Monday, June 18, 2007

I used to be a rap music fan by Venise Berry

I Used to be a Rap Music Fan

by Venise Berry

I used to be a rap music fan, but I’m not any more. I'm tired. Tired of butt shaking hoochie mamas and arrogant bling blinging, baby daddies. Tired of problematic words and images being honored by multimillion dollar sales and undeserved awards. Tired of the big business and greed mentality: “I don’t give a damn about anybody else, get out of my way, so I can get me some more.”

I’ve been feeling this way for some time. Long before Imus brought the wrath of black folks down with his “nappy-headed hos” comment. I felt this way when Viacom bought BET and immediately dumped all of the positive programming like the news, BET Tonight, Lead Story and Teen Summit, then added more rap videos, specifically the uncut versions. I felt this way when the song "It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp" was given an Oscar over the more positive nominees in that category. I felt this way when several black female students in my spring class were upset with Imus, but claimed that rappers calling black women bitches and hos was somehow different.

I don't think we understand why Tupac and Biggie Smalls are dead. I don't think we understand that in the midst of this post-modern society filled with visions of excessive capitalistic success we are losing our humanity. I don't think we understand what it really means when these negative images and ideas no longer have to be force fed by an "unfair system” because we are willing to create and feed them to ourselves.

In Africa, music is considered a Godlike, magical force. It is associated with spirituality, healing and life. It is an essential form of communication transforming energy and emotion. In the beginning, rap music touched this powerful African tradition reaching way back into the African roots of Lampoons, rhyming contests called Boasts and Toasts, and word games like the dozens and signifying.

Black music in America has always followed this rich tapestry of ancestral communication reflecting the struggle for identity, self-awareness, and strength. During slavery, spirituals and slave songs took on a meaning and depth that enabled survival. Black musicians spawned avant-garde jazz as a protest to western musical domination. Soul music was interwoven with black consciousness fueling the Black Power and civil rights movements, promoting pride and advocating national unity.

After a number of years of being lulled into complacency by pop music and disco, rap re-introduced a powerful black consciousness movement. Female rappers such as Queen Latifah offered pride and self esteem to young black girls through songs like “Ladies First” and ‘Who you callin' a bitch?" Chuck D of Public enemy urged us to "fight the power" through increased knowledge, self-affirmation, and resistance. The educator, KRS One, implanted wisdom from the Universal Mother, explaining: "she will give you the gift, but use the gift to uplift".

Of course, I’m not suggesting that all early rap songs were positive and all current rap songs are negative. My issue is how only limited images and messages seem to get promoted today as representative of black culture. Through a process called 'commodification' cultural products are assimilated into our commercial system. An appropriate context is needed for interpreting and evaluating these images and ideas because once they blend into the continuous media flow they become normalized.

From a historic perspective, stereotypes like the black man as violent and the black women as sexually erotic have been perpetuated by the media to such an extent that they are recognized norms not only by those who are not black, but too often among black people themselves. So, why are we so surprised when young black girls don’t know what respect is and young black boys are feared by everyone?

Unfortunately, we don’t understand that there is a thin line between entertainment and reality. We don’t understand that we are hurting ourselves and especially our children when we accept this kind of negativity. We don’t understand that if WE don’t change things, things will probably never change.

I believe in freedom of speech and artistic expression, but I also believe that with freedom comes responsibility. Mediated images and messages are an important part of how people see the world. Too often representations of black people in the media are created within a subjective framework that ultimately produces certain racial representations as more realistic and acceptable than others. Stereotypical ideals and attitudes have been formed and solidified over decades into accepted ideologies about African-American culture. In today's twisted world a dynamic and positive black man like Denzel Washington becomes the exception, while problematic rap stars like Ja Rule, Snoop Dog and 50 Cents are the norm.

I know I can't blame it all on rap music. These kinds of negative images and ideas can be found in a lot of places: movies, books, television programming, real black criminals in the news, in fact popular culture in general has taken on a more sexually and violently pervasive nature. But as a rap music fan loyalty and support are important and I just can't be loyal and supportive anymore.

I’m tired. Tired of butt shaking hoochie mamas and arrogant bling blinging, baby daddies. Tired of problematic words and images being honored by multimillion dollar sales and undeserved awards. Tired of the big business and greed mentality: “I don’t give a damn about anybody else, get out of my way, so I can get me some more.” And you should be tired too!