Hip-Hop Product Portrayals Divide Black Community

Article excerpt

If all goes as planned, gangsta rapper Nelly's new energy drink will be on store shelves by next month. The brand name: Pimp Juice.

The Loaded Weapon sneaker is among the latest shoes to hit the Converse conveyor belt. And the new game Ghettopoly, a take on the classic board game Monopoly, features "playas" who vie for stolen property and crack.

All three speak to a growing fascination with hip-hop and its portrayal of urban black America. The products have also ignited protests and boycotts nationwide, high- lighting a division in the African-American community over what's an appropriate representation of the black experience.

It is part of a larger cultural war among blacks, fought largely along class and generational lines.

"The traditional civil rights model included a kind of politics of respectability, putting the best face of the African-American community forward," says Imani Perry, a law professor at Rutgers University. "There is an absolute refusal in the hip-hop community to adhere to those ideals of respectability, in terms of what the public face of black people should be."

That tension may only heighten as hip-hop goes global and the appetite for edgy products grows. Nelly announced the release of Pimp Juice, named after his hit single, at the MTV music video awards late this summer. Days later, the Rev. Paul Scott, founder of the Messianic Afrikan Nation, launched a local campaign to keep it off shelves in Durham, N.C. He calls the word "pimp" derogatory and demeaning.

"We don't want our young people walking around with Pimp Juice in their lunchboxes, thinking that it's cool," says Mr. Scott, who has joined forces with black leaders nationwide to petition for Nelly to change the name. "Four hundred years ago, black women were being sold into slavery ... and now someone wants to come out with a drink selling women."

Nelly has maintained that Pimp Juice is a healthy beverage for athletes. Critics say he is fueling an industry that exploits black stereotypes to reap a hip-hop dollar, raising deeper questions about the portrayal of African-Americans and their identity. "We have begun to promote our misery and misfortune in this whole hip-hop genre of keeping it real - celebrating public housing, drug use, black-on-black homicide," says Dr. Leonard Moore, head of African- American studies at Louisiana State University. "When it's a fad to celebrate black misery and poverty, something is wrong."

Supporters say that hip-hop is misunderstood, perceived solely as gangsta rap. In fact, it encompasses the written word and visual arts as well. They also say it does not just glorify violence or misogyny, but can be a socially conscious artform that has given black youth a voice, entrepreneurial opportunities, and pride. …