a discussion that expresses the injustice that they believe has been imposed on their race. To get this message out, musicians use cadenced rhymes in their music to echo the unfairness that they have endured since slavery. Along with this unique style of music, the African-American community has endorsed a vocabulary of their own, which is referred to as slang or Black English. With the combination of rhymes put to a distinct beat and the slang that distinguishes rap from other music, rap music is a culturally negative exploitation of the nuances and cultural specific vocabularies. By using the faults in their cultures of openly disrespecting the black female and inciting black on white and black on black violence, rap stars are exploiting the music industry to become rich and arguably famous. Record executives know that offensive words sell, and this is evident by the fact that the top ten rap albums are littered with offensive words that are demeaning to women (Zuckerman, 2007, p.68). While the first amendment guarantees their right to such exploitation, it does not make exploitation ethically or morally correct. These insulting words affect the values of those who listen to demeaning rap lyrics, and put women in jeopardy of being stereo typed as being less equal to men. Rap musicians constant reference to women as “hos” and “bitches” also confuses the general public‟s belief of what are acceptable phrases and words that can be used when referring to African-Americans. Such is the case of Don Imus who used the phrase “nappy-haired hos” when referring to the Rutgers women‟s basketball team. Imus, in James Poniewozik‟s (2006) essay “The Imus Fallout: Who Can Say What?” states his confusion when he says: This phrase that I use, it originated in the black community. That didn‟t give me a right to use it, but Bad Rap 2 that‟s where it originated. Who calls who that and why? We need to know that. I need to know that. (as cited in Rottenberg & Winchell, 2009, p. 695) Imus‟ statement is a good one to consider. Rap music provides society with the wrong impression that it must be okay to refer to African-American women as hos because rappers are using this cultural specific verbiage in their music. In the Imus case, he brings a valid point to this new angle on the first amendment and freedom of speech. When dealing with minorities, as an example, a Caucasian male may attempt to use the exact same words in the proper context as a minority might in describing or addressing another member of that minority group. Why is it freedom of speech for them to use specific words and yet it‟s considered hate speech by a different ethnic group? The words are the same, the context is the same, but one is considered patently offensive when used outside of the minority group to which it belongs. By protecting certain words and phrases that may only be used by a specific ethnic group, aren‟t we forming the basis of racism? When a rap star calls a female a “nappy-headed ho,” it helps him make money and become famous. As in the Imus case, when a white person used the identical terms for the same reasons, to make money and add to his fame, it is considered racist and looked upon as divisive and insulting. Rap music has gone too far in using derogatory words, such as the “n” word, “ho”, and “bitch.” These odious words have landed on the ears of at least one influential executive of the music industry. Russell Simmons, the co-founder of hip-hop label Def Jam, told BBC News (2007) that he wants “the corporate social responsibility of the industry to voluntarily show respect to African-Americans and other people of color, African-American women and to all women in lyrics and images” (“Call,” p. 1). By getting the support from the financial backers would be the best avenue to take because rappers, such as Chamillionaire, aren‟t willing to give up their negative exploitation of women. Why should they? In 2006 there were 1,417,178 copies of just Chamillionaire‟s song Ridin‟ sold to the public alone (Solters & Loynes, 2007, p. 4). This Bad Rap 3 statistic doesn‟t account for any of the other artists songs sold to impressionable people. Of course, there are rap artists that don‟t rely on shock value and disrespect for women to sell their music. Unfortunately, these are the minority of rap artists. Sadly, these abhorrent lyrics do not fall on deaf ears in minority communities. Many minority youth hear these words and phrases used by their role models and believe that parroting or mimicking that type of speech or attitude will elevate them in the eyes of their peers. They use these words for their ability to shock and draw attention to themselves and eventually believe that the attitudes and violence towards women is inherent to their race or society. NAACP President Dennis Hayes said “These denigrating words hurt our communities, hurt our children, hurt our women – I don‟t know that there is any redeeming value to the n-word” (as quoted in E. S., 2007, p.16) Rap musicians would better serve their respective races and societies by setting better examples for the youths to follow. Their lyrics could be used to bring national attention to the deplorable living conditions, lack of financial opportunities, lack of educational opportunities, and lack of upward mobility in society. The music could be used to recommend alternatives to violence, distrust, and other negative behaviors. There is a growing segment of the rap music genre that is doing just as was formally discussed. They are bringing forth positive role models who, while pointing out deplorable conditions, are still able to guide their youth in positive directions using respectful terms in referring to themselves and their female population. As Mortimer Zuckerman (2007) states, in his article “Why „Ho is so Hurtful,” “it is imperative that we address these issues that so often manifest themselves in the attempts by black males to demean striving black females” (p.68). However, there will still always be a segment of that population that will always be more motivated by negative expressions and shock value. In previous generations, all the way back to slavery and even further back to their home lands, the African community have relied greatly in respectful, spiritual music to both express their poor situation in life as well as offering hope and solace to their people. In slavery days, the Bad Rap 4 slaves often made up and sang ballads and gospel music praising God and at the same time offering comfort to those who suffered. The music represented great comfort for all of the people and showed great respect for their God and their fellow men and women. It wasn‟t until “the late 1980s [that] the violent, sexist version of „gangster‟ rap dominated” the African-American music culture (Stevens, 2008, p.5). This music appealed to the young African-American males who were struggling with their own identity crisis as to where they fit into American culture. After hearing this type of music they quickly adopted the attitudes and vocabularies that the songs offered as a way to set them apart from the rest of the American community. As time passed, the words became deeds and were no longer just words to a song for entertainment, but rather represented a shift in attitudes and behaviors. African-American women were left behind without identities other than those given them by their male peers. These males, because of their radical views, became role models for younger African-American males in the next generation. The thought of achieving fame and fortune by becoming a rap star forced each successive generation to become more outlandish than the previous until finally the majority of Americans, both black and white recognized that this path was quickly becoming self destructive for the African- American women and the community as a whole. The solution is not easily achieved. While huge amounts of money and adulation by young black males are the result of shockingly violent and disrespectful lyrics, this type of music will be slow to lose its appeal. The African-American community as a whole must decide that continuing to financially support artists that use inappropriate rap music as a means to garner wealth and fame is unacceptable. A united effort must be made to persuade these artists that there are better and more appropriate ways to bring change to the African-American community and still achieve fame and fortune. The answer for this is simply allowing time to run its course and letting peer pressure exert its influence. Bad Rap 5 References Call for end to racist rap lyrics. (2007). BBC News. Retrieved November 4, 2008, from http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/658 6787.stm E. S. (2007). Hip-hop‟s war of words. Rolling Stone 1027, 16. Retrieved November 5, 2008, from EBSCOhost database. Poniewozik, J. (2009). The Ismus fallout: Who can say what? In A. Rottenberg & D. Winchell (Eds.), Elements of argument: A text and a reader (pp. 694-699). New York: Bedford/St. Martin‟s. Solters, L., & Loynes, A. (2007). U.S. music purchases exceed 1 billion sales. Businesswire. Retrieved November 2, 2008, from http:// www.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/ ?ndmViewID=news_view&newsID=200701040005813&newsLang=en Stephens, R. W. (2008). African American music. Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 2, 2008, from Grolier Online http://0-gme.grolier.com.libweb.dmacc.edu:80/ chi-bin/article?assetid=0003626-0 Zuckerman, M. B. (2009). Why „ho‟ is so hurtful. U.S. News & World Report 14215, 68. Retrieved November 5, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.