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
"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
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. …