From The G-Man
Hey people! As a professional club DJ, dating back to the infamous Studio 54 days, I have seen a number of groups come and go over the years. Many of the groups, like Tavares, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Village People, The Bee Gees and The Rolling Stones, are still selling out concerts to this day. Do you know why? It’s because the music they made was fun, harmless and it made you feel good. Sadly, the last 20 years has seen a negative shift in music, and some disturbing events have occurred as a result.
Hip-hop music became popular in the mid-to-late 70’s because of DJ’s like Afrika Bambata, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. It was because of the enormous popularity of Run DMC that rap had crossed over on the music charts, and radio stations, all over the world. Do you know why? It’s because the music was fun, harmless and it made you feel good, but the 90’s would change all of that with the introduction of gangster rap.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, UTFO, Curtis Blow and Biz Markie were no longer accepted in the rap game when the national anthem for hip-hop became "Throw Ya Guns In The Air". The glorification of the thug, and all it encompassed, became the standard by which all rappers were judged, and many African-American communities, and most recently the suburbs, have paid a heavy price.
I will debate, and destroy, anyone who thinks that there isn’t a direct link between gangster rap, thug behavior and the problems that exist in inner city neighborhoods across this nation. You can take the position that many problems are the result of bad parenting, single-headed households or a lack of respect by the youth of today, but what people should take into account is the fact that kids are affected by visual images more than anything else. I mean, let’s be real here. If a kid sees some big rap star on MTV, with expensive cars, gorgeous and half-naked women, expensive jewelry and living the thug lifestyle, they are going to want to be just like them. Why shouldn’t they? If it appears that anyone can make a billion dollars in the rap industry, as so often projected, they are going to take a shot at it. What they don’t realize is that today’s rap star may very well be tomorrow’s welfare recipient or prison inmate. It has happened to a number of hip-hop artists, who were highly regarded at one time.
No emphasis on education is ever placed in these videos, and before you know it, kids are growing up without a decent education because they are dropping out to pursue a record deal, living a thug lifestyle, becoming drug kingpins and "getting paid". Communities, generations and an entire race suffers all because of these negative visualizations, ignorant hip-hop talents, record company executives, producers and urban contemporary mediums, like BET, WBLS and HOT 97, that helps to dispense this poison. Don’t say you support positive images of African-Americans, when you play songs and videos that glorify thugs, drugs and pre-teen sex. "Keeping it real" should not come at the expense of our communities.
There are exceptions of course. A good number of kids do know, and value, the importance of a good education. Lauren Hill was an "A" student during her high school tenure. Roxanne Shante, an artist from the 80’s, went on to become a doctor, and RaeKwon, of the Wu-Tang Clan, is a master chef! However, the number of kids who drop out, sell drugs or end up in prison is grossly disproportionate to the number of success stories out there. Just look at the overall makeup of the prison population, and it becomes quite obvious.
It would make a huge difference if many of the young artist came out and stated that it’s all image and glamour, and if they stressed the importance of education, while maintaining their own, kids would be less likely to leave school and escape the dumb label that has been attached to them. The record companies aren’t interested in educating kids. They’re after the allowance money.
The industry is also guilty of "robbing the cradle". More and more emphasis is being placed on younger artists. I’ve heard there is a group, from Britain, that they plan to bring to the states, and the members are only 8 or 9 years old! What the hell is next? Two babies, in Pampers, on stage with mikes in their hands! I can see it now. "Let’s give it up for… DJ Beech Nut and MC Similac!"
I can understand wanting to illustrate that anyone can have success in this country, at any age, but the problem is that you run the risk of having every kid in America pissing off education in effort to pursue entertainment gigs. Not that these careers are necessarily bad or anything, but for every success there are 100 failures. Moreover, having these images constantly thrust into kid’s faces, again through visual means, make them want to become that image, and they gain no real sense of who they are or what they believe in.
Some can make the distinction and are able to evolve, but many cannot.
I have worked with young talent as a producer. I had strict guidelines for my artists, and these same guidelines should be practiced by the industry. No artist should be signed until they have obtained a high school diploma, GED or some type of technical training degree, and they should be at least 18-years-old. There is an overflow of artists that are too young, too ignorant and too greedy to make clear, conscious and sound decisions regarding their careers. The people who manage them could care less because all they are interested in is if their client is making money, and as soon as sales start to drop, the label drops you! If you don’t have an education, or trade, you’re screwed.
I am not trying to kill anyone’s dream out there. If you want to pursue a career in the music industry, that’s all fine and good. What I would suggest is that you make sure you have something to fall back on, and having an education is the best way to equip yourself for whatever you may face in the business. The music industry is sending a dangerous message to young people. Unfortunately, I believe it will only get worse. As long as certain groups of young people are the focus of sales, it won’t get any better. That’s why I only play "old school" hip-hop, disco, club and house music, although "house" is my specialty. I refuse to spin anything that helps to degrade my race or society as a whole. If only I had a chance to show the industry how it’s done. Those morons!
Special acknowledgements go out to John Baxter, Della Dougherty, Bernie Blum, William B. James, John Brenni and "Mandy". Thanks for the friendship and the letters. I’ll be in touch. See you next week!