As the events unfolded during the week of Ronald Reagan’s demise I wondered, “Was I too hard on Ronald?” I mean, damn near every channel I turned to, newspaper I read, web page I scanned was littered with this “great American hero” propaganda. Hell, I was beginning to feel bad for the creator of Reaganomics, I was remorseful for the man who brought the crack game to our projects, then reality set in. “Damn they almost made me believe this bullshit.” “They,” being the media. The very people who mandate what we view and how we perceive certain characters had me hook, line and sinker. Ronald Reagan was no hero in my eyes but every element of our “unbiased” media outlets had moved me to think otherwise. But I’m too smart for that. Many people I know didn’t buy that garbage, but there were many people that did. So now you ask what the hell does this have to do with hip hop? Hang on kiddies… I’m getting to that.
There are two sides to every story and it is up to our country’s media outlets to bring you these two sides through radio, TV, and print. In order for our country to be a democracy it is up to the media to let us decide for ourselves what we need, not what they want us to need. Unfortunately this has not been happening. Truth be told, America has been built on lies and one sided truths. For instance, as a child we are taught history in its simplest, naive form. We were taught George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and never told a lie. Truth is, good ol’ George probably was one of the biggest liars our country has ever known. Hell, the guy once sold a slave for a keg of rum but I betcha they didn’t tell you that in your history books. We were also taught that Abraham Lincoln “freed” the slaves. Once again wrong as Lincoln openly had disdain for blacks and the Civil War was fought for economic reasons. Before the war, the northern industrial economy was largely dependent on southern cotton. The slave economy of the South was a threat to northern capitalism. If the slaveholders of the South decided to set up factories and process cotton themselves, northern capitalists would not be able to compete with slave labor and their economy would be destroyed. So Lincoln and the North went to war. The “freeing” of the slaves was merely incidental but our history books wouldn’t tell us that one huh?
In modern day America, our media outlets continue to deliver images that they want you to see. Without both sides of the story we are merely sheep to the political sheepherder’s way of thinking. Which brings us to hip hop. Tupac Shakur may be one of the most influential figures in hip hop, for that matter in music, ever. But you know what? Many people don’t look at Tupac for the Thespian/Activist/Poet/Humanitarian that he was. Because he was portrayed in such a light that made him seem like a self-destructing animal, people not familiar with hip-hop viewed him as the middle-finger giving madman that TV made him out to be. And in turn our most visible spokesperson of hip-hop reflected our culture in a negative light. Alright don’t get me wrong, Tupac at times was self-destructive and did many questionable things in his lifetime (not as questionable as many of our presidents though, crack head Bush anyone?) but there was so much good that came out of Tupac that made the man’s good natured side a figment of many people‘s imagination. Greatest rapper of all time? That’s arguable, but greatest figure in hip hop of all time? That’s conceivable. Because the media choose to focus on the spit in your camera, rapist, mad at the world for no reason, thug, our generation has emulated that very image. Thug Life was more than being mad at the world but the media wouldn’t portray it that way. Why? Because he was a threat to expose the very controversial sides that our country doesn’t want us to see. So in order to dismiss Tupac as a threat they must smear his image. And because of that many of our youth embraced the “other” side of Tupac without completely understanding him. Not until his death were many people informed of how much this man cared about his community. Now we don’t want this very thing to happen to hip hop now do we?
Michael Moore, whether you like it or not, has brought “the other side” of journalism to the forefront in the past decade or so. From the corporate bashing of Roger & Me, the gun-control and violence aspects of Bowling for Columbine, to the recent Bush-whacking elements of Fahrenheit 9-11, Michael Moore has successfully brought “the other side” to the light. Although there are some who don’t agree with his tactics of getting you the “truth”, you have still got to respect what this man is trying to accomplish. We’ve been treated to one side of the story for so long. So what is wrong with being presented the other half and let the people choose for themselves. When will “the other side” of hip-hop be brought to the forefront? The images portrayed on radio and television, contrary to popular belief, do aid in how our culture is viewed. Do you think that there is a Hip-Hop police because Mos-Def and Talib Kweli videos have been raiding MTV? Nah, I didn’t think so either.
Media is the absolute most powerful tool in educating. Books are obsolete nowadays as a vast majority of our population spend multiple hours in front of the television while books containing history collect dust. Hip-Hop has become the most influential art form over the past decade. It has influenced the way we dress, talk, act, and think. It is used in every element to sell and promote products. So to say how hip-hop is not responsible for how our children act is a bit hypocritical don’t you think? But hip-hop has been, and always will be a threat because of the influence it has on our culture. So because of this accepted smear campaign the media has done, hip-hop should sue that very media for defamation of character. The media portrays hip-hop in its unpurest form. Our young children do the “chickenhead” dance, a dance move with a name which has been known to degrade women, because they see it in videos. Our women dress half-naked because they see it in the videos and feel that’s the way they need to dress in order to get attention. Hell, Chris Rock even said that he loves hip-hop but it’s becoming really hard to defend nowadays and who can argue with that? Back in the day it was easy to defend Public Enemy and NWA because they presented both sides of our culture. Hip-hop hasn’t had visible balance for years and as time progresses hopefully that balance can be achieved again while it’s at its peak. Before hip-hop self-destructs, let’s take responsibility and support our conscious artists so we can show that ignorance isn’t the only thing that sells. The truth of the matter is that the “suits” who run these major labels don’t really care what side hip hop portrays as long as it adds to their bottom line. So let’s stop giving them ammo to keep putting out only one side of hip-hop while the thinking man’s hip-hop spends time in the shadows. As long as we support songs about being pimps, about ejaculating on women, about rims and continue to neglect songs about the upliftment of our culture, hip hop will continue to be viewed as a “lesser” art form. An art form that appeals to middle and lower class America and has no place at the top. An art form that will continue to sell chicken, sex, cars, and many of the other stereotypes related to our culture. Not a threat by any means. A movement has begun to bubble with the likes of The Roots, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Kanye West and others slowly moving into the spotlight. Jadakiss’ inquisition “Why?” has raised eyebrows so let’s continue to raise eyebrows with consciousness and balance out what we have at hand.
Bill Cosby made some very harsh remarks about Black America in regards to how our children are raised and do you think he would have made his comments about music without the absence of more positive hip hop? This all has an impact on our generation, what is called “the hip-hop generation.” Cosby said while past generations fought and suffered for desegregation, many “lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids – $500 sneakers for what? And won’t spend $200 for ‘Hooked on Phonics.’” and continued “When you put on a record and that record is yelling ‘nigga this and nigga that’ and you’ve got your little 6-year-old, 7-year-old sitting in the back seat of the car, those children hear that.” And you know what the first thing these people point at right? Hip hop. We don’t want them to think that to be all our records say. We don’t want these remarks to uphold the stereotypes placed on our culture today by people who do not understand it. So we have to turn the tide. Now this isn’t to say that only hip-hop is to blame for our society ills. Not by a long shot. There are so many other aspects as to why our cultural problems exist. But it all begins with what is put out there for America to consume. At the end of the day it ain’t what you know, it’s what they show. But hey, I’m just a critic…who the hell am I?
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