Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Hip Hop Nazis?

As the debate continues over censorship in hip hop, a pioneer has thrown his hat in the ring. Old School rapper Kurtis Blow has made the talk circuit, expressing his concerns over hip hop maintaining integrity. He is particularly concerned about the sexist and violent lyrics that permeate rap today. Along with Al Sharpton, and now even Russell Simmons, Kurtis Blow is the lastest big name to pile on hip hop.

One has to wonder what this push toward censorship is leading to. In Chicago, WKKC, the college radio station at Kennedy-King is self-censoring any violent and sexist language. Self-censoring seems reasonable, and hip hop heads have been debating this since the early 1990s. Self-censorship seems to be the undercurrent of many pro-black thinkers who don't put much faith in government regulations anyway.

Oddly enough, for an artform that grew out of the black ghettos, it seems that white liberals like Bill Maher are stepping up to the plate in the music's defense. Maher not only felt that Don Imus got a raw deal (while he admits that Imus said something stupid and racist) but he thinks that the move toward censorship will play into the hands of big government conservatives.

It definitely gives me something to think about. As a black man and a hip hop fan, I want hip hop to continue its rebellious streak. It would be nice if the rebel spirit were aimed at corrupt government and brutal cops; what we have today is uncreative and vulgar language that speaks to black inferiority. As a journalist and performer, I lean toward Maher - do we really want to start something we can't finish in terms of goverment control of speech?

Here's what bugs me: derogatory statements from dumb rappers will make it tough for a truly political and race-conscious rapper to make real statements down the road. As I recall, controlling what people write and say was tried before with terrible results: Nazi Germany.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

More Imus Fallout

Now that Don Imus is gone, Al Sharpton has launched two new salvos at hip-hop.

First, Sharpton appeared on CNN and other news outlets to analyze what he categorizes as the "ugliness in hip-hop." However, he was careful to point out that hip-hop's misogyny and language don't give Imus and other older white men in radio a pass for racist remarks.

The "n-word", "b-word", and "h-word" became Anderson Cooper's new vocabulary as panelists debated the issue on CNN. Sharpton seemed to revel in the limelight, which poses new questions for members of the black and hip-hop communities. Can we separate issues from egos?

Second, Sharpton criticized the "stop snitching" campaign on several media outlets. Popularized by Jim Jones and other members of the Dip Set, "stop snitching" is an irritant to Sharpton who pointed out that such behavior may actually harbor felons in the black community.

Snitching to police is "dissed" in hip-hop and the history of police racism and brutality would seem to justify this perspective. However, rapper and activist Chuck D of Public Enemy also weighed in, noting that snitching has been taken out of context to defend the criminal element that victimizes law-abiding and hard working black folks. COINTELPRO and other government agencies used snitches and plants to destroy the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam (NOI), and the United Negro Improvement Association under Marcus Garvey.

In each case, Russell Simmons, the Def Jam mogul and Ben Chavis, the former NAACP chairman and NOI spokesman for Farrakhan have declared that hip-hop should be censored for derogatory and self-hating language. However, the issue of snitching has yet to be resolved, as Chavis has worked with Jim Jones and Dip Set.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rapping Fire Fighter on fire over lyrics

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Freedom of speech
Struggling artist beware, your rhymes may come back to hunt you and get you fired from your day job!

A Philadephia firefighter who raps as a hobby on the side was suspended due to his lyrics directed toward the police. Cal Akbar( Rodney Jean Jacques) was suspended at Engine Company 9 in the Mount Airy section of Philadephia, according to Executive Chief Daniel A. Williams. Arkbar, who also served in the army started an enormous outrage after his lyrics were exposed on the internet to promote his new album. In the song Arkbar rapped calling the police "pigs" and turning them into "bacon bits," according to

The Local Fraternal Order of Police members demanded that he give an apology by April 22nd, however when no response came in, the president of the FOP demanded he be fired ASAP. Akbar is still on administrative leave. Below is a video Akbar did for the Philly Fired Dept. in 2005. According to a source Cal Akbar is remorseful and claims that he did not post the song.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Liviu Librescu: Eternal Hero

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(Associated Press photo)

Liviu Librescu was killed on Monday by the shooter at Virginia Tech. He died protecting his students as the gunman tried to enter his class.

I was immediately impressed by Librescu’s act of heroism. Then, as I learned more about him, I found that he faced cruelty and insanity before.

While Cho Seung-Hui whines and blames in his media manifesto, Liviu Librescu is loved and respected for facing real oppression, not imaginary enemies.

An Israeli engineering and math professor, Librescu taught at Virginia Tech for 20 years. He was a teacher, a builder, and a family man.

What really hit me on a deeper level was that this hero survived the Nazi death camps. The Jewish Holocaust is well known but the American public is still learning about the far reaching effects of its oppression and violence. The families of the victims at Virginia Tech now share this somber reality.

However, the student emails and testimonials of Librescu’s heroism are a source of hope. The killer’s defeat didn’t come with his suicide; it came with the defiance of a parent and Holocaust survivor.

As we make sense of this tragedy, there should be a balance between reporting on the shooter and the lives of the victims. Don’t immortalize a madman and forget the real heroes who suffered with dignity and died in possession of their humanity.

Cho Seung-Hui: Get Rich or Die Tryin'?

I'm typing this while digesting the latest on Cho Seung-Hui, the 23 year old male from South Korea who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech before committing suicide.

What intrigues me about tonight's coverage is the package that Cho took the time to assemble and mail. While critics assail the campus and local police for the two hour lack of response (which seems worse now that the shooter mailed out a press release), I am struck by something...familiar.

His written diatribe, still photos, and video files remind me of gangsta rap. Now, I'm not saying that rap is responsible for this massacre. However, since the media has jumped on the issue of culture, Cho's "me against the world" mentality is eerily reminiscent of the worst that hip-hop has to offer.

I'm wondering how long it will be before this narcissistic and nihilistic time bomb will be immortalized in rap lyrics and bootleg DVDs of his manifesto. Perhaps I'm concerned because so much rap is narcissistic, nihilistic, and concerned about being immortalized for murder-suicide. Self-destructive behavior is celebrated in gangsta rap; it's the bastard step-child of rock with it's phallic posturing and "die in a blaze of glory" worldview.

Again, I'm not saying that rap is responsible, I just kept thinking about how this killer reminds me of rap icons. His backwards baseball cap, the black clothing, the flack vest, and even his choice of weapons say "hood." The .22 caliber and 9mm handguns (with filed off serial numbers, no less) are realities in the streets that are also immortalized in rap.

Before the ashes cool on the career of Don Imus, let's take the tragic example of Cho Seung-Hui and see what this says about violence, imagery, and impact in our society. This bothers me because so many young black men also exhibit self-destructive behavior.

I swear Cho's posturing reminds me of 50 Cent...

Running from Race at Virginia Tech

Is race becoming the "R" word? We know "it" exists but we dare not say the word.

By now, the public has absorbed more about the shooting at Virginia Tech. Viewers can learn about the campus geography, the shooter's strategy, and how the massacre went down. We even get graphic details of how students died, how professors sacrificed their lives, and how others jumped from windows and heroically bandaged damaged arteries.

The news is coming through so fast, both on television and the internet, that the story has gained surprising breadth and depth in coverage. This proves my point in my last post about race and racism in America. Proponents for social justice cannot wait on Lou Dobbs and Keith Olberman to give us the gospel. We have to work, day by day, to make change happen.

As for the shooting, I'm not going to regurgitate the details. I'm both impressed and disappointed by the collective response. I'm impressed because people are coming together to talk about mental illness, school violence, and families in mourning. I'm disappointed because at every turn the talking heads do their best to avoid race. The race of the shooter was released then there was a backlash and his Asian identity was replaced by his name (which still says that he's Asian). At a press conference yesterday, following the rally attended by President Bush and Nikki Giovanni, race was the bullet that everyone seemed to dodge.

Have Americans become so distressed by race that even during a massacre, a national tragedy, and an international incident we cannot openly MENTION race, let alone have real talks about it?

I've heard a bit about Korean culture, male culture, and even "loner" culture on the news. Each of these components is impacted by race in America. We are visually and soundbyte oriented, and as part of this culture we make it our business to identify race (whisper: even if we don't talk about it).

Forget Imus But Remember RACE!

It's been a week since the Imus fallout, and nearly two weeks since the shock jock found a new way to ruin a career with a soundbyte. Imus stirred the racist pot and paid for it, but he didn't concoct the recipe by himself. America has an ugly history of intolerance, unjust laws, and political violence that still haunts us in our present mirrors. But the nature of the news spectacle can distract from real introspection and dialogue about thinking, culture, and public policy.

All the familiar talking heads were in place, ready to pounce on the latest older white man to say something racist. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and a cadre of newer faces became part of the spectacle. I was pleased to hear remarks resisting the notion that Jackson and Sharpton are the "appointed" black leaders. However, it seems that televised spectacles either become about egos or ratings. In either case, the larger issues of racism and sexism in the media and in American culture lose momentum.

Imus is just another racist boogeyman, like Michael Richards, who gives self-appointed black leadership something to rant about. Much like the Ku Klux Klan, such overt racist remarks, whether intentional or not, reveal a worldview that still devalues blackness. Both men readily tapped into the American Way of dehumanizing and labeling black bodies.

Like the KKK, both men become a distraction from larger issues, such as defacto segregation in the public schools; the increases in black male incarceration and suicide; and the gender, class, and health issues that confront black women.

Okay, fine, fire Imus (which they did), and forget Michael Richards (his life really is a Kramer blunder from a Seinfeld repeat). Go ahead, give the familiar talking heads and black "leaders" their say. But once all of this is said and done, what progress is being made? As Chris Matthews said on Hardball, will this issue just go away until the next black man is killed by police?

I try not to think about THAT while driving...