2007-04-27 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

The Hip Hop Nation Responds To The Don Imus Firing Controversy
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Commentary By Howard Schwach

When Don Imus was fired by both CBS and MSNBC after his now infamous "Nappy Headed Hos" comment about the Rutgers women's basketball team, there were many, including me, who posited that many rappers are guilty of the same transgression and should be fired by their bosses as well. After all, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, as the old saying goes.

That suggestion, however, resonated throughout the nation, bringing comment from the smallest, the Hip Hop Nation, to the greatest, Oprah Winfrey, and virtually everybody who is anybody in between.

One of the more interesting and disingenuous comments came from the industry itself, the Hip Hop Summit Youth Council.

"Recently we've learned that those responsible for the firing of Don Imus now want to take on the hip hop artists and their labels knowing that those artists have a Constitutional right to say what they want," the organization's press release said. "The artists have a freedom of speech that shouldn't be tampered with."

How nice. Rappers have the right to a freedom of speech that shouldn't be tampered with, but Imus does not have the same right of free speech. I wonder why. Perhaps, it's because Imus is white and the rappers are black.

The release goes on to say, "Eighty percent of hip-hop music is bought by white youths. They are fascinated by what goes down in the 'hood.' This may offend some people, but parents and the FCC [shouldn't] determine who can purchase and listen to music. Most of these kids will never experience life in the ghetto except through hip-hop music. Not only do they like the music, but they are in awe of how some artists have survived and become successful after living in such a poor, war-like environment."

So, it's perfectly all right for black survivors of the "poor, war-like environment" they live in to excoriate cops as "pigs" and black women as "hos" and to push a homophobic, racist and misogynistic agenda but not all right for white people to use the same kind of language while talking about blacks. Somehow, I don't think that's what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.

How about this comment, from Ellis Cose, a black columnist for Newsweek magazine.

"Imus has pointed out that the slurs he used did not originate with him - that black women 'are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected by their own black men.' Many blacks do indeed engage in rhetoric that is misogynistic, racist and a reflection of the many negative things they have come to associate with being black - particularly with being black and female. There is no excuse for that. But the fact that some blacks are blind to their own- and their sister's - humanity does not mean that Imus should be as well."

Oprah held a two-day panel discussion in which many young black women decried the hip-hop and rap (I'm not sure of the difference, so I use them interchangedly) and said that Imus is wrong, but so are those who promote and produce the music that calls them less than human.

Russell Simmons and a number of other rap and hip-hop moguls came on, however, and basically said that the music they made and sold comes from an "authentic" black experience and therefore is fine for them to say those things, but not for white people.

They described the difference between "Nigger," the word coined during slavery to describe black slaves and "Nigga," the world used by many black people to describe themselves and to greet their friends in the modern hip-hop world.

Errol Louis, a conservative black columnist for the Daily News has been writing about the evils of rap music for a long time and his thoughts, long thought to be outside the fringe by the black community, have now become mainstream.

In a recent column, Louis wrote, "The recent, welcome dispatching of Don Imus from the public airways - despite the millions he made for his employers and advertisers - signaled a new level of national disgust at mass produced, gutter level entertainment. The next target should be the record labels that actively promote and profit from real-world criminal violence - not just rowdy lyrics, but blood and bullets in the street - by paying a king's ransom to thugs masquerading as artists and turning a blind eye to their gunfights, drug dealing and other crimes."

For the first time, high-profile black leaders are beginning to agree with Louis.

On Monday of this week, hip-hop leaders got together to develop a new standard. Under the new guidelines, the words "bitch" and "ho" would no longer be used in songs played on television or radio. In addition, "clean" CD's would be produced without the offensive words and customers could buy either the regular version or the clean version, depending on their bent.

The "N-word" would be removed on clean versions as well.

The industry's reaction to the plan, which came from the Hip Hop Network, was reportedly "mixed." The industry does not want anything to cut into its massive profits and the rappers like having all the bling and the multiple high-end automobiles.

Even Al Sharpton is moving away from his "blacks can do no wrong because they have been wronged" stance to take on the hip-hop and rap moguls and that is a big change for the racial arsonist.

Sharpton had planned to honor Def Jam Chairman L.A. Reid at his annual dinner, but he "suspended" the award since some of the Def Jam artists have been cited as examples of music that is demeaning to women.

Then, the Universal Music Group, a big hip-hop and rap label, took back its donation to the dinner.

In addition, Def Jam founder Russell Simmons reportedly refused to buy his usual tickets to the dinner.

Simmons cancelled a press conference called by his Hip Hop Summit Action Committee where the organization had planned to announce measures to deal with the use of racist and misogynistic lyrics in rap and hip hop music.

Sharpton says that his organization, the National Action Network, will soon buy stock in Time Warner and the Universal Music Group, which will allow him to attend stockholder and board meetings, where he plans to protest the music produced by the two companies.

He will also spearhead a "decency march," led by a woman's group in Manhattan next month. The march will target the offices of SONY, Time Warner and Universal.

The battle is heating up and it will probably force some self-policing by the record companies.

The entire industry, however, is driven by profits.

On 60 Minutes Sunday night, the rap star, Cam'ron was asked what would happen if the industry ever cracked down on the lyrics he uses in his music. Would he quit in protest? He laughed.

"That would never happen," he said, "because the industry makes too much money off the music that he makes."

Unfortunately, he is right.

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