Blaming Hip-Hop for Imus
Muwakkil, Salim, In These Times
PERHAPS IT WAS inevitable that discussions provoked by the words "nappy-headed hos" would come around to rap music and the culture of hip-hop. After all, hip-hop has taken the rap for just about every social ill: misogyny, gun violence, rampant materialism, anti-Semitism, gang warfare, even the decline of the NBA. Yes, to some extent, the insulting remarks of radio shock-jock Don Imus (who called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos," for which he's been fired and subsequently sued) were drawn from a rhetorical subculture influenced by certain strands of rap music. But to focus on hip-hop as the instigator of our coarsening culture is a grievous misdiagnosis.
Hip-hop, at its best, reflects, distills, amplifies, deconstructs and re-contextualizes the social realities that are its raw material. The product of this creation then is reincorporated into that reality. Born in the ghettoes of New York City in the disjuncture between the hopes of the civil rights promise and the harsh realities of economic disinvestment, hip-hop's founding spirit expresses an insurgent rejection of business as usual.
Nevertheless, big business saw great profits in its growing popularity. Large record companies absorbed the independent labels and accelerated hip-hop's profit potential. These companies changed the marketing emphasis from creativity to profitability, which shifted the focus to the more sensationalistic aspects of the genre rather than its politically charged or artistically challenging expressions.
Thus, sensationalized tales of drug dealing, sex seeking and gun play (by groups like Oscar winner Three 6 Mafia) find more corporate support than political rappers like Dead Prez or adventurous groups like the Perceptionists. This disproportionate emphasis on pathology has distorted hip-hop's public face.
Thus, when Imus' defenders blamed hip-hop for providing their man the vocabulary for his insult, many agreed. Oprah Winfrey's entire response to the Imus affair was a two-segment "town hall" meeting on the state of hip-hop.
Even the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network and leader of the campaign demanding Imus be fired, has linked arms with those protesting demeaning lyrics in hip-hop. On May 3, Sharpton led marches on the corporate offices of Sony-BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Groups to protest their promotion of demeaning rap lyrics.
"This is not about censorship-it is about standards," Sharpton told the crowd at the march's conclusion. …