Hip-Hop Think Tank Presents
Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads Vol. 4 Journal of Student Research and Critical Analysis Pan African Studies Department California State University, Northridge firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/hiphopthinktank
Hip-Hop Think Tank
Editorial Board 2010/2011 Faculty Advisor Anthony J. Ratcliff, Ph.D. Contributing Editors Estella L. Owoimaha-Church Lindsey Darden Jeffory Alexander Cover Design HHTT Editorial Collective Publication Layout & Design HHTT Editorial Collective Members Samantha Wauls, President Noelle Chesnut Perosaiye Akinbohun Lisa-Mone Lamontagne Chuma Obiara Justin “Maestro” Marks Jusdeep Sethi Jeffory Alexander Devin O’Neal Terrance Stewart Editorial and Submission Policy The Hip-Hop Think Tank Journal is published once a year by the Pan African Studies Department at California State University, Northridge, representing the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. However, nothing in the content, theories, or points of view expressed by the student-authors should be deemed the position or beliefs of the Pan African Studies Department, Dean of the College, the Provost, the President, or Chancellor within the CSU system. All content is the responsibility of the authors themselves. Some of the content in the journal may not be suitable for children. Submissions for the Hip-Hop Think Tank Journal should be well-written papers of quality research and/or prose on any topic related to Hip-Hop culture. The citation style should be consistent with Modern Language Association (MLA). For deadlines and submissions, contact (818) 677-4559 or email submissions to email@example.com.
Copyright © 2010-2011 California State University, Northridge. All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage retrieval system without permission in writing from the Pan African Studies Department chair.
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Hip-Hop Think Tank Journal of Student Research and Critical Analysis Volume 4 2010/2011 Table of Contents Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads Message from the Department Chair Karin L. Stanford, Ph.D. Pan African Studies Department
Message from the Faculty Advisor Anthony Ratcliff, Ph.D. Pan African Studies Department
“Passing the Mic”: Letter from the Previous Editor and President Estella Owoimaha-Church Former President and Contributing Editor
The President’s Peace Samantha Wauls HHTT President
Introduction: Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads Editorial Collective
Gag Order Shari Williams
The Sub-Oppression of Women in Hip-Hop? A Prospectus Patrice Ferguson
You Weren’t Hired to Speak, So Shut Up! James Golden
If Cointelpro and Hip-Hop had a Baby Estella Owoimaha-Church
Notorious: Biggie’s Women Gloria Teferi
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Let’s Get Freaky! Britni Cardosa
Moving Kinship: The Correlation between Rap and Spirituals as Social Activist Musical Genres Jayme Alilaw 68 Self-Conscious Consumption: When it All Falls Down Brandi Rene’e Beard
Some Times Things Don’t Fall Apart Lucas Grace
Who Am I Going to Listen To? Cidnie Warren
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Message from the Department Chairâ€Ś The fourth edition of the Hip-Hop Think Tank is a testament to the creativity and tenacity of students who know and understand the significance of Hip-Hop. In the tradition of previous journals, the articles featured are indicative of the intellectual depth and grassroots sensitivity of the Hip-Hop Think Tank and demonstrate that the writers remain committed to the historical importance and transformative nature of the genre. Publication of this edition of the journal was made possible by the dedicated work of Dr. Anthony J. Ratcliff, who has served as the faculty advisor to the Hip-Hop Think Tank for the last two years. Estella Owoimaha carried the daily joy but sometimes difficult task of collecting, editing and organizing the articles. Estella is the personification of excellence demonstrated by members of the Hip-Hop Think Tank, as she graduated from CSUN with honors. Samantha Wauls became the new President of the Hip-Hop Think Tank in 2010. She serves additionally as president of the Think Tank as well as supervises the logistics of student participation in various academic conferences. My sincerest appreciation to Samantha for a job well done. To all the members of the Hip-Hop Think Tank, past, present and future, your ability to use scholarship to help maintain the integrity of Hip-Hop gives us hope for the future. You are light that shines for your generation. Karin L. Stanford, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Chair ~ Read. Write. Resist. Rejoice. Revolt. Rejoice Some More ~
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Message from the Faculty Advisor… Hip-Hop saved my life, literally. As a young boy growing up, I had few positive male role models that I could look to for guidance, and I rarely learned about Black or Brown historical figures or movements from my teachers or school textbooks. However, I did have access to a boom box and underground radio stations that played syncopated beats and intellectually-dense lyrics that opened my young mind. Hearing selections such as Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force’s “Renegades of Funk,” KRS-One’s “My Philosophy,” and Public Enemy’s “Rebel without a Pause,” exposed me to individuals and ideas that rarely entered my consciousness at home, in school, or in the popular culture. I can honestly say that the so-called Golden Era of Hip-Hop brought me out of the “darkness” and into the “light” ignited by Kool DJ Herc and Afrika Bambaataa more than a decade earlier. It was because of these and countless other Hip-Hop songs that I began to question the popular myths about Blackness, and seek “knowledge of self” in books and alternative forms of cultural production. This was before the mainstream media and global corporations attempted to co-opt Hip-Hop in order to commodify the kinetic energy of the culture into a one-dimensional brand that could be repackaged and sold to the very communities that originally created it. Fortunately, those of us who came of age during the Golden Era, as well as the cadres of younger b-boys and b-girls who still find sustenance and solace in the “light,” remember the power of the culture that made us move. It is in this “light” that the Hip-Hop Think Tank publishes the fourth edition of its acclaimed student journal. They’ve entitled this volume, “Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads,” because it focuses on the intersection of Hip-Hop in the Academy with its origins in the streets. Although it has been some time since the last publication, these essays represent the ideas and voices of past and present students affiliated with CSUN’s Hip-Hop Think Tank. Some pieces are from former students who have long since graduated, such as Patrice Ferguson, Jayme Alilaw, Estella Owoimaha-Church, Britni Cardosa, and James Golden; while other articles are either from current members of the Hip-Hop Think Tank or students who have taken the Politics of Hip-Hop course. Of course, this journal wouldn’t have been possible without the financial assistance of the Instructionally Related Programs (IRA) funded by the Associated Students, Inc., and the programmatic guidance of the Pan African Studies Department, especially Dr. Karin Stanford and her support staff. I also want to acknowledge the growing ranks of Hip-Hop intellectuals, both domestically and internationally, who are struggling against the attempted hijacking of a culture by corporate forces hell bent on stripping it of its oppositionality. And finally, I give thanks to the brilliant lyricists of the Golden Era of Hip6 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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Hop, who still manage to keep me focused when the pressures of the Academy and the world become overwhelming and I begin to take my eyes off the light. One love, Dr. Anthony Ratcliff HHTT Faculty Advisor
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“Passing the Mic”: Letter from the Previous Editor and President Hip-Hop is at a crossroad. What path will the Hip-Hop generation choose? It’s unclear. 2010-2011 was a good year for rappers Lupe Fiasco, Jay-Z, Eminem and Lil’ Wayne. Lupe Fiasco got a taste of mainstream success topping the billboard charts and stirred up some controversy, calling United States President Barack Obama "the biggest terrorist in America". Jay-Z, amidst expected record sales, announced he and wife, Beyonce, will be expecting their first child together and Forbes placed him at number one on the Hip-Hop Cash Kings 2011 list with an unsurprising $37 million. Eminem made the comeback of the century after battling with drug addiction and was named the “King of Hip-Hop” by Rolling Stone Magazine. The Billboard 200 list of 2011 outlines the landscape of Hip-Hop today. What would seem impossible to fans happened, Lasers by Lupe Fiasco, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 204,000 copies its first week. It was the first rap album to debut #1 on the Billboard 200 in 2011. Bad Meets Evil's (Royce Da 5’9 and Eminem) Hell: The Sequel, arguably the greatest example of lyricism in mainstream Hip-Hop today, became the first rap group album to debut at #1 on Billboard 200 and the second Hip-Hop act to have a #1 album in 2011. Predicted by most, The Throne's (Jay-Z and Kanye West) Watch the Throne became the fastest selling rap album in 2011, selling 436,000 copies its first week, beating Lasers and Hell: The Sequel. Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV became the fourth rap album to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200. These four albums alone illustrate the crossroads Hip-Hop stands at. One path leads to political consciousness and a call to action, another path leads to undeniable artistry and lyricism, another path represents Hip-Hop’s commercialization and mainstream status, while another demonstrates effortlessly the misogyny, degradation and homophobia that pervades Hip-Hop today. The Billboard charts aren’t the only examples of this crossroad. This year’s BET HipHop Awards failed to highlight the better half of Hip-Hop and what our generation has to offer. With so much political discourse taking place across the nation within minority and Hip-Hop communities it’s a wonder BET managed to ignore it all. The award ceremony took place shortly after the execution of Troy Davis and a massive nation-wide campaign, led by Amnesty International, to stay his execution. Troy Davis was only mentioned once by rapper Too Short. BET even managed to ignore the Occupy Protest, rooted on Wall Street, sprouting up in major cities across the country. Lupe Fiasco’s performance, being the only reference to the Occupy Protest, did not seem well received by the masses in the crowd. Despite the current state of Hip-Hop on a mainstream pedestal, there are many redeeming qualities this generation has to offer; we are scholars, activist, leaders, and teachers. HipHop lives on and the Think Tank will continue to facilitate, provoke, and realize positive
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movement through academic analysis, research and critical discourse. As former president and contributing editor, I am proud to â€œpass the torchâ€? to the next generation of Think Tankers and I remain confident in their ability to lead Hip-Hop passed this crossroad and down the right path. In Service and Solidarity, Estella Owoimaha-Church Former President and Contributing Editor
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The President’s Peace Peace, As the 2010-2011 President of Hip-Hop Think Tank I would like to thank you for supporting conscious Hip-Hop. I would also like shout out the Hip-Hop scholars who dedicated their time and intellectual capacity to produce provocative critical analysis in their articles. Enjoy this academic cipher and indulge in the rhetoric of Hip-Hop critics and advocates. Groove to the funky discourse of these Hip-Hop scholars as they discuss materialism, misogyny, sexuality, activism, philosophy and the policing of Hip-Hop culture. It has been a pleasure to serve as your President this academic school year. The year before I had never contemplated on becoming President of any campus organization during my senior year, including, Hip-Hop Think Tank. I guess that’s the power of Hip-Hop! I have always found myself personified in the mission statements of various black student groups. Hip-Hop Think Tank is no different from the National Society of Black Engineers, except that, one uses Hip-Hop to uplift oppressed communities, while the other strives on producing socially conscious Engineers. My affiliations are just examples of how I utilize praxis to help afflicted communities. Hip-Hop is praxis! “So the next time you ask yourself where Hip-Hop is goin/ask yourself where am I goin” (Mos Def, “Fear Not of Man”). The powerful words of Mos Def, off his initial solo album Black on Both Sides, have stuck with me in my Hip-Hop journey. His words reference El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz inspirational rap, “If you're not ready to die for it, put the word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary”. Freedom is all about reflection and action! Hip-Hop has accredited me to reflect on societal woes, while empowering me to become an agent of change. I want to challenge the reader to answer Mos Def’s proposition. Move beyond sitting on your couch and inhaling an hour and thirty minutes of 106’n’Park. Step outside your circle of certainty and question what you have been taught to regurgitate as the truth. Let’s get back to the true essence of Hip-Hop and become participatory in the culture. Those who use Hip-Hop as an academic framework or epistemology are not just scholars who love HipHop, but are Hip-Hop scholars. Always remember colleagues that We are who we have been waiting for and We have arrived! Samantha Wauls President
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Introduction: Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads Editorial Collective The crossroads is a significant theoretical concept in African and African Diasporic cultural histories. It represents the intersection between the sacred and secular, profound and profane. According to Yoruba and Orisha spiritual traditions, Eshu-Elegbara is the gatekeeper/trickster figure located at the crossroads. As people of African descent were forced to reconceptualize their cultural practices during enslavement in the United States, the crossroads often became a trope describing the intersection of good and evil worlds. This is evident in numerous folktales, religious practices, and cultural texts, such as country blues man Robert Johnson’s “Cross Roads Blues,” in which he cries out to “the Lord above ‘Have mercy, now/save poor Bob, if you please.” Though a popular myth suggests that Johnson went to the crossroads to sell his soul to the “devil” for fame and fortune, Catherine Yronwode argues that in fact it was another blues musician named Tommy Johnson who allegedly did this.1 Despite the questionable validity of the myth, the concept of the crossroads still has considerable resonance in African American cultural narratives. Now, how does all this relate to Hip-Hop Studies you may ask? Well, being that HipHop evolved from the confluence of these and other African-descendant cultural traditions, it is not surprising that the concept of the crossroads would reappear in the Hip-Hop generation’s cultural expression. For example, Bone Thugz n Harmony’s 1996 song “Tha Crossroads” is an appropriate metaphor expressing the complex duality that members of the Hip-Hop generation find themselves. While the song is specifically decrying the loss of family, friends, and comrades to violence and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, namely Eric “Eazy E” Wright, it also alludes to the existential angst of Black youths attempting to reconcile their “spiritual selves” with the brutal realities of the streets. Other Hip-Hop artists have ruminated on the proverbial crossroads, although they may not have been quite as literal as Bone Thugz n Harmony. Nevertheless, one can find the tensions between the sacred and secular expressed in the lyrical content of Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., NAS, DMX, Kanye West, the Wu Tang Clan, and numerous other rappers. Though much of the time the crossroads has had a religious connotation, in a secular context it can also refer to the intersection of two otherwise distinct worlds. For the purposes of this volume, the essays primarily concentrate on the contested intersections in
See, Catherine Yronwode, “The Crossroads in Hoodoo Magic,” Hoodoo Theory and Practice, www.luckymojo.com/crossroads.html 1
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Hip-Hop studies, those between race and gender/sexuality, culture and commerce, the mainstream and underground, and many other spaces where two (or more) worlds come together to form a more complex representation of African Diasporic cultural identity. Though we realize that not all possible intersections in Hip-Hop are considered in this volume, we do hope that these pieces will inspire others to write about the locations where crossroads encounter their realities. We hope you enjoy the work of these emerging HipHop scholars.
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Gag Order Shari Williams Sitting here suppressed along with the oppressed They didn't want to allow me to address exactly how I feel As a black woman, as a black man We are supposed to be stereotypes Prototypes of the man that brought us over I'm not supposed to fight I'm not supposed to write I'm not supposed to be educated and allow others to know it So that Hip-Hop you call it? I gotta throw it.
I gotta throw it so far, matter of fact I'll recycle it Put my mic to it And add witty conundrums so that you and the industry will love it Nah, I ain't talking bout the world and all that crap I learned my lesson, that's why I'm sitting here now Down In this prison cell, in this crazy house Trust me, I'll get well and break out of this spell I won't be breaking no social laws or making musical flaws
I mean, I'm workin' on it
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I'm inspired by my sentence Been working on this song in vengeance I call it “Gag Order” (It's gone be #1)
“They got me on gag order What I want to say, Can't Let's talk about sex, violence Of course I'd be in this predicament
All I need is my gold fronts A couple big bootied h*es, I stunt We can have sex all night Raw, juicy, rape me, baby let's fight I can say that, right? Cuz they got me on gag order”
A gag order is a legal order by a government restricting information from being made by public A gag is usually a device to prevent speech To prevent we A legal order by the court That I'll call the industry
Need I say more? I ain't come to preach. I'll just sit here and live out my sentence, allow this to be the social norm and do nothing.
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Like the rest I see.
DJ Kool Herc -Brandon Ruffins, 2010
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The Sub-Oppression of Women in Hip-Hop? A Prospectus Patrice Ferguson The premise of the paper is to examine how the male-dominated Hip-Hop culture impacts the lives of women and girls of African descent along with the agency they have within their own oppression. My interest in the topic is based upon the intersecting of two categories that define my life experience: being a woman of African descent and a member of the HipHop generation. I would like to explore the sometimes volatile relationship of being both an African descendant and female - labels which contribute to sexual, social, and economic oppression - as well as being a member of a subculture that attempts to sub-oppress under the hegemony of capitalistic patriarchy in the Western world. Specifically, my interest is in the cultural phenomenon of Hip-Hop and the role of women of African descent within this social construct. The significance of this body of work is to expose and explore the experiences had by women who, like myself, are of African descent and of the Hip-Hop generation. These women also relate to oppression and sub-oppression within the subculture of Hip-Hop. They are of a group that is unfortunately overlooked, misunderstood, and understudied. This work will apply the works of Paulo Freire, whose works generally focus on education, and his theory on sub-oppression to the issue of gender inequality and domination. Additionally, Antonio Gramsciâ€™s works, which typically center on culture, politics, and history, will be applied to the phenomenon of Hip-Hop and gender issues. While Freire and Gramsci's overall works focus on areas other than womenâ€™s issues, their isolated studies combined will support gender relation as articulated by author bell hooks. However, hooks' viewpoint does not connect to the culturally hegemonic institutions that reward and perpetuate the gendered oppression prevalent in the expression of Hip-Hop via sexism, classism, racism, and heterosexism. Several questions arise when dealing with sexism, racism, classism, and oppression towards and within a subculture, but the following are most poignant: Can a subculture have internal oppression? Does an oppressed person have the capacity to oppress? If so, is this classified as sub-oppression? How does feminism in the new millennium address the plight of women of color? How does patriarchy affect and effect an oppressed group? Finally, are men within the Hip-Hope community sub-oppressing women?
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The overwhelming and resounding answer to the latter question is yes! In every way within the confines of social order, cultural definition and imagery, the gatekeepers and dominators of Hip-Hop culture oppress women. Due to the pedagogy of oppression, invasion, cultural hegemony, and patriarchal masculinity, men of the Hip-Hop generation sub-oppress women in the areas of social control, order, image, and identity. Overall, the approach for addressing this thesis includes research on feminism and how it relates to the African American community. Subsequently, the research intends to measure the link between gender expression and the patriarchal oppression of women. Scholarly works on the subculture of Hip-Hop were also reviewed, addressing women’s subjugation by means of gender inequality. Furthermore, general concepts - such as oppression, sub-oppression, patriarchy, patriarchal masculinity, cultural hegemony, cultural invasion, and emasculation theory - were explored and defined within the context of the African community in the United States. Paulo Freire’s oppression theory, Antonio Gramsci’s cultural hegemony and cultural invasion, and bell hooks’ black feminist perspective of patriarchal masculinity are the theories that formulate the premise of this work in conjunction with the postulates of HipHop scholars Joan Morgan and Marc Anthony Neal. The ideas of other Hip-Hop scholars were assessed, which helped to address cultural aspects often overlooked and misrepresented by mainstream media as well as academia. Additional feminist theories were consulted when addressing patriarchy, misogyny, and emasculation theory, specifically Black feminism (multicultural/multiracial feminism) and third wave feminism. These seek to address “the concept of intersectionality - the combined effects of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, and other major social statuses in producing a matrix of domination,” as well as “… reject the sense of women as oppressed victims… instead [it] valorizes women’s agency…” (Lorber 199, 279). What is Oppression and Sub-oppression? …The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or ‘sub-oppressors.’ The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. Their ideal is to be men; but for them to be men is to be oppressors. This is their model of humanity. – Paulo Freire from Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2003) Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed deals with the effects of oppressive systems upon those confined to them. Freire postulates that the inherent assumption of superiority -
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morally, intellectually, and physically - by a dominate group is the underlying basis for all propaganda produced by that group in order to hold onto the position of power. The consumers of the propaganda, the oppressed class, are emotionally, physically, and psychologically altered to reflect an inferior version of themselves, thereby losing their humanity. “…Their perception of themselves as oppressed is impaired by their submersion in the reality of oppression” (Freire 45). An even more disturbing point is the next step in fostering oppression, which is the internalization of inferiority by the oppressed as proclaimed by the oppressor. For the HipHop culture, this phenomenon has a domino effect upon the actions and mores of the group. Men of African descent within the Hip-Hop community accept the notion of inferiority and overcompensate by embodying the hyperbolic patriarchal form of masculinity that extorts and exploits women. “Black male Hip-Hop artists do not simply assert power over women’s bodies in a kind of effort to create imaginative patriarchy; they also use black women as a kind of commodity expression of wealth and sexual power in the face racialized economic powerlessness” (Perry 127). These same women internalize and accept as truth the patriarchal ideology of the men that oppress them and begin to behave and think in a manner that supports the inferior perspective of women that permeates the sexist philosophy. The acceptance of patriarchy by women is to be expected given that the idea is a part of the process of socialization in America: …Black women may themselves embrace debilitating forms of black patriarchy simply because there are few other options in a society that posits the patriarchal family as the norm and often interprets the failure of the black community to embody that normalcy as the fault of black women (Neal 20). To not accept patriarchy is pathological, a label embedded in the history of this nation. The infamously racist and sexist Moynihan Report - published in 1965 by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty Campaign - argued that single female-headed households left males emasculated. Thus, there would be an inability to usurp power, given that they are emasculated by women’s overly aggressive nature and lack of patriarchal defined femininity: In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is to out of line with the rest of the American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro
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women as well…Nonetheless, at the center of the tangle of pathology is the weakness of the family structure. Once or twice removed, it will be found to be the principal source of most of the aberrant, inadequate, or anti-social behavior that did not establish, but now serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and deprivation (Moynihan). The fear of being labeled as both pathological and a tool of racism to continue the attack on men of African descent fostered women’s acceptance and subsequent transmission of the oppressive idea of patriarchy to the next generation: The ‘fear of freedom’ which afflicts the oppressed, a fear which may equally well lead them to desire the role of the oppressor or bind them to the role of oppressed…[More specifically,] The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom (46-47). Literature Survey Antonio Gramsci’s theories of cultural hegemony and cultural invasion are clearly outlined in Joseph V. Femia’s Gramsci’s Political Thought: Hegemony, Consciousness, and the Revolutionary Process, Anne Showstack Sassoon’s Approaches to Gramsci, and Clovis E. Semmes Cultural Hegemony & African American Development. Both concepts preclude autonomy of groups sanctioned to be dominated by some perceived deficiency - specifically, gender and race in the instance of misogyny in Hip-Hop. Femia can sum up the concept of cultural hegemony and cultural invasion as stated: …the supremacy of a social group or class manifests itself in two different ways: domination or coercion, and intellectual and moral leadership. This latter type of supremacy constitutes hegemony. Social control, in other words, takes two basic forms: besides influencing behaviour and choice externally, through rewards and punishments, it also affects them internally…Such ‘internal control’ is based on hegemony, which refers to an order in which a common social-moral language is spoken, in which the concept of reality is dominated, informing with its spirit all modes of thought and behaviour (24). In relation to Hip-Hop culture, the construct of masculinity is perceived to be hyperbolic, necessitating domination over female members of the group. Cultural hegemony dictates that punishment for not upholding this form of masculinity is exclusion from the power base, media outlets, or alignment with femininity by being labeled as such. With regard to feminism, cultural hegemony constructs itself around a superior group and an
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inferior group. Given the very definition of patriarchy, and taking into consideration the structure of Hip-Hop this defines men of African descent as the cultural centers, and therefore the superior and dominant group. bell hooks’ We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity theorizes that African masculinity is a form of forced acceptance of Western patriarchal masculinity which encompasses the displays and measurement of manhood within Hip-Hop culture. Moreover, the notion of emasculation is a figment of racist and sexist banter to uphold superiority complexes, serving as a crutch for men to beat successful women over the head with. “Today many black males in our society embrace the notion that they are victims, that racism, The Man, treacherous black women, b*tches of all colors and so forth are all making it hard for them to get ahead….Scapegoating is a diversionary tactic. It allows the scapegoater to avoid the issues they must confront if they are to assume responsibility for their lives” (hooks 85). For the Hip-Hop generation, it is this deep-seated distrust and vilification of women that adds to their disregard. Racism is seemingly so overpowering that it becomes easier for men to look at their female counterparts as a source of betrayal and attack them instead of taking on the racist establishment - especially when the idea of conspiring between the two ‘enemies’ is implied in every aspect of Hip-Hop culture. The two ‘enemies’ are women and the White male establishment. Black feminism and third wave feminism go beyond the points of patriarchal privilege to address social issues that plague women of all social-economic standings. They choose to be inclusive of mainstream culture while maintaining feminist ideology to work towards change within the social order: …Black third-waves shrug off the remnants of sexism, sexual harassment, and patriarchal privilege. Their battles are against restrictions on reproductive choice, AIDS, racism, homophobia, and economic inequalities. They adapt popular culture, especially Hip-Hop…to express their rebellious identities (Lorber 281). Overall, both theories deal with the “intersectionality of gender, racial categories, ethnicity, and social class, [that] multicultural/multiracial feminism argues that you cannot look at one of these social statues alone, nor can you add them one after another” (Lorber 200). This matrix of domination is the connecting concept that applies to women of Hip-Hop and feminist theory. A connection that is not expressed in other feminist theories - which often
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negate race - is a social construct that defines the lives of millions of members of the HipHop generation who are female. Via the aforementioned theorems and posits, it is the standpoint of the author that the trend of oppression, cultural hegemony, cultural invasion, and patriarchal masculinity sub-oppresses women of African descent in the areas of social control, order, image, and identity. This is described as sub-oppression because it is without merit or truth to omit the brutal oppression of men of African descent globally, but specifically within the United States of America. The oppressive nature of this nation is the catalyst for the creation of Hip-Hop culture. It was this oppression that birthed the need for escape via music - from lighthearted to politically charged - and the need for self-expression through the five elements of Hip-Hop: deejaying, graffiti art, break dancing, emceeing, and scholarship. Oppression and domination are so fervently accepted and practiced generation after generation in the United States of America. Given its turbulent history and its values built upon a foundation of sexism, racism, classism, and heterosexism. The historical legacy and incessant drive of cultural hegemony in this nation demonstrates that despite the need for escape by the socially subjugated from institutional oppression and dehumanization they themselves continue to uphold the very practices that are to their detriment. In essence, those so horribly mistreated by the social systems of this nation are the first to buy into them, first to fight in defense of them, and the most avid in holding to the confines of them. More importantly, the need to be a part of the establishment and be detached from the disallowed and misfortunate group is the ultimate reason for such unbounded commitment to the oppressive dehumanizing social systems of the United States of America. Who is the Man?! In the presence of cultural hegemony, cultural invasion, and patriarchy through capitalism, imperialism, globalization, and the commercialization of the Hip-Hop subculture, there is a persistent oppression of women by their male sub-oppressors. Sad to say, some African American males find the need to combat the loss of their own power - at the hands of privileged White, heterosexual, middle to upper middle class male counterparts - by usurping the power of the women closest to them. Although patriarchy is dependent upon a hierarchy, it appears as if men of different ethnicities and cultures are united in a relationship of dominance over their women, and that they are even further dependent upon each other to maintain that domination. Hierarchies “work” at least in part because they create vested interests in the status quo. Those at the higher levels can “buy off” those at the lower levels by offering them power
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over those still lower. In the hierarchy patriarchy, all men - whatever their rank in the patriarchy - are bought off by being able to control at least some women (Hartmann 211212). The hierarchy of Western society leads to the division of maleness based upon patriarchal paradigms often hinging upon the extent of domination of the female gender. Within the United States specifically, male stature can be attributed to one's level of power, position of respect, and control over women. Whether dealing with the Hip-Hop community or mainstream America, manhood is measured in material wealth, penis size, number of women successfully bedded, and number of women at one's disposal. The persistent myth of black male inferiority - based on the lack of black male leadership of the family, the lack of high-paying jobs, and extensive incarceration rates in combination with recidivism - leads to further acts of aggression and domination of women in the attempt to regain power and position within the community. The aggression is acted out in the form of sexual violence, sexual exploitation, objectification, general disrespect, and dehumanizing interplay. In the processes of 246 years of slavery, 93 years of the Jim Crow Era, and 387 years of dehumanization through the weapons of systemic and institutionalized racism, Black men all throughout history have struggled with issues of what it is to be a man. Unfortunately, in striving for their manhood, Black men of the Hip-Hop generation have bought into the misogynistic sexists system of patriarchy in order to gain full male status. When we read annals of history - the autobiographical writings of free and enslaved Black men - it is revealed that initially Black males did not see themselves as sharing the same standpoint as White men about the nature of masculinity. Transplanted African men even those coming from communities where sex roles shaped the division of labor, where the status of men was different and most times higher than that of women - had to be taught to equate their higher status as men with the right to dominate women. They had to be taught patriarchal masculinity. The gender politics of slavery and White supremacist domination of free Black men was the school where Black men from different African tribes, with different languages and value systems learned in the â€œnew worldâ€? - in short, patriarchal masculinity (hooks 2-3). The domain of power and control of social orders and institutions is and has been in the hands of men, no matter the race, class, or sexual orientation. The degree or amount of power is questionable depending upon ranking in the male hierarchy; however, that will never negate the fact that women are systemically held out of positions of power. We are a male-oriented society in every sense of the phrase and hold the penis up for all to fall down
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and exalt it. “Our society… is a patriarchy. The fact is evident at once if one recalls that the military, industry, technology, universities, science, political offices, finances - in short, every avenue of power within the society, including the coercive force of the police is entirely in male hands” (Hartmann 211). To question the privilege of the penis whether it belongs to a man of African descent or not is to throw all logic, reason, and truth out the window. Men of African descent along with every other group of males have the capacity to oppress the women of their group and have done so via patriarchal masculinity. It is a global phenomenon that we in the Black community first need to acknowledge as truth and second, rectify. Can the Oppressed Oppress? Young Black boys believing that they can define their manhood between a sixthgrade girl’s legs, growing up believing that Black women and girls are the fitting target for their justifiable furies rather than the racist structures grinding us all into dust... these are sad realities of Black communities today and of immediate concern to us all (Lorde 258). The Hip-Hop generation is no different than previous generations in the practice and acceptance of new world patriarchal masculinity. All of the governing ideologies of this nation by definition require that one group be put at a disadvantage in the exaltation of another, be it patriarchy, capitalism, or heterosexism. It is fitting that even within the confines of an oppressed group there will arise a dominant sect amongst subordinates. Additionally, with the acceptance of patriarchal masculinity, men of African descent gain privilege and some power within the White male-dominated world, privileges that afford them the right to control the culture and the codification of culture. Hip-Hop is undeniably male-centered and voices the perspective of various groups of men within the culture. The same cannot be said for women of Hip-Hop culture. The top CEO’s, producers, artists, deejays and video directors are men, not women. For women to even enter the world of Hip-Hop, a male must pave the way. Every female artist other than Queen Latifah was ushered into the game and legitimized by a man. Every female artist initially follows the formula and style of her male sire. It is without question that the men rule, set the standards, and control the voice and image of all that is Hip-Hop. Not only can the oppressed be oppressors; the oppressed are oppressors. Men of African descent that ascribe to Hip-Hop culture determine the images that are viewed and internalized by the community. The images that glorify pimps, prostitution, and stripper culture are all figures that visually equate to women of African descent. Men create the language and terms that code the culture, a language riddled with negative synonyms for women: "bird", "pigeon", “chickenhead”, “gold digger”, “jump off”, and “butterhead”.
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Moreover, the social distinction and position of women is clearly identifiable with the faceless body parts of women we see in every rap and R&B video and Hip-Hop film. The women are mere appendages of male sexuality, an accessory at best. In films like Belly and ATL the screenwriters, executive producers, director, and lead characters were all men. The women we sexual objects or mirror images of the males, never distinguishable entities with self-defining range. Why are All the Women So Hot and All the Men So Cold? Within the realm of Hip-Hop, reality is based upon overpriced fantasies existing within music videos. This high-gloss fallacy-laced, phallic-centered world almost always displays women as oversexed, underdressed purveyors of pleasure or palaces for phallic eroticism. By the standards of music videos, men and women of African descent operate in different temperate and self-worth zones while simultaneously sharing the same space. The bikini clad women “drop it like it’s hot”, “shake it like a salt shaker”, and “make it clap” in high-heeled shoes, while men in undershirts, T-shirts, sweaters, goose-down coats, and boots do the “two-step.” All of the aforementioned phrases are instructions to dances were males slightly move their feet while women vigorously move their butts. Within the paradoxical world of Hip-Hop such dramatic juxtapose scenarios are common place normalities of a culture that likes to “keep it real” - real misogynistic and full of femiphobias. These phobias of gold digging, baby mama drama, and castrating, neckrolling, super independent women are simple stereotypes in high definition surround sound with a booming bass. All the stereotypes racist and sexist White mainstream media perpetuates with every commercial or two-bit part in film and television can be seen for anyone’s viewing pleasure or disgust in virtually every Hip-Hop video or film. The pervasive nature of misogyny and its acceptability within American culture and the subculture of Hip-Hop continues to be rewarded and praised by industry leaders and labeled as a recipe for success. The music industry and the Recording Academy have clearly outlined that sub-oppression via rap music is award-winning behavior. In 1999, rapper Jay Z - considered to be one of the greatest rappers in Hip-Hop - released his fourth studio album entitled Vol. 3…Life and Time of S. Carter. The 2001 Grammy-nominated song “Big Pimpin’” - in the category of Best Rap Performance - was a part of the driving force of the triple platinum sales of the album. The song was rated Top Ten Internet Album, eighth of Top Ten Canadian Albums, number one on the Billboard Top 200 List, and number one for the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums of 2000. The lyrics clearly demonstrate the domination, objectification, and degrading image of women as prostitutes, gold diggers, and sexually one-dimensional. Women are portrayed as only present to please men sexually. Their needs are not noteworthy; in fact, their needs are considered parasitic. The desire to be taken care 24 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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of financially within a committed relationship is seen as imprisoning a man to get his money. The song lyrics paint women of African descent as sexual sources of pleasure and financial sources of pain. There is a clear declaration of sex without commitment and sex without dual gratification. Uhh, uh uh uh It's big pimpin’ baby… It's big pimpin’, spendin’ G’s Feel me... uh-huh uhh, uh-huh... Ge-ge-geyeah, geyeah Ge-ge-geyeah, geyeah… You know I - thug em, f**k em, love em, leave em Cause I don't f**kin’ need em Take em out the hood, keep em lookin’ good But I don't f**kin’ feed em First time they fuss I’m breezing (to leave) Talkin’ bout, “What's the reasons?” I’m a pimp in every sense of the word, b***h Better trust than believe em In the cut where I keep em til I need a nut, til I need to beat the guts (to have sex) Then it’s, beep beep and I’m pickin’ em up Let em play with the d**k in the truck Many chicks wanna put Jigga fist in cuffs (marry him) Divorce him and split his bucks Just because you got good head, I’ma break bread (perform oral sex well) so you can be livin’ it up? S**t I… parts with nothin’, y’all be frontin’ Me give my heart to a woman? Not for nothin’, never happen
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I'll be forever mackin’ Heart cold as assassins, I got no passion I got no patience And I hate waitin’… H*e get yo’ ass in And let's RI-I-I-I-I-IDE…check em out now RI-I-I-I-I-IDE, yeah And let's RI-I-I-I-I-IDE…check em out now RI-I-I-I-I-IDE, yeah… In 2002, Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz's “Get Low” was released, propelling their album Kings of Crunk to double platinum status in 2003. The song deals with stripper lifestyle, one synonymous with women of African descent. Again, the women in the song are to do as the males command or be disregarded as less than human. Women are reduced to “ass and titties.” This song reached the top of the Billboard charts to peak at position number three over all for 2003, Top 40 in Germany and Australia for 2004, and is featured on the EA International Game Need For Speed Underground soundtrack. The song perpetuates the negative image and identity of women of African descent as strippers, sexual objects, and semen receptacles with the reference of “skeet skeet,” a synonym for ejaculation. 3, 6, 9, damn she fine, Hopin’ she can sock it to me one mo’ time Get low, get low Get low, get low To the window, to the wall To the sweat drop down my balls To all these b***hes crawl To all skeet skeet motherf**ker, all skeet skeet got damn To all skeet skeet motherf**ker, all skeet skeet got damn Shortie crunk so fresh so clean Can she f**k that Question been harassing me In the mind. This b***h is fine I done came to the club about 50-11 times Now can I play with yo' panty line?
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The club owner said I need to calm down Security guard go to sweating me now … Twerk something baby work something baby Pop yo p***y on the pole do yo thang baby Slide down dat b***h a little bit then stop Get back on the floor catch yo balance then drop Now bring it back up clap yo ass like hands I just wanna see yo ass dirty dance Yin Yang we done again And put it on the map like annnnn … Got damn, y’all twerking a little bit ladies But ya got to twerk a little bit harder than that Now right now I need all the ladies dat know they look good tonite (Where my sexy ladies) we want y’all to do this s**t like this Bend over to the front touch toes back dat ass up and down and get low (get low)… During the 2006 American Music Awards, Akon and Snoop Dogg performed the radio version of the song ”I Wanna Love You”, as opposed to the album version “I Wanna F*ck You.” As to date, the song has reached the peak position of number four on the Billboard Top 100 List. Either version contributes to the destructive image of women. Two men of African descent compose and perform a song that scripts the image and identity of the voiceless women within their video, and subsequently women of African descent within the Hip-Hop generation. Snoop Dogg is known the globe over and his image of pimp life and the prostitution of women of his culture are globally identifiable. [Akon (chorus):] Convict...Music...and you know we a front. I see you windin’ n grindin’ up on that pole, I know you see me lookin’ at you and you already know I wanna f**k you, you already know I wanna f**k you, you already know
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[Snoop Dogg:] Money in the air as mo feel grad you by your coat tail take you to the motel, h*e sale, Don’t tell, won’t tell, baby said I don’t talk dogg but she told on me, oh well, take a picture wit me, what the flick gon do, baby stick to me & I’ma stick on you, if you pick me then I'ma pick on you, do-double g and I’m here to put this d**k on you, I'm stuck on p***y and yours is right, wrip ridinin’ them poles and them doors is tight And I’ma get me a shot for the end of the night cuz p***y is p***y and baby your p***y for life. … [Akon:] Shorty I can see you ain’t lonely handfull of n*ggas n they all got cheese, so you lookin’ at me now what’s it gonna be just another tease far as I can see, tryin’ get you up out this club if it means spendin’ a couple dubs, throwin’ bout 30 stacks in the back make it rain like that cuz I'm far from a scrub, you know my pedigree, ex-deala use to move phetamines, girl I spend money like it don’t mean nuthin’ and besides I got a thing for u. As the gatekeepers of the culture via the domination of the spheres of power, men of African descent have the control over the image and identity of women of African descent sold as a mass media product at blue light special prices. Not only has the spirit of women of African descent diminished, but so has the idea of female empowerment. Most often it is believed that we only have power by withholding sex or enticing men with sex. There is a perpetuated myth of female voicelessness as well as powerlessness. The women in this world are under the guise of being helpless, but we have agency. We can move to change this situation. What are Women’s Roles in Sub-Oppression and what can We Do about It?
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Hip-Hop feminist Joan Morgan informs us, “…Sistas have to confront the ways we’re complicit in our own oppression. Sad to say, but many of the ways in which men exploit our images and sexuality in Hip-Hop is done with our permission and cooperation. We need to be as accountable to each other as we believe “race traitors”… should be to our community. To acknowledge this doesn’t deny our victimization but it does raise the critical issue of whose responsibility it is to end our oppression. As a feminist, I believe it is too great a responsibility to leave to men” (Morgan 78-79). Moreover, we must recognize our own internalization of oppression and the effect it collectively has on women of African descent. By accepting oppressive images, ideas, and roles we have communicated that gendered subjugation is suitable. We are allowing it to continue and exposing the next generation to the ill effects of discrimination based on sex. It is imperative that women under sub-oppression first acknowledge the problem of patriarchal domination perpetuated by the gatekeepers of Hip-Hop culture. Without first stating and accepting that patriarchal masculinity is a system of oppression within the African community, that misogyny is an issue and that we have the agency to end it, we allow it to continue. This is a fight that must be taken on by women and men alike. The degradation of half the community is to the detriment of the entire race. “I am because we are, we are because I am,” women must be seen as individuals within the community to be appreciated, respected, loved and protected. Women uphold, encourage, nurture, and birth the community; for all of these reasons and more women need to respect themselves and demand respect from the community at large. Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. It is most especially a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires (hooks 51). The struggle to end sexual oppression via the Feminist Movement is not an attack on men it is an attack on a system that privileges men over women. “Feminism is the struggle to end sexist oppression… It does not privilege women over men. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all our lives” (hooks 53). It is not the intent of the author or Black feminists “to further castrate” men of African descent. It is the intention of both to identify a major problem and find solutions to strengthen the community as a whole. A significant part of the solution is to include men, specifically men of African descent who proclaim to be Black Male Feminist. Male Feminists are a part of the struggle to end the oppression of women based on gender. Their approach is to address other men’s sexism and confront them on it.
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What many young men want to do is excuse the behavior of Black men because of the extenuating circumstances under which black manhood is lived in our society. What they are suggesting is that the Black male behaviors that oppress women, children, and gays and lesbians in our community are understandable given the amount of oppression that some Black men face from White America. This is unacceptable. One form of oppression cannot be used to justify another. Furthermore, it neglects the fact that others, some Black women for example, are also oppressed by White America because of their race and gender (Neal 152). The only way to achieve the abolishment of gender oppression is to work together as a community against all that oppresses the group. It is not to simply divide us and castigate men. Oppression of one of us is oppression for all of us. Within the theories of Black Feminism and Third Wave Feminism this same message of upholding humanity as opposed to the domination of one group over another is prevalent. Men are not the enemy; patriarchy, oppression, voiceless myths of women are the enemies that we must stand together to overcome. We are all responsible for fighting oppression and sub-oppression. Hip-Hop culture was formed to fight various forms of oppression; it is time for this generation to return to this ideology and fight the oppression of women in order to save the community and the culture. In the tradition of African Philosophy, specifically Ubuntu, we must respect, revere, and revive our collective humanity. We are all human, women and men. It is culturally and customarily our responsibility to love each other’s differences. Women are not the enemy of men, men are not the enemy of women, and Hip-Hop is no one's enemy. The adversary is the ideology of misogyny, patriarchy, and gendered oppression, the matrix of domination is source of our communal disconnect - not each other. Works Cited Femia, Joseph V. Gramsci’s Political Thought: Hegemony, Consciousness, and the Revolutionary Process. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2003. Hartmann, Heidi. “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union,” McCann, Carole R. and Seung-Kyung Kim, ed., Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2003. hooks, bell. “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression,” McCann, Carole R. and Seung-Kyung Kim, ed., Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2003. Lorber, Judith. Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Policies Third Edition. Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing Company, 2005. 30 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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Lorde, Aurde. “I am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities.” McCann, Carole R. and Seung-Kyung Kim, ed., Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2003. Morgan, Joan. When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks it Down. New York: Touchstone Book Publishing, 1999. Neal, Mark Anthony. New Black Man. New York: Routledge, 2006. Perry, Imani. Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip-Hop. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
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You Weren’t Hired to Speak, So Shut Up! James Golden In a nation where pimping is glorified, misogyny is welcomed, and women are objectified, it is of real wonder if there is any room for women to be appreciated for the beautiful individuals they are. Attitudes directed towards women that used to be considered unthinkable in the music scene are now commonplace. It is more than disturbing to think that images and lyrics about women - in particular African American women - are being broadcasted among various mediums, not only in the United States, but around the globe. In this investigative research analysis, one will discover what really happens on sets, at shoots, and at Hip-Hop events across the nation. Expect to hear from women who are associated with the industry, men already involved in the industry, and first-hand accounts from the writer of this exposé. Inasmuch as Hip-Hop says it “respects and appreciates” women, this in-depth research will attempt to challenge those who believe that women are second-class citizens by proving that not only are women brilliant and beautiful, but they are also powerful and talented. Dictionary.com defines misogyny as “the hatred, dislike, or the mistrust of women”. The definition alone sounds as if it would be better relatable to a little boy in kindergarten, when supposedly girls have 'cooties' and 'germs', perhaps smelling like a creature of some kind. Interestingly enough, the majority of these little boys who dislike girls at a young age will attend elementary, middle, high school, then college with the same girls (and might even compete against other males for their affections). Even more interesting is how quickly after developing into a mature adult they will return to being like a little boy, subconsciously and perhaps outwardly admitting their cultivated dislike, hatred, and mistrust of women. Terri Adams, a sociology professor at Howard University, Washington D.C. had this to say on the subject: The imagery projected in misogynistic rap has its roots in the development of the capitalist patriarchal system based on the principles of White supremacy, elitism, racism, and sexism. A system that is patriarchal not in the sense of family lineage
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being traced through the father, but patriarchal in the sense of domination and rule by men (Adams). Although we are speaking about African Americans in general, knowing that the majority of Hip-Hop music listeners are white suburban kids brings validation to Adams’ quote. Misogynistic lyrics are not only damaging to women but also pollute the minds of those who listen to them even if the person listening to the lyrics has a “good conscious”. Often times I tell women that “I am just trying to be the man that my father raised me to be and the man my mother wants me to be, that every day I just want to be a better man than I was the day before.” In relation to Hip-Hop, this does not help one bit. It seems as if the African American community is perpetuating the cycle not only by allowing its young black boys to be exposed to misogynistic media, but also to behave in a manner that is disrespectful to themselves, women, and their parents. Interscope Records artist Rich Boy released the single “Role Models” from his self-entitled debut CD in 2007. Rich Boy told parents and guardians that he and other entertainers are not good role models for their children, suggesting that too many times rappers and entertainers receive an unpopular reputation for the misdirection of children all across America. He writes in his lyrics: I see the kids wanna rap like me 'Cause ya see me wit' the b*tches livin' life on T.V. Around in my hood, boys fillin' graves up N*ggas talkin' that sh*t, see the techs raise up… Ya betta take ya lil kids to the Pastor Rich Boy ain't a role model for them bastards Throughout the remainder of the song, Rich Boy boasts that he is not a role model because he smokes, drinks, and has sex with many women. He insists that he is not the one who should be raising the kids of the world even if his video is in rotation via every major music video outlet on television; however, for every action there is a reaction. The parents of impressionable kids have no other option but to blame Rich Boy and other rappers because whether they like it or not they do have control over them. Basketball stars Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley were once quoted as saying that they were not role
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models; however, denying role model status is not a good enough excuse for inappropriate behavior and misconduct whether on or off the job. Entertainers are role models because they have been forced into the mainstream using mass media as the vehicle. They are then chosen by the public based on their popularity. I would argue that once this has happened regardless of gender there is no turning away from the task. If there is a child somewhere across America who sees you as a role model it is your job to lead not duck the responsibility. Hip-Hop entertainers are not exempt from this responsibility simply because the desire to act and speak in a rude, misogynistic manor; especially when television programs that target a younger demographic present the entertainers in a benign demeanor. Indeed it is safe to say the cycle is being perpetuated. Dr. Na’im Akbar, a research assistant in the Department of Psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida offers a few suggestions for the lack of role models in the Hip-Hop community and who exactly should be a role model to our children. Akbar enlists that “teachers, fathers, brothers, and uncles are the instruments of guidance which help the boys move towards manhood. So many of our young men get arrested in the boyhood stage of development because they are improperly guided and end up being led away to prison or carried away to the cemetery” (Akbar 12). One can imagine how much Rich Boy would love to co-sign to that societal amendment, but the truth is many rappers are fathers, brothers, and uncles. Many of the tracks on Rich Boy’s album pay tribute to incarcerated relatives and those who lay among the dead. Akbar takes time to point out a problem which has plagued the Hip-Hop community for quite some time, and the sooner this problem is addressed - and cured - the better. In a recent exclusive interview with model Diznee - best known for her work in SHOW Magazine - the young starlet was very candid about what really happens behind-thescenes in the industry. Diznee, whose real name is Chelsea, got her start at the Boss’n Up (2005) movie premiere party for Snoop Dogg, held at the Silent Theatre in Los Angeles. Diznee who has aspirations of becoming a TV personality, lives by a slogan her mother told her “Keep true to yourself and never throw away your values.” When asked to explain a situation that made her uncomfortable, Diznee was quick to speak about one instance in particular: When I was going to school in New York, a man I was working with flew me to LA to meet Sean Cummings (creator of SHOW Magazine) and I realized there was only one room – [and just the both of us]. He said all the rooms were booked but I told him I would just have someone come get me so I could stay with them. I stayed in the room…I don’t know where he slept.
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Encounters such as Diznee’s are no longer taboo, but more so typical in the Hip-Hop world amongst entertainers and members of their respective entourage. She went on to add that “unprofessional people who seek more than business […] and want more than you are willing to give upset her, and she will not tolerate that type of behavior from anyone.” Her attitude is one that all women should cultivate. Self-respect is the key that will eventually assist in the destruction of negative images in the media. The morals and values Diznee follows has allowed her to build a strong and effective defense against misogyny – at least for herself. It is wonderful that Diznee is building such strong core values for herself; however, this would serve as a marker for young men and all other young aspiring professionals as well. When it comes to the topic of incarceration and pre-mature death in the African American community I would argue the community has the great responsibility of addressing the issue of young black men dying and being sent to prison. Jeff Chang’s HipHop novel Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation references an interview with Washington Post writer David Mills and MC Sister Souljah. Souljah believes “Unfortunately for white people, they think it’s all right for [black] children to die, for our men to be in prison, and not theirs” (Chang). If Sister Souljah can understand the plight of today’s black man from her standpoint - as a woman with celebrity and influence - then there is a problem. I would argue that the lack of father’s and role models has contributed to this problem. It is quite possible that having black men at home and as role models could be a deterrent to the grave or penitentiary or both. Conventional wisdom has it that not only do all women reject misogyny, but African American women do so more than whites, Hispanics, and Asians. Terry Adams and Douglas Fuller agree that: Black women served (and continue to serve) as the ultimate other in the American imagination, whereby White women were exalted for their difference in the backdrop of their own oppression as women. This positioning pro-vided the space for White women to feel auspicious in the face of their own oppression, while at the same time they felt free to ignore the oppression of their darker sisters under the guise of racial supremacy (Adams). In other words, Adams asserts that Black women have always been viewed as sex objects by white America. While white women have stood up and vowed that they will not tolerate it, they seem to separate themselves from their darker sisters based on the ideology of white supremacy. However, it will take both Black men and women to speak out about the obscene and negative ways Black women are being portrayed as in order to become a 35 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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stronger community. Black women are beautiful and will always be beautiful. Not only are they intelligent and brilliant, they have continued to keep the Black family together in a matriarchal framework since the African was brought to North America. Robert Staples, author of The Black Family: Essays and Studies, wrote: “[The black] daughter-mother relationship that is positive all the time is second in potency in terms of delaying or preventing adolescent pregnancy” (Staples). Clearly, we see that Black women are successful and should be portrayed in a more positive light. Recently, I met and auditioned with a beautiful 25-year-old woman who had earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mass Communications from Miami University, Ohio. I was asked to respect her anonymity so I will refer to her as Leslie. I conducted an e-mail interview with Leslie to help in this research of misogyny and asked what her thoughts were on where Hip-Hop currently stood. Leslie was straight to the point when I asked her how she felt she was being treated as a female in the industry. She responded by saying, “Physical appearance is everything in the industry. I often feel objectified, especially when auditions or a production requires you to wear ‘sexy’ attire.” She added, “I won’t tolerate ‘this for that’ or for someone to act like they’re doing me a favor.” I asked her what was one of the more random moments that she’s encountered, perhaps one that made her uncomfortable. She recalled the following incident: “I was harassed as I was walking to an audition. A guy was trying to talk to me, and when he realized I wasn’t interested, he became mad. It was very disturbing. That type of behavior could be expected from the shady area that the school was in and where the auditions were held.” In conclusion, when it comes to the topic of the Hip-Hop community most of us would readily agree that there are many strides to make in order to rid itself of the misogynistic badge it currently wears. Where the agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of which strides. The aforementioned women made note of how far behind some Black males are and where they should be. The sooner these demands – if we can even call them that – are made the better off the community as a whole will be. America always pits itself against the Hip-Hop community as if Hip-Hop isn’t America. Hip-Hop is America and it would be sheer ignorance to point a finger at single one group, or movement and label it as Hip-Hop only. The Black community needs more male role models, and music that isn’t as misogynistic as it is now but preferably music that isn’t misogynistic at all. Until major strides are made all we can do is take action as a people with the goal of igniting change in the way hip-hoperates.
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If Cointelpro and Hip-Hop had a Baby Estella Owoimaha-Church …They ordered the extermination / Of all minds they couldn’t control…” - Tupac Amaru Shakur “Just a Breath of Freedom, 4 Nelson Mandela” One implication for the Black community is that we have arrived. The manufactured images of Sambo and Aunt Jemima to the sophisticated tactics of Cointelpro on the other hand prove we have not. Black culture has been under attack in the United States since Blacks themselves were brought to this country unwillingly. This country has a vested interest in destroying any possibility of dissent while perpetuating a certain image of Blacks in America. Since its inception, Hip-Hop has been under attack in the worst way. From city officials implementing bans on Hip-Hop fashion to police units conducting round-the-clock surveillance on Hip-Hop artists. A long list of police brutality, misinformation, illegal surveillance and wrongful arrests dates back to the 1960s - during the heat of the Black Power Movements that swept the nation - to the present day - under the fastest growing music genre in American history. This attack on Hip-Hop has been documented and a case study analysis will prove that constitutional rights are being violated. The question that remains to be asked is this: is this wide spread attack a form of cultural or racial profiling? More importantly, are these attacks on Hip-Hop a mere aftertaste of Cointelpro, arguably the largest attack to ever take place against blacks in America? Or can it all be reclassified as Rapintelpro. Governing bodies using the tactics of Cointelpro to deliberately target the HipHop community? Case By Case On June 18, 2008, rappers Gonzalo and Rodrigo Venegas – also known as G1 and RodStarz – from the always political trio Rebel Diaz were showing a friend around their Bronx neighborhood when they saw a street vendor being harassed by two New York police officers. The brothers, who are known in the Bronx for taking political action on behalf of
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their neighborhood, approached the scene to figure out what was going on and possibly help with translation for the street vendor. G1 asked if it was okay to translate. One officer did not seem to mind and told him that there were various health department violations taking place while the second officer grew agitated and told them to “butt out.” This second officer became more aggressive so the brothers decided to ask for badge numbers. G1 takes out a pen and paper and tries to write them down but before he can finish, his arm is grabbed by a cop and suddenly the duo is rushed by multiple officers. Their friend takes out his phone and begins recorded the brutality while bystanders yell, “They didn’t do nothing!” RodStarz and G1 were arrested and held at the 41st precinct in New York City under charges of resisting arrest and assault. An officer was injured during the arrest but the video proves it was due to his overzealous arrest tactics. Because of the video the brothers were quickly released and charges dropped. Unfortunately, this incident did not end there (Robbins 10). Six days later, on June 24, G1 was in his East Harlem apartment, “…when four uniformed police burst past his unlocked door” with guns drawn. Venegas says it seemed like a scare tactic. They asked him what he was doing, who he was, and made threats. The officers claimed to be in search of a fugitive, but they did not search the premises and they left his apartment shortly after breaking down his door. The next day when G1 called the local precincts to find out who was behind the break-in no one had any knowledge of this disturbance (Robbins 12). This is one citation of many. The facts surrounding Rebel Diaz’s case are ambiguous and circumstantial at best. This rap group is widely known in the community for protesting, helping the youth and contributing to community programs. Their music is used as a tool for reaching young people and creating a commitment to servicing their community. On September 27th 2003, the political rap group Dead Prez was posing in front of a home in Crown Heights for a photo shoot. The group was approached by officers who demanded identification. The rap group refused, asking why it was even necessary. There were no reasons given as to why they were arrested. The men were held for 36 hours after being brutally beaten taking several blows to the groin area. Dead Prez is recognized for their work with People’s Self Defense Campaign and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. They have shined a light on police brutality through their lyrics and their $400,000 law suit against the New York Police Department in order to curb police brutality (Reyes). The attack on Hip-Hop reaches farther than police brutality. City and state officials have made it their charge as well, placing bans on Hip-Hop fashion and music in certain places. The ban that has caused the most rackets is on baggy or sagging pants. Cities all across the country have attempted to pass public policy that would result in a citation and fine for wearing baggy or sagging pants in public places. At least 8 states have passed or are 38 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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still trying to pass such a ban. In 2005, the Virginia House of Representatives tried to pass their “no sagging” law and were ridiculed internationally. The jokes about a “boxer’s rebellion” were so intense the state Senate decided to kill the bill (Parker). In 2007, Opalocka, Florida, city commissioner Timothy Holmes “proposed an ordinance that would ban wearing those [sagging pants] in city parks, the library and other municipal buildings” (Parker). More recently in 2008, Augusta, Georgia city commissioner Corey Johnson was referred to as “just a good man who had good intentions”. He chose to withdraw his proposed ban on saggy pants because it was decided amongst his colleagues that government cannot “legislate morality” or “self-respect”. “Reducing” the argument against these types of bans of course is based on the assumption that any style of dress is protected by every American’s right to freedom of expression. Consequently, Government agencies have moved past the realm of failed bills and straight into placing bans on the entire genre of Hip-Hop music. In 2004, a nightclub owner in Rhode Island was asked to ban Hip-Hop music from his club or face consequences. Barry’s Nightclub owner, Barry Blier, voluntarily banned Hip-Hop from his club in order to keep his business license following a shooting that took place in the parking lot to his establishment. The Board of Public Safety attributed the shooting directly to the club’s “HipHop Night”. Members of the Safety Board argued that this form of music tends to draw “violent” and “rowdy crowds”; therefore, they have the right to place such restriction on an entire music genre, consequently targeting a large minority community (Mayerowitz). What is worse than banning “Hip-Hop Night” at a local nightclub? Try an entire city banning Hip-Hop music events at any venue within the sheriff’s jurisdiction. In 2005, Bill Young, Las Vegas city sheriff (hiphopmusic.com; Henley) attempted to ban Hip-Hop artists from playing within city limits, especially on The Strip. Aware that a ban on Hip-Hop might be deemed unconstitutional, Young decided to take a back route to his goals. He approached the Gaming Control Board and pleaded with them to ban all gangster rap shows in casinos throughout The Strip (Henley). While casino owners did their best to ignore the Sherriff and his cries, the Gaming Control Board “warned all hotels and casinos that they would be held legally accountable for any Hip-Hop related violence that occurred on their premises” (Henley). His argument claims Hip-Hop is too much of a bad influence for the youth and all Hip-Hop events eventually leads to violence. Young goes on to say that “the entertainment industry should be ashamed of itself promoting this gangster rap genre” and “hatred for the authority of police officers”. In response to this article, a blogger and Hip-Hop fan had this to say: “Our forefathers in organized crime spent decades building this city’s reputation on a bedrock of gambling and whores. How dare these rappers come in here and tarnish that!” (hiphopmusic.com) Thought sarcastic in tone, this blogger makes a
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point: of all the cities in America attempting to ban an entire music genre because of its negative content, why Las Vegas? Hip-Hop Anecdotes In August of 2008, Hip-Hop activists, scholars, artists and Hip-Hop lovers met in Las Vegas for the bi-annual National Hip-Hop Political Convention. Guests ranged from CNN regular Marc Lamont Hill to legendary Hip-Hop DJ and journalist Davey D. The convention was blessed with the presence of Hip-Hop legends such as Rock Steady Crew Members, Pop Master Fable and Crazy Legs, along with 2008 Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente. The common goal amongst all guests was to further the Hip-Hop generation’s political agenda in time for the 2008 election, as well as add to the growing body of Hip-Hop scholarly work. It was a three-day convention, starting August 1st and ending August 3rd. The week leading up to the convention was filled with various Hip-Hop events. There was a day of Hip-Hop dance workshops, an academic symposium and b-boy/b-girl battles. Events took place on the campus of University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and at the Alexis Parkway Hotel. Despite the very different political views amongst the guests, the conflict did not emanate between participants. Bill Young would have Las Vegas residents believe that because it was a Hip-Hop event, violence was destined. In this case, there was no trouble until the police force overstepped their boundaries and their presence soon outnumbered convention attendees. As the 2007-2008 Los Angeles Chair of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, I was among the participants threatened by Las Vegas police force. I served last year, more specifically, as a regional coordinator for the Academic Symposium that took place the week leading up to the convention. One evening the convention hosted a pool party - rightly so in Las Vegas weather - to serve as a gathering place for all attendees to get to know one another. I and other members of my local organizing committee arrived at the pool party together. Members of our team included Todd Wilson, Patrice Ferguson, Alexandria Barabin, James Golden and DeJuan Hoggard. The pool party was held at the Alexis Parkway Hotel. Our team arrived at the hotel and headed straight for the pool area. When we walked through the entrance of the hotel we noticed a line of at least four large SUV K-9 units parked near the door. “I wonder what’s going on” I thought, and we continued towards the pool through the lobby. In this rather small lobby, there were at least six security guards scattered throughout. We finally arrived at the gate to the pool and were stopped by hotel security and additional private security officers, hired especially for our event. In front of the line was DeJuan Hoggard. When he
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walked through the gate the security officer asked, “Where’s your drugs and weapons? Just take them out now.” Shocked and disturbed by the assumption that he would be carrying drugs and weapons, DeJuan had this to say: “It’s sad that I was frisked and asked if I had weapons and drugs. What’s worse is that I knew that was going to happen.” Patrice Ferguson came next. Security forced her to open her purse, though she resisted, and they searched her belongings. In her purse were a number of prescription medications clearly labeled per related laws. The security officer says to Patrice, “Do you really need to take all these medicines?” In disbelief that she truly needed these prescriptions, he implied that her use of these medicines were recreational rather than a necessity. When I asked her how this made her feel, Patrice responded, “I felt like I was in a police state. I wanted to purchase a gun to feel safe from the police. I felt like I was in Nazi Germany or something.” What’s worse is that this same security guard decided to fully frisk Patrice even though she was only wearing a one-piece flesh bathing suit. Once we made it through the check point at the pool entrance, we were met once more by hired security only a few feet away on our way upstairs to the dance floor. We managed to maneuver past them with little trouble but once upstairs we were in awe at the number of Las Vegas Sheriff Department officers circling around. Alexandria Barabin, graduate student at Syracuse University, was quoted in an interview saying, “I was absolutely offended but not surprised at the large SUV K9 Units that appeared at the hotel as standard police patrol for a peaceful gathering in the name education. I do understand the politics of Las Vegas. Invoking the name “Hip-Hop” is supposed to equate to violence.” This climate of fear created by law enforcement was prevalent throughout the conference. I merely spoke a few incidents that took place all week long. Damon Hodge in his article regarding the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, found in Beyond the Weekly, writes: Troy Nkrumah (leader of the Las Vegas Local Organizing Committee at the time) con-siders it a victory that they (convention participants, legends and celebrities) even came. The head of the convention’s Las Vegas organizing committee figured the economy and the city’s reputation – former sheriff Bill Young attempting to ban rap on the Strip after a series of violent incidents; Metro police accused of tailing celebrity rappers – would impact attendance. It did. Fewer than 500 attended. The inaugural convention in 2004 drew 6,000 to New Jersey.
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The second convention in Chicago drew nearly 4,000 attendees. Despite the best efforts of the Las Vegas Organizing Committee to stop the proposed bans of Hip-Hop, it was not enough to give peace of mind to would-be attendees. The Dossier and the Hip-Hop Cop More critical and influential than what has been mentioned thus far are the law enforcement offices of New York City, Miami, Los Angeles and other major municipalities across America. In 2004, the Miami Herald published a ground-breaking story exposing the Miami Police Department’s illegal surveillance tactics used on Hip-Hop artists. This article led to the investigation of New York and Los Angeles police departments by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (Allah and Ratcliffe 41; Haile; White and McDonnell; Weekes). Reporters Nicole White and Evelyn McConnell broke this story after receiving emails that gave clues to special rap intelligence units and dossiers on HipHop artists and their labels (Haile). Derrick Parker, known as the “Hip-Hop Cop”, is a former New York police officer assigned to the illusive Rap Intelligence Unit and was solely responsible for creating the Hip-Hop dossier, or “6 inch Hip-Hop binder” (Allah 31). Parker claims that the dossier was never what it is today until the tragic deaths of Tupac Amaru Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. He also claims that there was never an official Rap Intel Unit, only designated officers on a gang relations unit. Now retired, Parker admits that he was sent to Miami to train officers on how to deal with the Hip-Hop community, specifically, and share his dossier. Since being labeled as the “Hip-Hop Cop”, he has traded intelligence and tactics with police departments in Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlanta, New Orleans and New Jersey (Gamboa and Gardiner). Since the unintentional leak of information from Miami Police Departments, all agencies across the country have denied the existence of a “Hip-Hop dossier” and any rap intelligence units; However, Derrick Parker, after being pushed to retire by his superiors, continues to tell his story wherever there is a reporter or camera to listen. Parker unconvincingly continues to claim that what he did with the New York Police Department was strictly for the protection of the artists and their communities (Allah 34). For the most part, the Hip-Hop community is in agreement that Rapintelpro exists, or at least a newer version of Cointelpro exists. Hip-Hop artists continue to use their medium to speak of the Cointelpro of the past, as well as recent incidents involving HipHop and familiar Cointelpro tactics. Rap artists - including but not limited to the following are known for their blunt lyrics that expose various government covert actions, especially Cointelpro: Dilated Peoples, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Rebel Diaz, and Talib Kweli to name but a few. In the song “I Spit it Clearly” by rap group Dilated Peoples, the first 42 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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verse makes a reference to illegal surveillance and perpetual fear of law enforcement saying, “…It’s a new day. Phones still tapped, watchin’ the crew. They put out one of my joints and I still got two steps ahead. Don’t sleep, just rest my head. Blessed the dead until the day we meet…” The song continues to say in the second verse, “…They reactivated Cointelpro for how my mouth was runnin’. Then they heard the solo album was comin’. Ducked season three, locked on, Weatherman watch storm. . .” Here, the rappers of Dilated Peoples name Cointelpro directly and make a reference to radical group, Weathermen Underground. These police departments who target and constantly survey Hip-Hop artists are in violation of serious constitutional rights. Despite a few rappers’ run-ins with the law, the entire Hip-Hop community cannot be held hostage indefinitely by police enforcement agencies. Every time a rapper is “surveyed, stopped, searched or arrested without reasonable suspicion based on racial profiling, or rap lyrics…” the 1st, 4th, and 14th amendments are thrown out the window. (ACLU) Whether or not the police departments are conducting illegal surveillance, searches and arrests are not in question. It has been proven, case after case, with Hip-Hop artists being arrested, attacked, or stalked by police officers. To uncover the truth and decide whether this attack on Hip-Hop is a form of racial profiling or indeed Rapintelpro, we must add an element of historical context. Hoover’s Legacy Lives On Under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created a counterintelligence unit dubbed Cointelpro (Newton 53). Official histories claim the intelligence unit only lasted from the late 1950s to mid-1971 (Churchill and Wall 303). A specific purpose of Cointelpro was to prevent the rise of a ‘Messiah,’ a charismatic Black leader who might ‘unify and electrify’ Black people. Martin Luther King, Jr., was named as a potential Messiah in the FBI’s own secret memorandum establishing Cointelpro…(Newton 53). The other purposes of Cointelpro were as follows: “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black nationalist” (Newton 53). Hoover and his agents implemented four successful tactics. The first was surveillance. Agents were given the authority to stake out suspects and place wire taps on their phones. The second was the disruption of activities. Agents would infiltrate meetings of organization and stir up controversy in order to derail productivity. The third tactic was criminal acts. Crimes would be pinned on organization members or committed in the name of the organization in order to discredit their work within a particular community, as well as
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create tension between local police agencies. The final tactic is misinformation. Cointelpro agents were extremely talented in creating conflict amongst organizers by dispersing falsified letters and documents in the names of those they were watching (Personal Interview, King). It is agreed that Cointelpro’s primary target was the Black Panther Party (BPP) with over 70% of the Bureau’s resources allotted to the destruction of this organization (Newton 53; Churchill and Wall 37-62). Since its inception in 1966, BPP members have fallen prey to the Bureau’s campaign against them. There are countless examples of members who have been destroyed mentally, emotionally and physically, most by means of incessant harassment, exile or assassination. In War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America, Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party, documents factual and anecdotal experiences of the BPP and their interaction with Cointelpro. In this book, Newton proclaims: … The FBI engaged in or encouraged a variety of actions intended to cause (and in fact causing) deaths of BPP members, loss of membership and community support, draining of revenues from the party, false arrests of members and supporters, and defamatory discrediting of constructive party programs and leaders (Newton 54). One instance of Cointelpro’s attempts to discredit BPP members came after Huey P. Newton was released from prison in 1970. The court of appeal had reversed the decision of manslaughter, but an FBI memorandum was simultaneously released instructing field agents to take Cointelpro actions against Newton. The memorandum read: To demythicise Newton, to hold him up to ridicule, and to tarnish his image among BPP members can serve to weaken BPP solidarity and disrupt its revolutionary and violent aims. Cointelpro actions should have a 3-pronged effect of creating divisiveness among BPP members concerning Newton, treat him in a flippant and irreverent manner, and insinuate that he has been cooperating with police to gain release from prison” (qtd. Newton 57). From this example it is clear to see and understand why a generation - the Hip-Hop generation - would be so incredibly hesitant to speak to police. Historically, their peers, elders and associates have faced danger at the hands of Cointelpro and local police agencies. But Cointelpro did not cease at the mere discrediting of party leaders or members. On the Bureau’s typical list of things to do was assassination. Unfortunately, the Black Panther Party is not the only organization who can attest to this fact. One victim of Cointelpro tactics was Black Panther Party member and leader of the Illinois chapter, Fred Hampton.
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On December 3, in 1969, the Chicago FBI office had enlisted the State Attorney’s office and Illinois state police to assemble a 14-man squad for the task of murdering Fred Hampton and anyone else in his home that evening. An informant had been working close to Hampton and was able to share intimate details with the police concerning his schedule and layout of his apartment. Early that morning, they were briefed and prepared for combat. Huey P. Newton writes: At 2337 Monroe Street, nine people were asleep in the four-room apartment when suddenly the doors opened and a hail of bullets tore through the walls, the beds and the occupants. After nine minutes, the screams had stopped; the volleys had ended and silence had once again descended on the apartment, where minutes before the police had been screaming, ‘We got ‘em, we got ‘em.’ Fred Hampton lay dead on a blood-soaked bed. He had barely moved from where he had lain asleep…it [was] probable that he had been drugged…Maria Fischer, an FBI and Chicago Police Department informant in the BPP, said that the FBI asked her to drug Hampton before the raid so he wouldn’t resist. He did not resist; he never woke up. …Ninety bullets had been shot into the apartment in a period of less than ten minutes…only one of those bullets had been fired by a Panther. . . .Thirty-one of the ninety shot entered the bedroom where Hampton slept. He had been shot four times – in an arm and a shoulder, and twice in the head. . . Deborah Johnson, then eight months pregnant with Fred Hampton’s child, has said that minutes after the firing stopped, and after she had been taken from the bedroom to the kitchen, she heard two single shots and then a policeman say, ‘Now he’s good and dead’” (qtd. Newton 76-77). The destruction of so many lives in a single moment was deemed acceptable. What is worse is that the cruel and unusual way the task was carried out was encouraged by our government. So pleased with the results of Hampton’s assassination O’Neal, the informant responsible for giving officers the map of Hampton’s home, was given a generous bonus. Apart from murdering black leaders and discrediting these same leaders within their communities, Cointelpro was responsible for the destruction of relationships amongst party members, as well as the destruction of community programs. More than half of the FBI’s resources were aimed directly at the obliteration of the Black Panther Party. If an
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opportunity presented itself, Cointelpro enacted one of their four tactics to attack the party, its programs and leaders – via surveillance, disruption of activities, criminal acts and misinformation. If for some reason such an opportunity failed to present itself, Cointelpro would create the opportunity for themselves with the employment of informants and insightful acts of violence. Between the CIA and FBI, most documentation proving the existence of such an entity as Cointelpro has been destroyed entirely. What is left for viewing is comprised mostly of blacked-out lines in order to maintain confidentiality. However, the majority of this documentation happens to pertain entirely to the Black Panther Party (Newton 92). From surveillance to murder, every tactic of Cointelpro has evolved into a phase of destruction worse than the ones prior. Despite the alleged disbandment of Cointelpro, these same tactics are being used to hunt and control the Hip-Hop generation and any potential leaders – or black Messiahs – from emerging. Tupac on the Come Up Hip-Hop Cop Derrick Parker claims that Rapintelpro made its leap from abstract to tangible with the murders of world renowned rap artist Tupac Amaru Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. For this reason and the fact that he had close relations to members of the Black Panther Party, Tupac Amaru Shakur’s life and death can serve as an archetype of Rapintelpro’s existence, tactics and resemblance to Cointelpro. Since childhood, Tupac had been under surveillance by Cointelpro. His family tree consists of all Black Panther Party members. His mother, Afeni Shakur, was a party member in New York and was eventually a member of the New York 21 Trials in 1969 (Joseph 8). His stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, was a member of the Black Liberation Army as well as the Black Panther Party. Mutulu, a political prisoner still behind bars, was arrested by FBI in the early 1980s (Joseph 14). In addition to the legacies of Mutulu and Afeni Shakur, Tupac shared relationships with his godfather, who happened to be famed Geronimo Pratt of the Black Panther Party. His sister’s father was Lumumba Shakur, also of the Black Panther Party. Even his estranged biological father was a member of the Party. Tupac observed the destruction of his neighborhood as a child. From an early age, he knew what it meant to be a Panther. He understood what his parents were about, what they were fighting for, and how great their sacrifices were. Unfortunately, he watched his mother fall victim to the crack epidemic. She was addicted for some time and it affected Tupac, arguably for the better. He was quoted on a radio show as saying, “Drugs equal genocide as
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far as I’m concerned.” And from then on, with all he knew of his family tree and those who came before him, he was committed to making change where ever possible. Tupac, however, had a much stronger medium at his fingertips. With training from the Baltimore School of Arts and Hip-Hop blossoming around the same time, he honed in on his skills as a poet which led to the great rapper the world knew as Tupac Amaru Shakur (Joseph 20). His world view was formed by his relationship with the Black Panther Party and was expressed with his impeccable artistic abilities. In The Rose That Grew from Concrete, a collection of Tupac’s poetry he expressed his deepest feelings related to the Panthers, love, death, and his mother. These poems were written at various points in his life most as a young teenage boy watching his mother fall to crack addiction and watching the government as they destroyed his family tree and the Black Panther Party. In one poem entitled “Liberty Needs Glasses”, Tupac writes: Excuse me but Lady Liberty needs glasses And so does Mrs. Justice by her side Both the broads are blind as bats Stumbling through the system Justice bumped into Mutulu and Trippin’ on Geronimo Pratt But stepped right over Oliver And his crooked partner Ronnie Justice stubbed her big toe on Mandela And Liberty was misquoted by the Indians Slavery was a learning phase Forgotten without a verdict White justice is on a rampage For endangered surviving black males I mean if anyone really valued life And cared about the masses They’d take ‘em both 2 pen optical And get 2 pairs of glasses (Shakur 135) Tupac makes reference to his stepfather and godfather, both of whom fell victim to the tactics of Cointelpro. His passion and commitment to the struggles of his people is evident in his poetry. Line by line he makes references to fallen heroes and their assailants. In 1989, at the age of eighteen, Tupac became a member and youth leader of the New African Panthers Organization, an organization that drew much of its inspiration from the Black Panther Party, focusing primarily on education, police brutality, political prisoners and community control (Joseph 22-23).
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For a few years Tupac suffered a life of homelessness and poverty. With the love of neighborhood friends Tupac managed to make ends meet. By 1990 he was involved with the Grammy-nominated rap group Digital Underground. He went on tour with the group and his trip to stardom had begun (Joseph 26). By November of 1991 Tupac had released his solo debut album titled 2pacalypse Now. This album was laced with powerful tracks depicting the trauma he grew up with and the horrid conditions of his community at the time (Joseph 28-29). This was the beginning of Tupac’s personal relationship with Rapintelpro. Rapintelpro’s Most Wanted: T. Shakur “I had no police record until I made a record,” yells Tupac on an interview (Joseph 29). This was indeed the case. Though he was under heavy surveillance by Cointelpro as a child, Tupac Shakur never received the direct attention of law enforcement until his debut album earned him much fame and success, as well as increased controversy. His Hip-Hop career took off from the Bay Area in California and soon evolved as he moved around the country. Tupac's first taste of controversy came about in 1992 when a 19-year-old man shot and killed a Texas state trooper. The young man’s attorney claimed that he was listening to 2Pacalypse Now before committing this crime, implicating Tupac as the primary influence for his crimes. Not long after this, Vice President Dan Quayle denounced rap music and attacked Tupac saying that “his album and records of the like had no place in our society” (Joseph 29). From that moment on the government and law enforcement's interest in Tupac grew and continued to increase over the span of his career. On the day his first music video premiered on MTV, Tupac had his first run-in with police officers. While in Oakland, California - home to the Black Panther Party - he was arrested by police officers for jaywalking. When the officers stopped him and asked for his name, he responded, “Tupac.” The officers did not believe him. He fired back, saying he did not appreciate being called a liar or being harassed. Seconds later he was on the ground being beaten by officers yelling, “You have to learn your place.” This incident took place only seven months after Rodney King was brutally beaten by Los Angeles police officers. With great strength and lack of intimidation Tupac sued the Oakland Police Department for police brutality in the amount of $10 million. Although he only received $42,000, Tupac felt victorious. He had accomplished a feat on behalf of the Shakur legacy and every black man who had faced violence at the hands of police officers (Joseph 29). By now Tupac's career was transitioning from music to major motion pictures. He quickly became well-known but as the amount of fame and success grew, so did the gravity of police encounters. He had encountered multiple arrests and fights since his confrontation
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with Oakland police in 1993. This was odd for Shakur because he did not grow up a violent person. He was taught to fight back if necessary but never to incite violence especially with his own people. The worst of his encounters with law enforcement came about in October of 1993. Tupac had recently moved to Atlanta with the impression that it was a place where black people could thrive. It was a city with “a black mayor, black-owned businesses and many black homeowners” (Joseph 33). On October 31, 1993 Tupac was arrested for attempted murder of two white police officers. The way the story has been told in the newspapers and reports is that Tupac, followed by a massive entourage, jumped out of his car and proceeded to attack two white police officers. In actuality, it was Tupac who was defending himself and others from harm. Shakur was riding in a car followed by friends and associates. When close to their destination, Tupac noticed a black man being harassed by two white men. Tupac approached to find out what was going on and a gun was pulled on him by one of the white men and fired upon. Tupac grabbed a gun from his bodyguard and fired back. Charges were filed against him for the attempted murder of two white off-duty police officers. The charges were soon dropped when it was discovered that the two officers were heavily intoxicated, in possession of a stolen weapon from their department’s evidence locker, and had never properly identified themselves as police officers (Joseph 33). It was never stated whether or not charges were filed against the police officers for firing at Tupac or harassing the black motorist. In spite of the obstacles placed before him, Tupac never forgot his commitment to his community, as depicted by his most famous and prized tattoo, which read “Thug Life.” This served as a reminder to give back to his community by repaying those who helped look after him as a young man. “Thug Life” was an acronym for “The Hate U Gave Little Infants F*cks Everybody”, and its salute became the middle finger. Tupac was quoted saying, “America is Thug Life. What makes me saying ‘I don’t give a f*ck’ different from Patrick Henry saying ‘Give me liberty or give me death’?” In response to black activists and the press asking what Tupac’s plan was for the black community, he pressed on with the concept of Thug Life. Deeply concerned with police brutality and black-on-black crime, Tupac declared: “We’re going to start taking back our communities one by one…I will give my whole life to Thug Life” (Joseph 37). Tupac contracted the Code of Thug Life. It consisted of 26 rules to be followed by people of black communities, especially black men. The Code of Thug Life embodied remnants of Black Panther ideology and messages learned from his mother, stepfather, godfather, and other community members and party leaders. The Code stated:
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All new jacks to the game must know: A) He’s going to get rich. B) He’s going to jail. C) He’s going to die. Crew Leaders: You are responsible for legal/financial payment commitments to crew members…Crew leader and posse…should work ways to settle disputes…” (qtd. Joseph 37). Tupac declared that there would be no car-jacking within Black communities. More importantly, there would be no tolerance of drugs within the community. There would be no room to sell drugs to kids, to allow kids to sell drugs, to allow drugs in schools, or to sell drugs to pregnant mothers. Tupac considered such blind acceptance to be genocide. The Code had little tolerance for comrades who cooperated with law enforcement. Crews should never target innocent civilians. “Harm to children will not be forgiven. Attacking someone’s home where their family is…must be altered…Senseless brutality and rape must stop. Our old folks must not be abused. Respect our sisters…No shooting at parties…Know the Code” (qtd. Joseph 37). Tupac’s intentions were pure and strictly for the protection and love of all black people. With a strong and obvious influence on the community, his plan was geared towards reaching to gangs and drug dealers. Tupac Shakur, an obvious threat to our government, embodied the potential to become the “black Messiah” Cointelpro has strived to destroy. The Eventual Assassination of Tupac Shakur Despite his many face-offs with police enforcement, Tupac pressed on and his success never seemed to be affected. As he continued he collaborated with many producers and artists and made connections with film producers and A-list actors, working with the likes of Warren G, Nate Dogg and Mickey Rourke. While he may have made many a partnership within the film and music industry, some were not in his best interest. With his life on the fast track and constantly in the public eye, Tupac’s career might have been more than he could handle at the time. Given his history, constant harassment by law enforcement, and his knowledge of FBI and CIA tactics Tupac grew more and more paranoid and rightfully so. Every encounter with law enforcement seemed like isolated incidents of no relationship to one another. Upon deeper investigation and conversations with close friends, relatives, reporters, and authors they have found deep-seated evidence tying the FBI and Cointelpro to the assassination of Tupac Amaru Shakur. Leading up to his assassination in 1996, there were multiple failed attempts at disrupting his life. All tactics were employed in an effort to discredit Shakur publicly, break his ties within the community, create a state of panic and paranoia, and eventually kill him.
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In 1992, following the premiere of Tupac’s debut role in the film Juice, Tupac and his colleagues were victims of a drive-by shooting. Almost never mentioned, this attack was highly suspicious and unprovoked. Clues implicate Cointelpro as the assailants behind this failed assassination attempt. It was evident that a simple drive-by shooting would not be enough to destroy Tupac Shakur. Cointelpro decided to resort to more sophisticated tactics. The same tactics used on many Black Panther Party members (Potash 54). In 1993 an associate of Tupac and FBI informant Jacques Agnant took Tupac out to a nightclub in New York. Agnant introduced him to a young woman named Ayanna Jackson. He and Jackson proceeded to the dance floor, and within minutes of meeting Jackson she put his penis in her mouth. She and Tupac left the dance floor and returned to his hotel room where they proceeded to have sex. Days after this encounter, Jackson called Tupac for a repeat of their previous meeting. Set up again by Agnant, Jackson returned to the hotel. However, after leaving, she claimed she had been raped by both Tupac Shakur and Jacques Agnant (Potash 81; Potash 4). Tupac was immediately arrested by New York street unit police officers not in uniform. He was charged with forced sodomy, attempted sodomy, assisting forced sodomy and gun possession. Heading towards trial proceedings, Agnant’s case was severed from Tupac’s and he received representation from the Policeman’s Benevolent Association. Agnant plead guilty to two misdemeanors, and his felony indictment managed to disappear. Tupac, however, stood trial and was convicted of three of the nine charges against him (Potash 4). New York Police would later admit to “accidentally erasing” video footage that would support Tupac’s defense (Potash 5). Eventually, Tupac was sentenced to 1 ½ - 4 ½ years in prison (Potash 100). And just as Cointelpro has done with Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s bail amount was an exorbitant amount in the hopes to thwart any chance that bail would be met. Furthermore, in the year leading up to his sentence, another attempt was made on Tupac’s life. On November 29, 1994, Shakur was invited to Quad recording studios in Time Square, New York. The arrangements were allegedly made by Jacques Agnant. Tupac entered the lobby of the recording studio with three friends and noticed multiple men in army fatigues. He assumed they were just wearing the latest trend in Hip-Hop fashion, but when he approached the elevator the men in fatigues pulled out guns and told everyone to get on the floor. Tupac continued to stand in shock and disbelief of what was happening. He was ordered to take off his jewelry, but he refused. Tupac was fired on, puncturing his leg and groin area. Tupac tried to play dead but that did not help his cause. The men in fatigues continued to beat him as he lay on the floor. He was shot three more times, with two bullets hitting his arm and torso, and one grazing his scalp (Joseph 38-39; Potash 102). 51 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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He managed to regain consciousness and saw a police car outside. Tupac recalled, “The ambulance came and then the police. First cop I looked up to see was the cop that took the stand against me in the rape charge. He had a half smile on his face and he was looking at my balls. He said, ‘What’s up Tupac. How’s it hangin’?” (qtd. Joseph 39) Meanwhile, The Notorious B.I.G. and Sean “Puffy” Combs were upstairs in the same building recording. Tupac and B.I.G. had forged a friendship over previous years and had remained close. The recording session with the Bad Boy recording artists had also been set up by Agnant. Tupac, aware that the Bad Boy camp was in the building, had a suspicion that they had a part in his attempted murder. This would set the groundwork for Cointelpro to establish a feud between two mega-rap stars, just as they had done before with the East and West chapters of the Black Panther Party. To this day, Sean Combs denies having any knowledge or involvement with the 1994 shooting of Tupac Shakur. Tupac appeared in court while in recovery from the shooting, bandaged and in a wheelchair. Just about one month later, he received his sentence. He eventually found himself in a cell at the Clinton Correctional Facility. While behind bars he was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Then at his most vulnerable point, Tupac became an easier target of Cointelpro. Through anonymous letters addressed to him - and in the same way Cointelpro was successful in pinning Panthers against one another - they had broken Tupac. By the fall of 1995, Tupac was convinced that “Puffy” and B.I.G. were responsible for his attack in New York. If nothing else he believed that as his friends they should have done more to help him when they knew what had happened (Potash 102). And thus marked the beginning of the supposed East Coast/West Coast Beef. Cointelpro’s Final Attempt on Tupac Shakur On October 10, 1995, Tupac was released from prison and into a record contract with Suge Knight of Death Row Records. Knight promised him a home for his mother and the money needed for bail. Tupac had spent ten months in jail. The Appeals Court refused Tupac’s $1.2 million bail offer for those many months that he waited for his appeal trial. But within days of Tupac’s September of 1995 signing with Death Row Records, the Court of Appeals accepted virtually that same bail offer and released Tupac…Few besides the U.S. Intelligence could influence the Court of Appeals (Potash 104).
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Los Angeles police officer Russell Poole was able to provide evidence linking Suge Knight and Death Row Records to the FBI and U.S. Intelligence. Poole uncovered that dozens of his colleagues were moonlighting for the recording company as bodyguards and extra security. When he approached his superior with this knowledge, Poole was told, “…they are not body guards…more like cover agents” (Potash 107-108). Suge Knight is infamous for his violent behavior and relationship with the underground drug economy. With a rap sheet like Suge Knight’s it is a marvel he has not been locked permanently behind a cell door. Once Tupac was out of prison and by Suge’s side, Knight continued to instigate between Tupac and Biggy. Knight was very successful in his attempts to fuel the East Coast/West Coast Beef. Once he became part of Death Row Records, Tupac Shakur began to drift away from his intellectual and political self. Suge Knight continued to incite violence between various rappers and producers furthering Cointelpro’s agenda to destroy Tupac from the inside (Potash 109). Still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and confident that Cointelpro was after him, Tupac began rapping and writing about his own death. Moving further away from his connections with the New Afrikan Peoples Organization (NAPO) and his close friends, such as Watani Tyehimba, it would seem Cointelpro had succeeded. However, Tupac’s history and strong connection with his family tree would not be disrupted so easily. Though some relationships ended, he stayed in touch with a few related to NAPO, Thug Life and The Outlaws. Tupac’s path to destruction proved temporary. Suge Knight was a horrible influence, but Tupac Amaru Shakur was not a weak soul. In late 1995 to early 1996, Tupac began to wake up from the fog he was in. He began work on albums that included rappers from both coasts in an attempt to squash the East Coast/West Coast Beef. He gave to others in many ways. He began donating money to various community programs, including the non-profit youth center A Place Called Home located in Los Angeles, California. He also escorted a friend’s daughter to her prom as a favor to the young woman's recently deceased father. Even further, Tupac began to distance himself from gang affiliations, often wearing one red item and one blue item to symbolize unity amongst the Bloods and Crips. He also began working on inspirational books written especially for the ghetto. Finally, Tupac was on his way to marrying Kidada Jones, daughter of producer Quincy Jones. Fully aware of the negative affects the Beef was having on the community and fans of Hip-Hop, Tupac was ready to put an end to it (Joseph 52-56). “On August 27, 1996, Tupac faxed a letter to both Suge Knight and David Kenner, the attorney who represented Death Row…informing Kenner that he was fired…Tupac
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then faxed a second letter stating that the business relationship between Tupac and Death Row was over” (Joseph 57). After having had a vision of his death, Tupac decided enough was enough and it was time to move on with his career. “Tupac was at a new crossroads in his life, and was walking towards the path of peace” (Joseph 57). On September 7, 1996, Suge Knight had invited Tupac Shakur to Las Vegas for the Mike Tyson fight. Tupac had recently become accustomed to wearing a bullet proof vest but was persuaded by Knight that he would not need it that night. After leaving the fight, Suge and Tupac headed through the lobby of the MGM Hotel. According to reports, a member of Death Row pointed out a Crip member to Tupac. Tupac was told that Orlando Anderson was responsible for attacking a fellow Death Row member earlier. In a flash Tupac rushed Anderson taking back the chain he had stolen from a friend. Bodyguards broke up the scuffle and shortly after Orlando was seen on tape talking to the Las Vegas Police Department. Orlando never filed a complaint (Scott 2-9; Joseph 57-59). In addition to not wearing his bullet proof vest, Tupac did not have a weapon on him and neither did his bodyguards. Without the proper permits to carry the weapons, neither of them were armed. Once they left the MGM Hotel, the Death Row caravan headed to Suge Knight’s Las Vegas home. Around 10:00 that evening, the caravan left Suge’s home and headed to Club 662. For some odd reason there was only one bodyguard in the caravan. The dozens of other bodyguards had gone ahead to the club and were waiting there. Before arriving at the club, Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur were pulled over by Las Vegas Police Department at the south end of the strip. The officer asked Suge to open the trunk and they talked for a moment. Suge was let go without being ticketed. En route once again to their final destination, the BMW Suge Knight was driving was attacked while waiting at a red light (Scott 2-9; Joseph 57-59). A white Cadillac opened fire on the BMW with Tupac and Suge in it. Suge Knight was grazed in the head by a piece of glass. Tupac Amaru Shakur was shot in the head, torso and hip. Days later, on September 13, 1996, Tupac died after his mother refused to resuscitate him. He had suffered enough and the pain he was in was too great. Tupac was only 25 years old (Scott 2-9; Joseph 57-59). Cointelpro Cover Up and the Official Establishment of Rapintelpro The facts surrounding the assassination of Tupac Shakur remain ambiguous and free for interpretation. Immediately following his fatal shooting, the same police officers who were present at his rape trial in 1993 and his near fatal shooting in 1994 were two of the officers who arrived first at the scene in Las Vegas. According to reports that came out
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sometime after his death, evidence verified misconduct on the behalf of the police officers. Even further, evidence was withheld in subsequent court proceedings. Suspects were never questioned. Witnesses mysteriously died or were murdered within a few months of Tupac’s death, including Tupac’s longtime friend who was in the car directly behind the BMW. This young man, Yafeu Kadafi Fula, may have been the only witness to what actually happened. What we do know is Tupac was pushed into a relationship with Suge Knight and Death Row Records by the hands of the U.S. Appeals Court. We know that Suge Knight had a strong connection to U.S. Intelligence agencies, local police departments and the FBI. We also know that in 2005 Cynthia McKinney felt it was necessary to write bill H.R. 4210 – The Tupac Amaru Shakur Records Collection Act of 2005. After presenting this bill, McKinney was held on charges of assaulting a police officer after being grabbed by that same officer. Above all, we know that Tupac had been an interest of the FBI since childhood. As time passes it grows clearer that Tupac was not a victim of an East Coast/West Coast Beef. He was not murdered because he was owed money by Suge Knight. He was assassinated by Cointelpro just as those who came before him: Fred Hampton, Huey P. Newton and Geronimo Pratt. As a child Tupac was asked what he would like to be when he grew up. “A revolutionary,” he replied. Indeed, Tupac Amaru Shakur was a revolutionary and was definitely considered as such by the United States Government. Like all revolutionaries, his power over the masses had to be neutralized and his life eliminated. Evidence of a Rapintelpro unit traces back as early as 1995 but became a well-known fact with the death of one of Hip-Hop’s most influential artists. Since Tupac’s demise in 1996 Rapintelpro, (Cointelpro’s new name) has learned to curtail their presence within the black and Hip-Hop communities. Though difficult to recognize as Rapintelpro, it is there: it is present in the form of local police units, public policy, bans, cultural profiling, and violations of constitutional rights. The Hip-Hop generation must stay alert and quick to act. Follow the examples of Tupac Shakur, Rebel Diaz, and Dead Prez; follow the examples of Mutulu Shakur, Huey P. Newton, Assata Shakur, and Fred Hampton. In The Cointelpro Papers, Churchill and Vander Wall made predictions concerning the outcome of accommodating a system under the guise of Cointelpro: This may well be the shape of things to come, and in a frighteningly generalized way. A pattern is emerging in which the ‘attitude adjustment’ represented by police and prison becomes a normative rather than exceptional experience of power in the U.S. If the present dynamic of spiraling police
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power and state sanctioned secrecy, proliferating penal facilities and judicial abandonment of basic constitutional principles is allowed to continue unabated, it is easily predictable that upwards of 20% of the next generation of Americans will spend appreciable time behind bars in prison environments…(Churchill 324). Churchill goes on to say: In such a context, the classic role of domestic counterintelligence operations will logically be diminished; any hint of politically ‘deviant’ behavior will likely be met with more-or less immediate arrest, packaging as a ‘criminal’ by the FBI and its interactive counterparts in the state and local police, processing through the courts and delivery to one or another prison for an appropriate measure of behavior modification. The social message – ‘don’t even think about rocking the boat, under any circumstances’ – is both undeniable and overwhelming (Churchill 324). Unfortunately, these predictions were made in the early 90s and we have already reached this point. Tupac Shakur paid the ultimate price. Hip-Hop generation needs to take a stand and let Tupac’s and Biggie’s death be the last. There is work to be done to reverse our current status within society. Pick up where Tupac left off and continue in the same spirit and towards the same goals in unity and solidarity. Works Cited Personal Interviews Barabin, Alexandria. Personal Interview. 10 August 2008. 22 February 2009. Downing, King. Personal Interview. 6 Dec. 2008. Hip-Hop Think Tank Members. Roundtable Discussion. 22 February 2009. ---. Personal Interview. 30 Dec. 2008. Hip-Hop Think Tank Members. Roundtable Discussion. 22 February 2009. Ferguson, Patrice. Personal Interview. 10 August 2008. 22 February 2009. Golden, James. Personal Interview. 10 August 2008. 22 February 2009. Hoggard, DeJuan. Personal Interview. 10 August 2008. 22 February 2009. Audio/Visual Sources Black and Blue: Legends of the Hip-Hop Cop. Dir. Peter Spirer. Narr. Saul Williams. Perf. The Game, 50 Cent, Ice-T and Damon Dash. QD3 Entertainment, 2005. Dilated Peoples. I Spit It Clearly. 2009. “Russell Simmons Presents: Hip-Hop Justice.” By Jonathan B. Taylor. Perf. Ice-T,
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Benjamin Muhammad, and Derrick Parker. Court TV. Turner Entertainment. New York, Oct. 2004. Books Blackstone, Nelson. Cointelpro: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom. New York: Vintage, 1976. Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. New York: Picador, 2005. Churchill, Ward, and Jim Vander Wall. Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret War Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. Cambridge: South End, 2002. ---. The Cointelpro Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States. Cambridge: South End, 2002. Constantine, Alex. The Covert War Against Rock: What You Don’t Know About the Deaths of Jim Morrison, Tupac Shakur, Michael Hutchence, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Phil Ochs, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, John Lennon, & The Notorious BIG. Venice: Feral, 2000. Joseph, Jamal. Tupac Shakur Legacy. New York: Atria, 2006. Newton, Huey P. War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America. New York: Harlem River, 1996. Potash, John. The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders: U.S. Intelligence’s Murderous Targeting of Tupac, MLK, Malcolm, Panthers, Hendrix, Marley, Rappers and Linked Ethnic Leftists. Baltimore: Progressive Left, 2007. Shakur, Tupac A. The Rose That Grew From Concrete. New York: MTV Book, 1999. Sullivan, Randall. Labyrinth. New York: Grove Press, 2002. Articles Akers, Mary Ann. “California Love.” Heard on the Hill 7 Nov. 2005. Allah, Dasun. “The Hip-Hop Cop.” The Village Voice 13 Apr. 2004; 49 Allah, Dasun and Joshua Ratcliffe. “Law and Disorder.” Source Magazine June 2004; 41,54. Blankstein, Andrew. “LAPD Hid Claims: Bratton denies, however, that an informant’s statements linking officers to Notorious BIG’s slaying were concealed on purpose.” Los Angeles Times 8 Jul. 2005. Booker, Bobbi. “Hip-Hop Cop Solves Rap Mysteries in New Release.” The Philadelphia Tribune 19 Oct. 2007. Bruce, Damian and Edna Bruce. “Ex Tupac Bodyguard Makes Bombshell Revelation at L.A. Screening.” Westside Gazette 7 Nov. 2007.
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“Film Revisits Unsolved Murders of Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur.” Grand Rapid Press 1 Oct. 2002. Gamboa, Glenn and Sean Gardiner. “30 Years of Hip-Hop: Rap sheets, for six years, the NYPD has quietly built dossiers on Hip-Hop stars. Is it necessary police work or cultural profiling.” Newsday 11 Oct. 2004. Gamboa, Glenn. “Street Justice: Arguing Against Hip-Hop’s bad Rap.” Newsday 6 Oct 2004. Haile, Gregory. “Police Profile Hip-Hop Artists.” The Flame 2004; 4. Henley, Tara. “Vegas Hip-Hop: Impeach the Sherriff.” Online posting. 25 Jun. 2008. Blog. <www.xxlmag.com> Hodge, Damon. “Getting the Vibe at this Year’s National Hip-Hop Political Convention.” Online Posting. 7 Aug. 2008. Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner. “Informant in Rapper’s Killing Recants Story.” The Los Angeles Times 3 Jun. 2005. Kurtz, Howard. “Tupac Papers Were Phony LA Times Says in Apology.” The Washington Post 28 Mar. 2008. Mayerowitz, Scott. “ACLU Chides Safety Board for Hip-Hop Ban a Club.” The Providence Journal 17 Dec. 2004. McDonnell, Evelyn. “Police Surveillance of Music Industry is Same Old Song.” The Miami Herald 18 Mar. 2004. Muhammad, Cedric. “Hip-Hop Cointelpro.” Los Angeles Sentinel 9 May 2001. Parker, Laura. “Cities Snapping Over Baggy Pants: Bottom line, Does freedom or morality ride on the popular low-slung look?” USA Today 15 Oct. 2007. Phillips, Chuck. “How the Rap War Began: New Information Backs up Tupac Claims about the 1994 Ambush on Him.” Los Angeles Times 19 Mar. 2008. ---. “Police Missteps Haunt Shakur Slaying.” The Los Angeles Times 8 Sept. 2002. Potash, John. “Tupac’s Panther Shadow: the Political Targeting of Tupac Shakur.” Covertaction. 2008. <www.Covertaction.org> “Rapper’s Murder Getting New Look.” Daily Breeze 18 Mar. 2006. “Reducing Augusta’s Exposure: City less vulnerable to lawsuits with saggy pants law withdrawn.” Editorial. The Augusta Chronicle 7 Dec. 2008. Reyes, Damaso. “Rappers Dead Prez Arrested for Being Minorities.” Amsterdam News 7 Nov. 2003. Robbins, Tom. “Cops Rip Up Rappers.” The Village Voice 15 Jul 2008; 53, 28. “Shakur’s Bodyguard was FBI Agent.” World Entertainment News 18 Oct. 2007. “The Tupac and Biggie Murders.” Chicago Tribune 31 Oct. 2007. “Tupac ‘One Nation’ Project Set for Official Release.” All Hip-Hop News Online 13 Mar. 2008. <www.allhiphop.com> Waxman, Sharon. “Suit, Book Link Police to Biggie’s Death.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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22 Apr. 2002. Weaver, Jay. “Police Tracking of Rappers in Miami Raises Legal Questions.” The Miami Herald 18 Mar. 2004. Weekes, Danielle. “Coppers’ Delight: New York Police Set up Controversial Scheme to Monitor Hip-Hop Violence.” The Voice 10 Feb. 2003. White, Nicole and Evelyn McDonnel. “Miami Police Are Secretly Watching Hip-Hop Artists.” Tulsa Word 16 Mar. 2004.
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Notorious: Biggie’s Women Gloria Teferi Women of color have suffered significant abuse and degradation through the actions and lyrics of men in the Hip-Hop spotlight. African American men tend to categorize the women in their lives and treat them according to the category they have placed them in. Professor Mark Anthony Neal states that “young men often see Hip-Hop as a haven to articulate their frustrations with women - girlfriends, mothers, baby-mamas, groupies” (New Black Man 158). There are a number of unfortunate trends involving black men mistreating black women, tracing back to the traumatic influences of slavery to the examples set by HipHop artists. This essay will focus on the roles of women in the lives of Black men by analyzing Notorious B.I.G. and the respective roles of the women in his life, ranging anywhere from mother, daughter and wife, to "jump-off" and baby’s mother. Christopher "Biggie" Wallace was raised by a single mother in the inner city. She worked hard to support her only son. His father was not present in their lives, but they managed without him. Biggie’s mother strove to give her son the best life she could afford, including taking him on yearly trips to Jamaica and sending him to a private school - which he later reluctantly dropped out of, preferring public school. Unbeknownst to her, Biggie became mesmerized by the lifestyle the drug dealers in his neighborhood were leading and joined them at a very young age. In 1990, he was jailed for nine months for selling drugs. In Richard Majors’ and Janet Mancini Billson’s book, Cool Pose, the authors describe a young black man’s relationship with his mother as one filled with unrelenting love. As young Black men tended to lack fathers in the Black community, they extolled their mothers to the highest degree, viewing them as the backbone of their lives and survival. Majors and Billson state, “Young males are often brought closer to the needs and feelings of their mothers because of their fathers’ absence and inability to provide for their families.” (Majors, 95) This adoration of the mother is prevalent in the music of Hip-Hop artists. Examples can be heard in Snoop Dogg’s “I Love My Momma,” 2pac’s “Dear Momma,” and Biggie’s “Respect,” in which he describes his mother’s strength in having to drive herself to the hospital while in labor with no support from a male on the day of his birth. In fact, many other rapper’s songs are entitled “Momma”. Meanwhile, while some Black males are idolizing their mothers, they are simultaneously degrading and belittling other women in their lives.
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A common term in the Hip-Hop world is “baby momma.” This label is described by linguist Geneva Smitherman as “emerging as a label for irresponsible mothers who are thus also insignificant” (Moore, 126). An anonymous poster on the widely used website urbandictionary.com describes this as being “some chick you knocked up on accident during a fling that you can't stand but you have to tolerate cuz she got your baby now.” The overuse of the term "baby momma" in the Black community shows that there is an abundance of women who are single parents raising a child that is treated like a burden by their fathers because they have to deal with the mothers. Popular narratives portray the black family as deteriorating throughout the years spanning from slavery until the present, and the blame is placed on Black men’s promiscuity and distrust of the women in their lives. Like many other atrophies to the Black man’s mentality sparked by centuries of slavery, their treatment of women and family was devastated by it as well. According to sociological professor Orlando Patterson, slavery weakened paternal kinships and there were no legal rights or obligations of slave men over their children. Patterson also states that slave men attempted to have as many children as possible in order to keep their bloodline in existence without being able to materially support these children, thereby attributing to their promiscuity (Patterson 63). There is an abundance of songs referring to a rapper’s plight with his baby momma, including Three Six Mafia’s “Baby Momma”. The song consists of the drama both parents face when dealing with each other. It includes a verse by Memphis female rapper La Chat, requesting monetary support from the rappers: Why you playin? Boy yo' baby need some shoes, boy yo' baby need some clothes Need to try and pay yo' fees, why you out hurr playin' these h*es? Ain't no more for me and you, but this what they gotta do With the seed we have conceived don't you know he's part of you? I don't wanna hurr yo' mess talk to me bout' givin' checks Put a judge up in my business what I want is what I get Shoulda knowned it from the jump all that talk was just a front Now you payin' for that lyin' see yo' ass in court next month (lyricsdownload.com) The lyrics above portray the baby momma as a money-hungry woman whose only purpose is to bombard the father of her child with frequent requests for child support. An recent example of a popular rapper experiencing “baby mama drama” is Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s court battle with the mother of his son, Shaniqua Tompkins. Tompkins sued Jackson for fifty million dollars, stating that the $25,000 a month she was receiving in child support was inadequate compared Jackson’s wealth. Tompkins claimed that Jackson 61 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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promised to take care of her financially if his career took off for the rest of her life. Jackson stated that if that were his intention, he would have married her. The judge threw out the case and lowered the child support payments from $25,000 to $6,700 (USA Today). Although Biggie did not experience drama up to the level that Jackson did, he did have a “baby momma”. Biggie loved Jan - his first serious girlfriend the mother of his daughter when they first had a child; however, he was quick to sleep with other women behind her back. He was distracted by Kimberly Jones - later to be known as Lil’ Kim - from his role as a boyfriend and father. As Biggie’s career grew, he drifted further away from Jan and his daughter Ty’anne, and would soon see Jan as someone who hounded him when he did not have the time to talk. This did not change how much he loved his daughter, but he did not spend adequate time with her because of his busy life in the entertainment industry. Big Congress defines a "jump-off" as “a female who is available anytime and anyplace for any type of sexual encounter” (urbandictionary.com). This term can be used to refer to many women in the lives of rappers, along with “groupie” and even “hoe.” These women are useful for nothing more than providing rappers with sexual pleasure. Singer Omarion and rapper Bow Wow mention different girls and the acts they wished to perform with them in the song “Jumpoff,” including having sex with a girl named Brenda then sending her away after the act. In the film Notorious, Biggie’s biography, Kimberly “Lil’ Kim” Jones was often treated like a jumpoff by Biggie. Throughout their lives together, she remained the girl on the side. No matter how close they got or what kind of friendship they shared, Lil’ Kim was never to take the position of his girlfriend or wife. She allowed Biggie to use her not only for personal pleasure, but he also encouraged her to become overly sexualized in order to make money for his label. Lil’ Kim was outraged at her portrayal in the film; however, singer Faith Evans, Biggie’s wife and the mother of his first son, vouched that Lil’ Kim was the one girl who would accept Biggie’s mistreatment of her and continue to have sexual relations with him knowing that he had a girlfriend or wife at the time. In her autobiography, Keeping the Faith, Evans recalls an incident in which she was separated from Biggie at the time, but continued to see him while he was seeing girlfriend Tiffany Lane, aka Charlie Baltimore. Evans went to visit Biggie at his house and finds him in the bed with Lil’ Kim. After attempting to beat up Lil’ Kim and chasing her out of the house, Evans says, “I have to say I actually felt some pity for Kim. Big had a wife and she settled for messing with him. Then he started dating Tiffany and Big had a wife and a mistress. And Kim still settled for being the other, other woman. It seemed pretty sad to settle for that.” Consequently, Lil’ Kim did not consider herself a jumpoff, but felt as if Biggie was her man. However, the reputation she created through her lyrics and self62 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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representation portray her as an overly sexualized woman. In her song, subsequently titled “The Jumpoff,” she states: All we wanna do is party And buy everybody at the bar Bacardi Black Barbie dressed in Bulgari I’m tryin to leave in somebody’s Ferrari I got my eye on the guy in the Woolrich coat Don’t he know Queen Bee got that ill deep throat? Uh! Let me show you what I’m all about How I make a Sprite can disappear in my mouth It may seem as though African American rappers only expressed love towards their mothers; however, there was another woman they valued as well. Yes, aside from his mother, the woman that a rapper has the most respect for goes by the name of “wifey”. A rapper’s wife is the opposite of the women he deals with on a daily basis. Before deciding to marry her, a rapper has to be sure that she will not take advantage of him and his career, but rather loves him because of the person he is. Rappers like Snoop Dogg, Big Boi of Outkast, Ice-T, Layzie Bone, DMX and LL Cool J have been with their wives for many years. In the article “Rappers’ Wives Behind Closed Doors,” Aliya S. King states: “Often alone while their husbands work far from home, these women raise children and manage households. Fighting insecurity, they try to keep the fires burning in the bedroom, though it’s well known that rappers - married or not - cavort with admiring honeys. But most of these women were with their men before the money, the videos, and the fame. And they insist they’ll be there long after.” Deciding to undertake one as a spouse is a very well-thought out decision for a person, and this decision is even more trying for men in the Hip-Hop industry because of the women they are surrounded by on a daily basis. Biggie fell in love with and married Faith Evans nine days after they first met. She was the mother of his first son, Chris, Jr., and remained his wife until his death. Although Biggie slept with other women during the course of their relationship, his infidelity was an open fact and the couple refrained from getting a divorce, although they did get a separation. African American men have held the public spotlight in the Hip-Hop industry for many years as representations of the Black community. Their music is viewed as an outlet for the voice of black youth in the communities. Hip-Hop artists are the clearest when it comes to how Black men view women, therefore displaying to the world their view on women - as their baby mommas, mothers, wifeys or jump-offs.
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Works Cited Billson, Janet Mancini, and Richard Majors. Cool Pose : The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America. New York: Touchstone, 1993. Evans, Faith. Keep The Faith: A Memoir. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2008 Hopkinson, Natalie, and Natalie Y. Moore. Deconstructing Tyrone A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation. New York: Cleis P, 2006. King, Aliya. ""Rappers' Wives: Behind Closed Doors"." Vibe Magazine 11 July 2006. 20 Feb. 2009. Neal, Mark Anthony. New Black Man. New York: Routledge, 2006. Patterson, Orlando. Rituals of Blood: Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries (Frontiers of Science). 19112: Civitas Book Publisher, 1999. http://www.lyricsdownload.com/three-six-mafia-baby-mama-lyrics.html
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Let’s Get Freaky! Britni Cardosa Deena is thirteen years old. She lives in South Central Los Angeles with her mother and two older siblings. Every school year during summer recess she tends to sit on the family’s tattered black leather couch and watch BET while her mother and siblings are out working their minimum wage jobs to support each other. Every afternoon is the same as the last, but one Saturday afternoon a particular music video caught her attention. It was “Dangerous” by the Ying Yang Twins. The video was set in a club where there were several African American women wearing revealing clothing, shaking their rumps to misogynistic lyrics while men were behind them attempting to touch them in their “secret” places. The women’s faces were painted with glee, as if they were so happy to dance to a tune that degraded their existence. This image became permanently engraved in her mind. The following week a parent of a friend from school threw a pool party for the neighborhood kids so that they could escape the blazing sun for a brief moment. The music was blasting through the stereo speakers as the disc jockey spun the latest records. All of a sudden “Lollipop” by Lil’ Wayne came on and the children began to dry-hump or freak dance, as they call it. A concerned parent ran over to stop the kids from their obscene behavior and demanded that they explain themselves. Their explanation was simply “What? We are just dancing! Everyone does it! Just watch 106th and Park!” The parent was outraged and posed the question, “What happen to dance? When did it become so explicit?” Over the years different dance crazes have swept over the country. Some not as good as others, but a few have left lasting marks and will forever be remembered. The variety of Black dance forms is tremendous (Thorpe14). Within the last twenty years or so we have seen scores of dance moves including the Running Man, the Roger Rabbit, the Robo Cop, the Cabbage Patch, the Moonwalk, the Funky Twist, the New Kids on the Block, the Pop Lock, Break Dancing, the Kid ‘n’ Play, the Smurf, the Wop, the Worm, the Gigolo, the Snake, Krump dancing, Clown dancing, the Electric Slide, the Cupid Shuffle, Stepping, the Bounce, the Butterfly, the Dip, the Cry Baby - believe it or not, the list goes on! But there is one recycled dance move that is causing a stir amongst the young and the old because of its new and improved technique. It is called the Freak. Some say it is a way to be close to someone while maintaining your dignity. Others say it is an unapologetic, nonstop, grindyour-hips good time on the dance floor. The truth is kids from coast to coast are grinding and simulating sexual acts on the dance floor. They are mimicking Kama-Sutra positions to
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the beat of rap and R&B music. But how did it happen? Who is to blame? Dance allows one to do things with one’s body to express the inexpressive. When does it become too much? In 1980s, the Hip-Hop era was birthed. Still, there was no “freak”. More dances emerged yet nothing was like the dance of today. One of the newest dance crazes to have swept the country is Krump Dancing. It originated in South Central Los Angeles and can be seen demonstrated by R&B sensation Chris Brown. The word Krump stands for Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise, and this acronymic formation can be seen in his videos. It began as a way to release anger, aggression and frustration in a positive, non-violent way, and is now used to also praise God. Violent gangster activity was very common in South Central; Krumping was developed in resistance to such street violence (Unknown). Teenagers bump and grind on the dance floor, rubbing their bodies together in undulating rhythm. Front-to-front, front-to-back. Girls bend over while boys thrust their hips into the girls' backsides or faces. They straddle each other on the floor. It's freak dancing — the latest version of dirty dancing — and it is wildly popular with teens. Adults, however, aren't so enamored. Many describe it as simulated sex with clothes on. And more schools are cracking down. “It's girls and boys rubbing their parts all over each other. It's offensive to me,” said Michael Hall, principal at Anderson High School. “It's a huge problem at every school.” Schools nationwide have dealt out detentions and suspensions or canceled dances for infractions. The dance craze, which first appeared in the mid-1990s, has enjoyed resurgence in popularity thanks to music videos on MTV and BET. “While freak dancing among 12- and 13-year-olds is inappropriate to me, teens my age are racing with hormones and sexual energy, and this is a means to express those feelings,” he said. “I personally am a virgin, and I have no interest in changing that aspect of my life. But I do enjoy freak dancing at times. It is a release,” says Mark Hines, a 17-yearold junior at Seven Hills Upper School. “It is a simple fact that people who love themselves seek to preserve their lives-not destroy them” (Akbar 15). Release or not, this is a dance that should be stopped. "Quite honestly it's like having sex with your clothes on," said Mary McDermott, a teacher at Bend High School and the school's activities director, describing the style of dancing. Some schools are forcing parents to sign a statement saying their child will not engage in the activity. In cases like this I blame the parent for not monitoring their child's spare time as well as the ‘top dogs’ in charge of the media. Increasing today, black city youth are turning to the media for their role models instead of their parents or great black leaders. With it being the prominent influence, our kids are heading down a dark path of destruction. The “freak” is the first sign. Why do we usually seek to bring in the famous,
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the stars, the athletes and entertainers when it might be better for children to emulate the behavior of someone within their reach (Hare, Hare39)? In order to fully understand this dance phenomenon one must take a closer look at the elements of Hip-Hop: emceeing, DJing, graffiti, and breaking. Breaking is a part of the historical legacy of Hip-Hop, which has evolved and developed over the years alongside the expression of dance. It is of no wonder that little scholarly attention has been given to the latest forms of dance. Therefore, in order to fully understand it, it is essential to explore the course of dance in Hip-Hop and the current thrill of â€œFreak dancing". Because this is a new topic of exploration, I would like to challenge the Black community by posing a few questions: How does freak dancing express the inexpressive by way of one's body? Is freak dancing expressing the unexpressed (sexual desire, attention-grabbing; asserting control of the body)? Is freak dancing an expression of empowerment or of oppression? How do these expressions impact media-driven images of Hip-Hop (i.e. music videos, texts)? Finally, how does freak dancing shape Black youth identity?
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Moving Kinship: The Correlation between Rap and Spirituals as Social Activist Musical Genres Jayme Alilaw Born of Africans who were transported to America and enslaved, traditional Negro spirituals are considered to be the musical predecessor of all African American musical genres of today, including rap. By examining their historical development, this paper will explore the kinship between rap and traditional Negro spirituals as social activist musical genres that transcended national borders. This paper will also explore the ways in which both spirituals and rap have been utilized as vehicles to mobilize national and international revolutionary movements. Fertile Ground: The Historical Development The new creation: African-American When Africans were brought to America against their will, they brought with them a richly-textured heritage that included singing and dancing as daily activities, interwoven into everyday routines. Such expressions allowed communication with ancestral spirits and with living brothers and sisters. They were not only desirable, but were as necessary for life as food or water (Jones, 1). In all of history, one of the most heinous crimes against humanity was the TransAtlantic slave trade. The Maafa (Great Suffering) would see millions - if not billions - of Africans brutally removed from their homes and families to be transported by way of the nightmarish Middle Passage to the Western Hemisphere. Those who survived were subjected to a barbaric system of enslavement, landing in what we now call the United States of America. Countless atrocities were committed in order to sustain the institution of human ownership. In the book Remembering Slavery, it is noted that brute force was considered essential, not incidental. Those enslaving practiced â€œroutine, systematic violence [they] found necessary to reduce men and women to thingsâ€? (Berlin, xxii). Along with the overt violence was the psychological injury sustained by the African people. Having been separated from their countries and families, they were intentionally thrown into a large group of people without regard to language or culture, as though they were all a homogeneous African people. They couldn't understand the language of those who had been enslaved alongside them much less the ones doing the enslaving. In order to
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regain a semblance of normalcy, they attempted to reestablish family units, even under the continuous threat of being sold, raped, or murdered. Although trauma was often experienced within the institution of slavery, they managed to develop coping mechanisms, methods for physical and psychological survival amid such inhumane conditions. Although the peoples taken from various African ethnic groups during the TransAtlantic slave trade spoke different languages and practiced different customs, their basic similarities allowed for some communication and common expression. In his book, Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals, Arthur C. Jones introduces the reader to the general worldview of the African, who sees music and dance as integral, innate aspects of existence. The African expresses every human emotion and experience through music; therefore, it was of no wonder that musical expression was one of the first uniting elements between the different tribes forced into self-sameness. Jones explains that “inter-ethnic ceremonies were possible because counter-clockwise movement, singing and dancing ceremonies were found in almost all western and central African tribal societies” (Jones, 5). These ceremonies began as the ring shout, which was characterized by collective counter-clockwise movement and the climactic culmination of moans and utterances. When the common language was learned and the religious indoctrination had been underway, the new African American created what we now call the spiritual. In examining the structure of the folk spiritual, it is clear that Africans far from abandoned their own cultural practices, despite having adapted the foreign language and the Christian religion of their enslavers. In 1819, Methodist minister John Watson wrote what is considered to be the first writing on a distinctive slave religious music - his objection to Blacks singing religious songs they had composed versus traditional hymns. He felt that their poetry was inferior, that their music was influencing White parishioners to engage in the same practices (Burnim, 53). By this account, we see that not only was there distinctive slave religious music but that it already contained the transcendent characteristics to influence others who were exposed to it. Within the actual lyrical content lies the poetry in which humans around the world have been able to relate to. Jones breaks the spirituals down in to various categories of use according to their texts; however, for the purposes of comparison, we will focus on spirituals of struggle and resistance. Arguably the most relevant category of spiritual to analyze for historic and political significance would be that of struggle and resistance. In this category you will find such songs as “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” which recounts the Old Testament story of Joshua, God’s prophet, who was lead to victory against his enemies in Jericho by merely following His instructions. This category consists not only of songs about comfort and reassurance but also songs about action. Upon a first listen, many of these songs sound like
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joyful tunes of content slaves; however, when evaluating their historical use, we find that there were often underlying messages contained within them. One spiritual that is often cited for its employment in the Underground Railroad is “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd,” which gave specific directions to the escapees - to follow the Big Dipper in their quest for freedom: Follow the drinkin’ gourd Follow the drinkin’ gourd For the old man is a waitin’ for to carry you to freedom, If you follow the drinkin’ gourd. When the sun comes back and the first quail calls, Follow the drinkin’ gourd For the old man is a waitin’ for to carry you to freedom, If you follow the drinkin’ gourd (Jones, 45) It is essential to recognize the covert functions of spirituals in order to gain a true appreciation for how these enslaved peoples viewed and responded to their oppression. Jones refers to spirituals as “social action music”, "action" indicating that these people did not only sing about their plight. They sought change. Politics of Neglect Prior to the 1960s, the Bronx had been viewed as the epitome of the American Dream. Home to second- and third- generation immigrants, the Bronx was a suburb away from the bustle of Manhattan. World War II saw an increase of industrial jobs. With the success of the Civil Rights Movement, many working-class African Americans and Puerto Ricans were moving into the suburbs of the Bronx as well. However, with the end of the war came a decrease in industrial jobs and a “white flight” - a mass exodus of the Italian, Irish, and Jewish populations from the Bronx to Queens or upstate New York, even New Jersey. The greatest effect on the demise of the Bronx was the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the opening of Co-op City, which led to a rampage of arson in the 1970s and the ultimate politics of neglect that would abandon the Bronx at its most vulnerable state. The seven-mile-long Cross-Bronx Expressway was intended to cater to the suburban commuter by connecting Long Island to Manhattan to New Jersey by way of traversing the Bronx. However, in order to build this expressway, homes were destroyed and its residents were displaced. To replace these single family homes and apartments, Co-op City
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opened in 1968, offering subsidized housing in the form of towering apartments stacked atop each other. This caused a continued mass departure of about half of the white population and an influx of the poorer ethnic groups who had been displaced from Manhattan due to gentrification (Price, 6). This made for tense race relations as the new brown transplants were met by white territorial gangs and their attacks. The new settlers formed their own gangs as a means of self-defense, but this mutated into a new form of entertainment. By 1969, unemployment was an epidemic, gang activity had begun to spread, and slumlords had taken over Co-op City. In an effort to seek optimal profits, the slumlords cut off tenants' heat and water, refused to make repairs, withheld property taxes, and even hired the local unemployed youths to set fires in their buildings. The outbreak of arson provided the fuel for those in local government - namely Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan - who felt it was time for a “period of ‘benign neglect’”. In accordance with his theory of neglect, fire companies were removed from the Bronx, which led to more job loss and an increase in arson (Chang, 14). By the summer of 1973, the Bronx had become a borough abandoned by its local government, defaced due to the greed of unscrupulous landlords, ravaged by poverty and unemployment, and terrorized by a very active gang climate. It was an amalgam of various ethnic Africans, from African Americans to immigrants from Latin America and the islands, including Jamaicans and Puerto Ricans, all of which would eventually serve to influence the creation of Hip-Hop culture and rap music. In fact, a legendary recreation center party in late August 1973 served as a pivotal point in the creation Hip-Hop. DJ Kool Herc, also known as the Father of Hip-Hop, brought the mobile DJing format from his native Jamaica. In this way, he sought to offer an outlet and alternative to gang violence that pervaded the neighborhood, providing drama-free parties where youth could come without fear of violence. What was new about Kool Herc’s style of DJing was the fact that he would have two copies of each record, isolate the short percussive or rhythmic instrumental portion of the record - what would come to be known as the “break” - and extend this section by replaying it, or “looping” it. He did this because he noticed that this was the section that the dancers waited in anticipation for. These dancers came to be known as the break dancers, displaying their best moves at the break portion of the record. Also, in seeking to keep the crowd engaged, DJs would employ MCs - short for Master of Ceremonies - to pick up the microphone and entertain with use of such African oral traditions as toasting, playing the dozens, and rhyming (Norfleet, 353).
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Another instrumental player in the establishment of the Hip-Hop culture was Afrika Bambaataa. As a member of the powerful gang the Black Spades, Afrika Bambaataa already possessed street credibility amongst the youth in his neighborhood. Inspired by Kool Herc’s parties and fueled with a desire to elevate above street violence, Bambaataa transformed this gang into a dance crew. He called it Zulu Nation, based off a film he viewed about the African Zulu warriors. By forming a dance crew, he was able to channel the anger of his gang into competitive dancing. Afrika Bambaataa came to be known as the Master of Records, making a name for himself because of his reputation for playing some of the most unique records, from rock music to cartoon theme songs, and even excerpts from Western art music (Norfleet, 357). Lastly, Grandmaster Flash was instrumental in further developing the aesthetic of what was to be known as Hip-Hop music. He incorporated an element known as “scratching” which served to “accent and punctuate different rhythmic phrases” within the music he was playing (Price, 25). He also introduced the electric percussion system referred to as the beat box. The beat box would later go on to define the aesthetics of 1980s Hip-Hop music. As previously mentioned, MCing was not the prominent element of Hip-Hop at its inception. In the beginning, the MC merely served as a sidekick to the DJ, helping to further his notoriety. However, MCs began to recognize their power as a mouthpiece and used each available opportunity to become more creative, to get the greatest response from the crowd. MC’s began competing for validation from their audience. Rap legend Kool Moe Dee defined a good MC as one who has “a high degree of originality and versatility (Price, 37)”. Soon the MC would become the focal point of Hip-Hop culture. Rap eventually became the mouthpiece of the Hip-Hop movement. With the power of the microphone, the rapper began to speak for the neighborhood and the culture, articulating every aspect of their experience. Much like the folk spiritual, rap provided a way to put words to the experience. Rap poets spoke about every aspect of their experience: suffering, pain, hope, resistance, accountability, and everyday life. The first recorded rap hit, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang, is a perfect example of the party element that birthed Hip-Hop. However, it wouldn’t take long for the songs of resistance to come out in full force, such as Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” All Around the World It’s the Same Song It can be argued that both spirituals and rap are inherently transcendent activist musical forms because of the conditions from which they grew. Spirituals served as an
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active fight to maintain humanity in atrocious conditions, the enslaved refusing to surrender to the despair of their physical bondage. Likewise, Hip-Hop grew out of a struggle for human dignity as a rejection of impoverished conditions and a violent environment, the youth finding power by means of their artistic creativity. These were human responses to inhumane circumstances. In the foreword written for the book Wade in the Water, Vincent Harding wrote that Arthur Jones’ book shows the reader how "spirituals are available to all persons who are prepared to open themselves to the unsettling, healing power… [spirituals are] relevant not only to the specific circumstances of slavery but also to women and men struggling with issues of justice, freedom, and spiritual wholeness in all times and places (Jones, xi). In the book Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop, Bakari Kitwana identifies the global economy and dismal socio-economic prospects for all youth in the 1980s as being instrumental in the relevance of the Hip-Hop genre to Generation X Caucasians. He stated that White Americans were drawn to Hip-Hop in the 1990s because they viewed it as an anti-establishment culture (Kitwana, 26). This is why these musical forms were able to transcend borders, because they spoke to the human condition and not just the condition of the African in America. The cause for full human rights is one that has been fought throughout history by every nationality, every color. However, there were certain individuals and groups whose efforts were instrumental in spreading not only the aesthetics of each musical form, but also the meaning. When the Fisk Jubilee Singers embarked on the first performance tour of spirituals, the immediate goal was to earn money for Fisk University, the historically black college of Nashville, Tennessee. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were comprised of nine singers - seven of which were former slaves - under the direction of George White. White believed that whites in the North would empathize with a group of black singers from the South and would pay to hear the trained singers. White featured the traditional spirituals of the singers’ experience because this seemed to be what people wanted to hear, that their popularity was due to a desire to “hear the songs they brought with them out of slavery” (Burnim, 51-77). By the end of their first tour, the Fisk Jubilee Singers had raised twenty-two thousand dollars for the university. Because of their efforts, spirituals found a place before a wider audience. The messages of these musical genres inadvertently reached a global scale as art forms, which in themselves were created for the purpose of communicating common human struggle in a fight for equality and justice. However, ambassadors did not rest solely on the activist elements of the art forms; rather, they sought to optimize the potential of furthering social, economic, and political causes for which these musical forms were particularly
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expressive. In her book, Stand and Deliver, Yvonne Bynoe acknowledges that "[e]nlightened artists have always been the prophets, the seers, the truth tellers - fanning the flames of revolution. Actual change, however, occurs when leaders, heeding the artists’ calls, take action (Bynoe, 22).” There are some who were not only enlightened artists, but were also foot soldiers seeking to implement the message they brought with them. Musical Ambassadors Paul Robeson Paul Robeson was a modern day Imhotep, a master of all trades. He was a scholar, an all-star athlete, a thespian, a musician, and an activist. His role was significant in the creation of an entire vocal program based on themes reflecting black culture: namely, spirituals. His performance of spirituals was notable because, although he primarily performed classical arrangements, he utilized folk elements by incorporating call and response, often accompanied by Lawrence Brown joining in. He would also take the folk liberty of altering the lyrics or adding verses to serve his present purpose (McGinty, 105111). Robeson felt that his talent needed to be used for more than just the entertainment of the audience. He sought for music to contribute towards the education, advancement, and betterment of the audience, and therefore the entire world. He had a sense of accountability and would use the platform of the stage to make commentary on the meanings of spirituals and to link this with the universal sufferings of all humanity (McGinty, 113). Robeson identified with socialism, allied himself with various causes such as labor unions, and aligned himself with the Soviet Union. He was known to travel the world, performing to packed crowds who expected to hear him perform spirituals. His music garnered a large following, providing access and influence. He came to use his music and activism interchangeably, performing at events or rallies for certain causes, changing the lyrics to fit the cause. In their essay, Paul Robeson, Musician, Doris Evans McGinty and Wayne Shirley comment that “few, if any, other musicians of Paul Robeson’s stature have been able to conduct a career in which the artist’s philosophy and mission were reflected so clearly in the content of the music performed” (McGinty, 112). Robeson was never cryptic about the value he found in the wisdom of spirituals and thus became one of the most significant ambassadors of the spiritual around the world.
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Afrika Bambaataa Known as one of the three godfathers of the Hip-Hop culture, Afrika Bambaataa was one of the first international ambassadors of Hip-Hop culture. As a leader of the notorious Black Spades, Bambaataa held sway over many of the youth of the Bronx. After a lifechanging trip to Africa, Bambaataa returned to the Bronx ready to organize and stop the violence. Bambaataa transformed his crew into the Universal Zulu Nation, which later established Seven Infinity Lessons, a code of conduct and order for the many Zulu chapters that had begun to spring up (Chang, 105). He possessed the ability to bring opposing gangs together and provide a safe environment for dance expression. Bambaataa’s own reputation for playing eclectic records as a DJ primed him for recognition, what with international exposure and the ability to bring together opposing forces. As the Master of Records, his affinity with what he would dub "the electro funk sound" led him to sample “Trans-Europe Express”, a track by the German group Kraftwerk, creating “Planet Rock”. Bambaataa’s varied style made him and hit with large influence in France and England. According to Emmett Price, "Planet Rock" would go on to become one of the most sampled tracks in the history of Hip-Hop, both domestically and internationally (Chang, 105). The Future… The fact that a thoroughly effective movement for freedom based on AfricanAmerican cultural foundations could be waged as recently as the 1960s supports the idea that cultural legacy of early Africans continues today (Jones, 10). In the introduction to the book Wade in the Water, Arthur C. Jones makes the declaration that we need to “reclaim the spirituals as a great resource in transforming ourselves and this nation” (Jones, x). He also states that we should “appreciate the almost unlimited potential of the spirituals as sources of wisdom and guidance in addressing current societal and psychological issues” (Jones, xiv). These are assertions that traditional Negro spirituals are timeless in their relevance and their application. We saw this with the resurgence of the traditional Negro spiritual as a tool in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Not only were traditional Negro spirituals revived, but new freedom songs were penned, influenced directly by traditional spirituals. Songs like “Oh Freedom”, “Woke Up this Morning with My Mind Stayed on Freedom”, and “Eyes on the Prize” were simply old spirituals with new lyrics.
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It is evident that Hip-Hop and rap music have had far reaching effects on the aesthetic landscape of the United States and the world; however, there has also been a noted political affect as well. In both the 2004 and 2008 election seasons, Hip-Hop saw a rise of political engagement. Hip-Hop moguls and rappers began creating organizations to educate their audiences about the American political process and solicit them to participate. In this past election season, rappers used their microphones to speak out about their support for Presidential candidate Barack Obama. With songs by Will.I.Am ("Yes We Can") and Ludacris ("Obama is Here"), rappers sought to use their voices to create change in the White House. We have also heard from rappers about social issues. After Hurricane Katrina, rapper Mos Def made a song called “Katrina Klap”, which openly criticized what he viewed to be a continued campaign of neglect toward poor black people by the United States government. This demonstrates the infantile potential for rap to provide a catalyst for activist movement beyond aesthetics. In examining the historical conditions which led to the development of both spirituals and rap music, we can see that that the African worldview and the basic human spirit require an outlet for release and expression. I believe that the fundamental humanity of the music that poured out from the souls of tormented people is what makes both of these genres relatable to people around the world. It was also the dedicated work of people like the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Paul Robeson, DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Baambaataa who, by taking their music and message around the country and the world, shared the beauty and value of what had been created. I believe that the power that went into their formation has not been lost, that their power and conviction is still relevant today and can continue to be used to facilitate social change. As long as social injustice exists anywhere in the world, those who have demonstrated the quintessence of what it means to be human can continue to show the rest of us what that sounds like through their music. Works Cited Berlin, Ira, Marc Favreau, and Steven F. Miller. Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation. New York: New Press, 1998. Burnim, Mellonee V. “Religious Music.” In African American Music, ed. Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby, 51-77. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. Bynoe, Yvonne. Stand and Deliver. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2004. Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. New York:
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Picador, 2005. Jones, Arthur C. Wade in the Water: the Wisdom of the Spirituals. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993. Kitwana, Bakari. Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop. New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005. Lovell Jr., John. Black Song: the Forge and the Flame. New York: Macmillan Company, 1972. McGinty, Drois Evans and Wayne Shirley. “Paul Robeson, Musician.” In Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen, ed. Jeffrey C. Stewart, 105-121. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998. Norfleet, Dawn M. “Hip-Hop and Rap.” In African American Music, ed. Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby, 353-389. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. Price, Emmett G. Hip-Hop Culture. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc, 2006. The Spirituals Project. “The Freedom Songs of the Civil Rights Movement” University of Denver. http://spiritualsproject.org/spirituals/civil.php, 2005.
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Self-Conscious Consumption: When it All Falls Down Brandi Rene’e Beard While in the height of its consumed popularity Hip-Hop’s arteries have been clogged and its vision blinded by all the bling, rolls of money, ridiculously priced automobiles, and foreign made clothing. The scope of what Hip-Hop addressed in 2004, much like today, revolved around the material glorification that simultaneously influences conspicuous consumption and misleading objectives and aspirations for the B-Boys and B-girls, so to speak, of today. The American Dream is often misrepresented and skewed by the recurring images of “what it means to be famous” or in other words recording artist drenched in the most expensive, current, and exclusive fabrics, jewelry, and footwear. The problem does not lay in products or those whom partake in the purchasing of these items; the problem is the “routinization” and standardization, of the messages that transpires through the music videos and lyrics addressing these items. Kanye West’s 2004 hit “All Falls Down” from his debut album The College Dropout offered a much needed approach and insight to what these trends truly mean as well as what they are distractions from. ”All Falls Down” was released in February 2004, under Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, and by May 2004 the song peaked at number seven on the United States Billboard top 100 and number two on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks (Billboard.com). The song was produced by Kanye West and written by himself and Lauryn Hill. The hook, which was sang by Syleena Johnson, was sampled from Lauryn Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity” from MTV Unplugged 2.0 which was a compilation of live narratives and innovative songs which acted in lieu of a much anticipated second album. Like Lauryn Hill’s “Mystery of Iniquity” the base of the song is composed of the guitar and acoustic guitar and an added hand clap sound clip for originality and a classic Hip-Hop feel. The song has a medium to slow even tempo and there is no DJ presence on the track. The location of the song, like the location of the music video, is Los Angeles, California which is intelligently appropriate since Los Angeles has the reputation of being the “plastic” capital of the world. This is a perfect setting for discussing materialism and self-consciousness. The issues addressed in “All Falls Down” include self-consciousness, materialism, and societal insecurities with a focus in the African American community. West deals with these issues with history and personal experiences as justification and as his primary source of information. Insecurity masked with material wealth has long been an issue in the African American community. Although this issue is prevalent and prominent in the African American community it is not one that is neither indigenous nor innate. This 78 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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problematic matter has an historical foundation with a beginning in slavery and the destruction of African identity in the “new world”. The pressures of creating a new identity, the struggle for equality, and the need to be a part of the “American Dream” has created an internal conflict for Black Americans throughout the country. West discusses the issues in three verses with three different perspectives in each. These perspectives are of the Black female, the Black male, and Black people as a whole from a first person point of view. The first verse in the song discusses the Black female experience as a consumer in the United States of America. West not only addresses the issue of over indulging in material things he gives his audience insight into why the young Black female might feel compelled to use retail as a clutch. This first verse deals with socio historical issues such as single Black mothers, peer pressure, as well as societal pressures for success in regards to being college educated. “Man I promise she’s so self-conscious she has no ideas what she’s doing in college/ the major that she majored in don’t make no money but she won’t drop out her parents will look at her funny/ now tell me that ain’t insecurrre the concept of school seems so securrre” (ohhla.com). These lyrics not only deal with pressures from her parents these lines also presents the pressures of being a part of “the American Dream”. However, Kanye’s personal biases about the American higher educational system are themes in many of his songs. The issue of the lack of presence by African American men in their children’s life is addressed, “… cause that’s enough money to buy her a few pairs of new airs cause her baby daddy don’t really care…” (ohhla.com). These lines follow directly behind his introduction to her unsuccessful luck in college. West does that to show that those who we consider the “crème of the crop” in our society are still subject to unfortunate circumstances or to prove his opinion about college which is that college is not as secure as it seems to be. However, the real issue at hand in this verse is summed up in the line “single Black female addicted to retail and well” (ohhla.com). As displayed several times in the song the Black female character is using brands to bandage the pain that she is exposed to daily. Kanye uses the line “couldn’t afford a car so she named her daughter Alexus (A Lexus)” (ohhla.com) to allude to the cycle of this issue and to say that this will continue until it is addressed head on. Kanye addresses similar issues of self-esteem in regards to the Black male in his next verse. Kanye talks about several historical complications that have affected the Black male and Black people as one. “We shine because they hate us/ floss cause they degrade us/ we tryna buy back our forty acres / and for that paper look how low we a’ stoop/ even if you in a Benz you still a nigga in a coop [coupe]” (ohhla.com). These lines refer to the struggles of
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Black peoples for equality to white people in this country. When West says “they” he is referring to white oppressors as well as government born oppressions on the Black community. West basically says in this country regardless of what you do or what you have accomplished you will always be a second class citizen and your material wealth cannot cure the historical damage that has been done to the psyche and image of Black peoples in America. West’s comparison of the Benz coupe, a sign of privilege and status in this country, to a chicken coop, is a metaphor to express no mobility and or no way out, paints a vivid picture for his audience. In the last verse Kanye West sums up the entire song by including his personal experiences and explaining why our self-consciousness and conspicuous consumption benefits “the man”. “All Falls Down” is one of my favorite songs because it was one of a kind. This song addressed issues that much needed to be discussed in the African American community. West not only talks about the problems that are dealt with; he offers reasoning for these issues as well as historical events that birthed many of our circumstances. The iniquities in our society and in the African American experience in this country are rarely intelligently discussed in mainstream Hip-Hop. But, Kanye West manages to make a hit song out of a controversial topics and that’s one reason why I would recommend it to most individuals. When this song first came out I passively listened to it on the radio but, as I unconsciously learned the lyrics I realized, as a Black women, that this song really spoke to me. I understood what West was talking about and respected him for introducing thought provoking issues to mainstream. I began to understand that I was not alone in regards to being overly self-conscious. This is an issue that many African Americans alike are battling. I appreciate the topic being discussed however there is no solution offered or no call to action. If a solution is not offered what will become of the self-conscious African American female and male? What is to be done to promote a healthy psyche among all African Americans? And most importantly, what will happen to the next generation when it all falls down?
Works Cited “All Falls Down- Kanye West.” Music News, Reviews, Articles, Information, News Online & Free Music | Billboard.com. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://www.billboard.com/#/song/kanye-west/all-falls-down/5142415>. West, Kanye. “All Falls Down.” The Original Hip-Hop (Rap) Lyrics Archive Version 2.0 (Beta). Trans. Akademik_geniuz_@hotmail.com. Web. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://www.ohhla.com/anonymous/kan_west/college/allfalls.wst.txt>.
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Some Times Things Don’t Fall Apart Lucas Grace With the ever-changing atmosphere in the Hip-Hop, it is very easy for true practitioners of the art and culture to be taken for granted by the mainstream media. Despite their longevity, near cult following, and quality musicianship, the Roots are a band that has steadily been taken for granted, not only in Hip-Hop but also in the music industry at large. But while the industry may overlook the band, and rap fans would generally be unable to tell you the name of just one song other than “You Got Me”, the accomplishments and contributions to Hip-Hop cannot be ignored. Formed in 1987 by Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson while attending the Philadelphia High School for Creative Performing Arts, The Roots began as a duo performing at talent shows and small gigs around Philadelphia and New York City (Bush). Fellow emcee Malik B. and bassist Leonard “Hub” Hubbard would accompany the two at shows around Philadelphia and New York City, forming the basis of what would eventually become one of the most important and influential bands in music. An active group of musicians, mainstream success has seemed to elude the band despite their talents and relevance. Despite, and perhaps in spite of general acceptance, the Roots focus mainly on instrumentation and have set high standards for live Hip-Hop. Taking cues from their predecessors Stetsasonic, the first Hip-Hop group to use a live band, the Roots have always performed with a live band and quickly gained a reputation amongst the Philadelphia and New York underground scenes as top-notch performers (Bush). Their popularity grew and their reputation soon would take them out of Philadelphia and propel them to the forefront of a movement within Hip-Hop. An invite to perform at a Hip-Hop concert in Germany, prompted the Roots to record their first and only independent album, Organix, in 1993. The often forgotten album was recorded in advance of the concert so that the band could capitalize on the exposure and tap into a new fan base overseas. The record was met with critical acclaim and led to multiple offers for record deals from various labels. The buzz had become so strong around the group that they basically had their “pick of the litter”. Two years after the release of their first solo album, the Roots would release their sophomore album under their new label, David Geffen Company’s DGC Records. The band’s first major label debut would come in 1995 with the album Do You Want More?!!!??!. Within the realm of Hip-Hop, this album was very out of the box so to speak. Hip-Hop has a long standing history of using samples and prerecorded components,
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but the Roots focus was on instrumentation and the entire album was made without one sample or one prerecorded component. Their alternative approach to Hip-Hop quickly led to them being labeled as alternative rap. While the denominating of the group may have seemed to stigmatize or box in the group, it definitely came with some perks. Labeling the band as alternative may seem like an unnecessary marketing ploy or even demeaning in the minds of Hip-Hoppers that are and have been fans such as myself. But let’s think about this for a second. First off, the Roots perform and record with a live band. A live band! At the time that they came out and began to make their imprint on the Hip-Hop community, no one was always performing with a live band. Sure at some concerts a band may accompany an act, but in the case of the Roots, the band is the act. Second, the lead emcee, Black Thought was breaking the stereotype of the Hip-Hop emcee. By discarding the violent, criminality, misogynistic, angry black male image, and taking on the politically competent and educated Black male image, he added another dimension to the Hip-Hop emcee. While still serving raw and unapologetic lyrics, Black though would touch on topics such as fidelity, politics, social responsibility, and hardships associated with urban life. His ideas and blunt realism mixed with social commentary was very alternative when compared to “gangsta” rap of the early 90’s. The sophomore album, Do You Want More?!!!??!, was shown very little love by the Hip-Hop community and was generally ignored by fans. The group seemed as if it was too far ahead of its times and was branded as alternative to the norm in Hip-Hop. The alternative label they received from critics would ultimately assist in the ongoing evolution of the band. During the summer of their second release, the Roots were invited to play in front of a largely alternative rock audience at the annual Lollapalooza festival. While HipHoppers continued to ignore the up and coming band, it found an up swell of support from alternative communities, stemming from their summer ’95 performance. I myself can attest to the power of their performances, already a fan, the band quickly became my favorite live performers when I saw them perform for the first time, it was ten years ago, I was 16, and they still hold that prestigious ranking. After recording their second studio album, the Roots began what would become an ongoing evolution of the band and a revolving door for its members. Two guest performers, Rahzel, the human beat box, and celebrity producer and Scott Storch, appeared on the album Do You Want More?!!!??!, and sub-sequently joined the band adding to its diversity and uniqueness. New member Scott Storch would also be the first to leave the band. Storch left the band in 1996 and was replaced by Kamal Grey.
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The follow up to their sophomore album would be met with universal acclaim and was the first in a string of top 40 albums, #21 on the Billboard charts. The 1996 release Illadelph Halflife, introduced an extreme new sound to the critic then sent them raving. “The Roots move indiscriminately from politically conscious lyrics (not just about black America but also Bosnia, the Olympics, and terrorism) to silly rhymes (roam like a cellular phone/far from home)” said Neil Strauss of the New York Times. A writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer said of Black Thought’s flow that “while it doesn’t sacrifice a smidgen of street level intensity, it reaffirms just how far reaching (and how far removed from the gangsta stereotype) Hip-Hop can be.” Critics praised not only the lyrical content of Black Thought, but also the musical composition directed by ?uestlove. The success on Illadelph, and the addition of two more members, Scratch (DJ, Beatboxer) and Dice Raw (emcee) made for what would soon become the most pivotal album of their career. The Roots had forced the industry to take notice. Brought together by common interests and styles, ?uestlove, writer and producer James Poyser, D’Angelo and J Dilla came together and formed a musical collective that would usher in a new wave on alternative and conscious rap. And not only would this movement invade Hip-Hop but with direction from ?uestlove and mutual involvement of like-minded artists, would soon invade mainstream media. This collective worked diligently together from the late 1990’s through the early 2000’s. The Soulquarian Collective, as it was called, was compiled of Native Tongue member Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip and Common, as well as Erykah Badu, Bilal, and bassist Pino Palladino. The collective talent within the Soulquarians was about to bum rush the main-stream and make a claim of legitimacy. At the forefront of the charge, what the 1999 release of the album that arguably remains their greatest complete work. Thing Fall Apart turned out to be the Roots breakthrough album and the first project to come out of the collective to be commercially successful, going gold (selling over 500,000 units) and peeking at #4 on the Billboard chart. The album would turn out to be one of the most influential albums in recent history. With the release of their fourth album, the Roots stayed true to form and challenged the social climate of society. “Act Won,” the intro to the album, has excerpts from the Spike Lee film Mo’ Better Blues. It opens the album up with an argument by main characters played by Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes, recognizable to some by voice. The discussion is over the current state African American music and culture. The movie was released in 1990 (IMDB.com) and the debate was still relevant at the time Things Fall Apart
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was released. Not only had there been an evident decline in African American Music, quality Hip-Hop had become scarce. “Act Two (the Love of My Life),” is a personal reflection of Hip-Hop by the Roots and collective partner Common, as he expanded on his love affair with Hip-Hop first brought to light on his classic track “I Used to Love H.E.R.” ?uestlove saw the song as reflecting the “evolution of Hip-Hop through our eyes.” This song and other tracks resonated with the Roots followers as they touched on topics that are relatable. They share a passion for Hip-Hop that many of their listeners also have. The majority of fans are active consumers and takes their Hip-Hop very seriously. Their most successful track from this album was a collaboration with Erykah Badu, and Eve who would be making her recording debut on “You Got Me”. The song details the building of a relationship; difficult times when he is away and doubts of fidelity. Badu sings the hook beautifully and a young Eve comes out of the gates with a great cameo. Along with showing passion for their craft and an enthusiasm for social change and intellectual discussion, the Roots reach a large demographic that has generally been missed by the mainstream market that lacks substance and quality acts. Their widespread influence and acceptance added to the level of success the album ultimately had. Newcomers Eve and Beanie Sigel were both featured and were subject to record deals almost immediately upon release of the album. The desire to stay disciplined and true to form is something that is very important to the band and it members, “you have to stay ahead of the times and have to know what’s going on…” says ?uestlove. The Roots have always stuck to their disciplines. After super imposing their image across the Hip-Hop landscape with Things Fall Apart, the Roots continued to produce quality music. None were as successful as the 1999 release, but four consecutive albums that debuted in the top ten of the Billboard charts followed it. Each album contained social commentary within their lyrics, and reflects the current times and issues pertinent to society. Even their 2004 release The Tipping Point, while considered more radio friendly, still is laced with hidden tracks and studio jam sessions that extend tracks to 10 minutes. This is classic form from a band that always made music their way and didn’t cave to industry pressures. When they dealt with personal loss that was public knowledge, they shared those emotions with us their listeners. Even in times of extreme loss the Roots stay true to their feelings and don’t make anything that may be superficial, as evident by the darker album Game Theory, which was released after the loss of close friend and collaborator J Dilla. The
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2006 album is laced with references to Dilla including an intro using a Dilla production as well as a song entitled “Can’t Stop This” that is both produced and dedicated to Dilla. One constant theme throughout the Roots career is the need to have social commentary within their music. This is something that is so valuable because it is thought provoking for its listeners and promotes wellbeing instead of mindless degradation. When asked what has kept the group going so long, in a 2005 interview ?uestlove responded with, “It’s our Job! And we’re disciplined…” Allowing for members to leave and take on solo projects such as Black Thought’s acting stint, various productions or musical direction jobs for ?uestlove. But no matter what there is an agreement that personal endeavors will not interfere or stop the progression of the band. There is a commitment to their craft and their fans, “The way our fan base is built, they’ve stuck with us from the beginning. The emotional connection is there… the core of the Roots will always be Black Thought, ?uestlove, Hub, and Kamal.” Two years after this comment was made, Hub decided to retire from the band on good terms, the three remaining core members are still together and forging ahead furthering the evolution of the band. The Roots are an important aspect of Hip-Hop that shows no signs of slowing down. Their 2010 release How I Got Over, again evolves into an existentialist commentary on modern society. Andy Kellman of Allmusic.com said that the new album is “deeply planted in realism, gracefully and clearly sequenced.” Through the extensive career of the Roots and its members, Black Thought has become a timeless emcee that is always relevant and ?uestlove has proven himself to be an effective band director and genius composer/producer. One day the Roots will hang it up and retire, but I assure you it will be on their own terms, just as their career has been all along. It will not be due to irrelevance or lack of a following. Some things shatter and get lost or forgotten, but the Roots will not fall apart.
Works Cited “Album Reviews: Short Takes: Hip-Hop: Illadelph Halflife.” Jeff Niesel. The San Diego Union Tribune. 10241996. www.Signonsandiego.com Biography: the Roots. John Bush. Allmusic. http://allmusic.com/artist/the-rootsp168531/biography Grammy Nominees. The Recording Academy. http://www.grammy.com/nominees “Hip-Hop Classicists.” Neil Strauss. New York Times. Arts Section. 08021996. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/02/arts/Hip-Hop-classicists.html
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“How I Got Over: Music Review.” Nathan Brackett. Rolling Stone. 06222010. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/reviews/album/17385/119565 “Roots flash big smiles, tight playing, at fast-paced show.” Joshua Klein. Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Section. Dec 05, 2010. http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/ct-live-1206-roots-review20101205,0,3165289.story “The Roots of Hip-Hop.” Dory Knight. St. Petersberg Times. March 10, 2005. http://www.sptimes.com/2005/03/10/Weekend/The_Roots_of_hip_hop.shtml
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Who Am I Going to Listen To? Cidnie Warren There is a constant struggle throughout Hip-Hop music to rid it of homophobic, misogynistic, sexist, violent, vulgar, and self-destructing characteristics. Even some of the most skillful and thought provoking MCs cannot escape these underlying themes of the culture. There is a theme that presents itself with ease no matter the MC; the exploitation of the female body. Three groups/artists that can at times be considered “conscious,” A Tribe Called Quest, Slum Village, and Common (Sense), have all made songs containing this theme. These artists have songs similar in nature. “Electric Relaxation” (A Tribe Called Quest), “Selfish” (Slum Village), and “Go!” (Common), all involve sexual fantasies and sexual experiences. Though they all use catchy and skillful lyrics to relay their stories to their audiences, all three still promote the exploitation of the female anatomy. Through the course of this paper I will try to bring a different perspective to the HipHop world, by not only defending the women they are exploiting through their lyrics, but also by challenging these artists’ integrity. These are MC’s that are role models, they all challenge the status quo and social injustice, yet they exploit a majority of their fan base, women. Each of these songs has a different way of speaking about women, and each is not as offensive as the other. To some, these songs might not be offensive at all. My mission is to compare MCs of this caliber and see which of them can tell their story without defaming themselves and the women they encounter. To get the ball rolling, let’s start off with A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation”. The entire song is centered on the group members’ attraction to a woman and what they would like to do sexually. Something unique to this song is the groups’ quirky yet raw language. It is clear through their lyrics that the woman isn’t as interested in being with them as they are with her. A point worth mentioning is that the group members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, do not want to have sex with the woman at the same time. “Relax yourself girl, please settle down” is how the song opens, followed by Q-Tip describing the girl he is trying to coax into having sexual relations with him. “Honey check it out, you got me mesmerized, with your black hair and fat-ass thighs”. This is the beginning of his fantasy; obsessing over the way this woman looks, then recognizing that he must possess the proper skill to succeed. Right away it is known the woman is most desirable because Q-Tip says “if I was working at the club you would not pay” meaning her physical features allow her to receive favors from men.
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The male MC in general, tends to put emphasis on the female anatomy, painting a verbal picture of what a woman should look like if she is going to receive attention from the opposite sex. The same emphasis on the female body is seen in Common’s “Go!” “She was bad, the type at the club niggaz would grab her”. This type of machismo and competition amongst men prevails throughout these songs. It shows that the woman is not important in her own being, only in the sense that she is desirable to men everywhere. This places her physical aesthetic above her mind, making her nothing more than meat to be served to a table of chauvinistic “pigs,” squandering over her breasts and rear end. The male fantasy of having a beautiful woman at their sexual disposal continues in “Electric Relaxation” when Phife Dawg enters verse one. “Told you in the jam that we can get down, now let’s knock the boots like the group H-town”, though he is honest in his intentions, it is problematic because all he wants from her is sex. It is safe to assume that it wasn’t the woman’s intellectual cognition that Q-Tip was taking into consideration when his “mind was in a frenzy and a horny state”. It seems all too easy for the MCs to vocalize their lustful urges to the woman they are pursuing or have pursued. On “Go!” Common raises an interesting topic, unprotected sex. He says, “still I got to pause when I think about her in them draws and oh baby she liked it raw and like rain when she came it poured”. Although he says, “she liked it raw” emphasizing the woman liking it, he makes a statement on his integrity. The topic of unprotected sex is a tricky one. Though it is more pleasurable for both individuals, there is volatile danger. Unprotected sex leads to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. It is debatable to whose responsibility it is to ensure that prophylactics are used during sexual intercourse, but it only seems fair that in this situation the male should have enough sense to do so. This statement should make one question Common’s integrity since he is encouraging unprotected sex. In a time when STD’s are hopping from person to person like fleas to animals and some women are treating abortions like the pill, a man should be more than willing to wrap it up! Once again this goes back to the male fantasy of having a woman the way he pleases. The woman’s womb is treated like a dump site for bastard children. This is a common story for common men who commonly have children out of wedlock and leave a woman to be a single mother. All these songs do not take the long term effects of their actions into consideration. They simply want to use the women until they have satisfied themselves. Slum Village takes a different approach to the love-them-then-leave-them idea. The song “Selfish” is about the different women they have been with and their desire to have them all at once. They bring a sense of ironic appreciation and concern for the women they have been with. That does not however make their sexual exploitations any less degrading. Oddly enough with the exception of the line “thanks Jonetta from Cleveland for that good
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head in your Jetta better believe it”, none of the artists on the track make a direct implication of having sexual intercourse with any of the women mentioned. It is however strongly assumed and implied that they have. The chorus is the best synopsis of the song. With John Legend gracing the track with his suave vocals, singing so sweetly, “I’m calling out to, all my, y’all my ladies and I can’t, let you be with no one but me”. Not only does the track set up another fantasy of having multiple women at one man’s disposal, but it gives a freakishly sly depiction of the conniving, manipulative ways of men in general. Slum Village with the help of Kanye West, give the perfect depiction of the ultimate player. Not only do they show concern and understanding for the women they want and have, they have obviously had sex with these women or else they would not be so concerned and so understanding in the first place. Their ability to discretely speak about having multiple women earns them respect from men and “head” from women, like “Jonetta from Cleveland”. That is the most degrading aspect of the song. Not only do they receive sexual favors from the women they are enjoying, they receive money and status. “Had a Beverly Hills mami that would buy me Cardi’s take me to after parties her name was Carrie”, here he is, same verse, different woman, different favor, yet he apologizes (“it sucks that we didn’t keep in touch I’m sorry”) for not taking advantage of her more than he did. He gets sympathy and respect for manipulating his vernacular and the woman. Now there are two sides to every story, and I like to think I’m a fair person. This next point I make might sound harsh and slightly egoistical, but I’m going to make it because it is a proper and fair observation of today’s hyper-sexualized media and society. Women today make themselves easy targets for criticism. Women, like men, have the same type of sexual needs and desires. When there are women like Karrine Steffans who write books about their consensual relations with multiple celebrities for money or for fame, the idea of using one’s body for financial gain becomes romanticized. Young girls are impressionable and hard circumstances lead to desperate acts in order to better them. Today’s society is filled with teen pregnancy, pole dancing classes, diets, fashion, cosmetics, plastic surgery, and the unwavering struggle for higher status and wealth. Women make themselves too available for men. They invite the misogynist and sexist into their beds. In “Go!” this is most evident. “Said there were some girls that did attract her, a new chapter she was after so I said lets go. To a place that you wanna be, uh get what you want from her and me uh free love I wanna see uh, hot sex in the third degree, you getting served while serving me”. This is obviously a sexual encounter involving two women and one man. It goes without saying that this is a scenario most men would be more than pleased to be a part of. It’s not just the male fantasy that comes up again; it is the idea that the female is the aggressor.
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The male is only a part of it because the woman procured it willingly and consensually. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong about a woman fulfilling her desires, it just makes it acceptable for men to exploit them. The double standard is relevant and is as real as the day is long. The double standard has not only found its home in Hip-Hop but in every aspect of American culture. It is deep rooted and everlasting. For hundreds of years it has been okay for men to commit adultery but women are persecuted. Men are given higher status and women are given labels such as sluts and whores. Taking that into account there is yet another side to that story! Women are taking back their sexuality and their sexual independence. That can be seen through artist like Lil Kim, Trina, and Foxy Brown, though I personally don’t enjoy their lyrics, that’s the idea. Double standard set aside, it does not excuse artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Common, and Slum Village from making music as such. Remember I chose these artists because they are pioneers for Hip-Hop, who all have resorted to the most base and controversial characteristics of the genre for lyrical criteria. So back to A Tribe Called Quest, their quirky lyrics have a harsh reality; they are offensive and vulgar. Unique in nature, (in terms of my analysis) Q-Tip and Phife rap only about what they want to do sexually. Adding emphasis on the wanting aspect. They raise some interesting points, one being the idea that there are women you only “elope” with and those that get mom’s approval. Phife says, “if my mom don’t approve, then I’ll just elope,” which is seriously problematic. What constitutes a woman being worthy of being wed is a mystery because the song does not paint a picture of a respectable woman. The lyrics play up the girl who will open her legs for any guy with clever pickup lines and are able to be discrete. The only opposition from the victim (woman) in the song is when Phife says, “Let’s get together by the end of the week. She simply said, ‘No,’ Labeled me a hoe. I said ‘how you figure?’ ‘My friends told me so’.” The woman knows he sleeps with multiple women and challenges the status quo, and the sexist yet clever aggressor gets her to “relax” and “settle down” by assuring her “word to God hon, I don’t get down like that”. Q-Tip keeps that vulgarity going by “Staring at ya dome-piece, very strong, stronger then pride, stronger than Teflon. Take you on the ave and you buy me links. Now I wanna pound the putang until it stinks,” to which he continues, “keep it in the down, yo, we keep it discrete”. This needs to be broken down into sections. First and foremost the connotation that is tied to the act of fellatio is a negative one and can be very degrading depending on the circumstances. As a side note, Slum Village is just as guilty in the fellatio department. To take the analysis of Q-Tips line one step further (pardon the language), not only is this woman being prompted to have sex with this man who is making it very clear he is only interested in her anatomy, she is being subjected to perform oral sex, which for many women can be worse than vaginal penetration. For the second section, “pound the putang 90 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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until it stinks” prompts an even more violent act. Take the language; “pound” is defined as strike or drive against with a heavy impact. The picture Q-Tip paints for us is a violent and abusive one. It’s not consensual nor is it appealing. Being a woman myself, this sounds like a situation I would run far from. T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting gives a great perspective of sexual abuse in Hip-Hip lyrics in her book Pimps Up, Ho’s Down Hip-Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women. Though A Tribe Called Quest’s lyrics aren’t nearly as violent as the lyrics she discusses, they still depict a violent portrait. All three songs have an undertone of a machismo attitude. Take “Electric Relaxation” again, not only are Q-Tip and Phife trying to make their fantasy reality but they presumptuously try to make the females fantasy become reality. Polluted with arrogance, the lyrics assume that they (Q-Tip and Phife) have what the woman wants. They boast of the skills they possess and guarantee that the woman will be satisfied. The lyrics satisfy the males need to gain status over other males by retrieving a woman who is very desirable and they assume they satisfy the woman’s sexual needs. The same theme is found in Common’s “Go!” He too is sharing an experience with a woman that is desirable among many men, but he is also boasting about his ability to satisfy her sexual appetite (threesome). Once again this is imbedded in the double standard created to keep women in a tortuous state. A male bragging about his sexual encounters with multiple women is one thing, but a male bragging out his ability to satisfy the woman brings him higher status among men and makes him more appealing to other woman (which to me is problematic). Take “Selfish” for example, the male wants all the women “across the globe” to himself. This creates tension between him and other males, but makes his sexual life more lucrative due to his ability to slip sweet talk and satisfy a woman sexually. Like stated previously the idea of having been with more women brings males higher status, this has been true throughout history. Take polygamy for example, the more wives a man has, the more wealth his family has, and the more children he has, has a direct effect on how much respect he will earn from his male peers. That idea is everything but lost. Their respect comes at the female’s expense. Men are more than willing to have unprotected sex with a woman, and quick to abandon her when she finds out she’s carrying his seed. It seems more appropriate that respect is earned from a man’s ability to make responsible decisions and take care of his children. This leads into another important argument that is worth mentioning. The artists being analyzed, like I have stated previously, are considered trailblazers within Hip-Hop. So to listen to songs written by them which contain such offensive content makes one wonder why. I propose two answers for that question. The first being the commercialization of Hip-
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Hop and the artists need to support themselves financially and the second being because they are men and they can get away with it. The second answer is definitely the weaker one, but nonetheless it is an answer. The main themes argued throughout Hip-Hop are those that create a negative stereotype of Black men. All three of the artists discussed have promoted an extremely negative stereotype; that Black men have no respect for Black women. Each of these songs’ lyrics promotes promiscuity, manipulation, violence, and sexist ideals. This can be blamed, without hesitation, on the commercialization of Hip-Hip music. Sex has and always will be something that sells. Whether it is through music or the internet, sex will always be an industry that is lucrative. Record companies, television stations, radio stations, and printing companies have a hold on what makes money and what doesn’t, and it is because of this imbalance of power that artists who have respectable names resort to such tasteless lyrics. Though clever and skillful, they are still tasteless. Many would argue that I am wrong, and fight to justify these artists, but the cruel truth is that these lyrics are no better than the lyrics of Too Short, Necro, or even the beloved Tupac. Talent is not an excuse for tasteless, disrespectful, content. The ironic part of this is that all these artists have made songs promoting positive images of Black men and women. That is what makes these songs even more offensive in my opinion. A Tribe Called Quest, Common, and Slum Village all make such great, real, and sincere Hip-Hop music that it is painful and disappointing to hear lyrics such as these from them. If I have learned one thing in my life, it is to not only be conscious of the noise being played on the radio, but be conscious of the noise I play myself. I have learned that Hip-Hop is meant to be uncomfortable, but there are limits. These limits are not always recognized and the lines blur and fade into the hands of those who wish to exploit the raw, natural, and beautiful things that African Americans continue to create despite all the trials and tribulations they have overcome and are trying to defeat. Seeing artist like these consciously cross those lines with ease is infuriating; It almost sucks the life out of the culture. Hope is lost when artists like these cannot overcome such barriers. Whether it is for money or for personal reasons, they sacrifice their integrity when they put out lyrics like these. The male fantasy is one that will not be ignored nor tamed easily. As seen through these artists’ lyrics, that fantasy involves a plethora of women at their disposal, performing a plethora of sexual acts for them or to them. Common took us on journey through a threesome with a curious woman wanting to satisfy her desires, which in turn satisfies the ultimate male fantasy. A Tribe Called Quest gave us a sneak peek into what a man wishes and hopes he can do to a woman, which “has to do with lots of loving and it ain’t nothing nice”. And, Slum Village schooled us on how to manipulate a woman’s emotions to use her physically and psychologically. Now to answer my million dollar question, which artists 92 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
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was able to keep their integrity? The answer to that is up to you and young women like me who listen to their music. My opinion is obvious and loud. My only hope is that one day a young girl will have the same opportunity I have had; to become more socially conscious of what the mainstream tyrants are spoon feeding us. But to go further than that, I hope that while women across the world are fighting for the sexual independence and freedom, that they realize the world is never going to stop using and abusing the double standard embedded into society. The more we as woman fight for control over our own bodies, the more men will take advantage and degrade us. Without justifying the lyrics discussed throughout this paper, these artists at least held on to what little integrity they had left while making these songs. They at least manipulated similes, analogies, intertextuality, metaphors, and stayed true to the art of MCing. But even after all of that I cannot help but to be disappointed because if I cannot escape sexism through the lyrics of these artists, who am I going to listen to?
Works Cited Sharply-Whiting. T. Denean. Pimps Up Ho’s Down Hip-Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women. New York, New York Press. 2007. Albums A Tribe Called Quest. “Electric Relaxation,” Midnight Marauders. Jive Records, 1993. Common. “Go!” Be. GOOD Music/Geffen Records, 2004. Slum Village. “Selfish.” Detroit Deli: A Taste of Detroit. Capital, 2004.
93 Hip-Hop Studies at the Crossroads
The Hip-Hop Think Tank Journal is published once a year by the Pan African Studies Department at California State University, Northridge, re...