Hip-Hop Artists Hope to Prove They Have Gotten a Bum Rap

By Babayan, Siran | Insight on the News, September 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Hip-Hop Artists Hope to Prove They Have Gotten a Bum Rap


Babayan, Siran, Insight on the News


While critics complain about the message of rap artists, whose music is associated with drugs and violence, two premier artists are behaving more conscientiously than many Hollywood brats.

Rock `n' roll activism isn't new. In 1971, ex-Beatle George Harrison organized a concert for war-torn Bangladesh that became a prototype for pop-rock fund-raisers. Even in the eighties -- the decade of the "me generation" -- concerts such as Live Aid, which raised more than $40 million for famine victim in Ethiopia, and Farm Aid, now an annual concert on behalf of struggling farmers in the United States made good samaritans of spoiled celebrities.

But the torch of artistic consciousness is shining from an unlikely genre in the late nineties. Rap artists are taking their social agendas from ghetto streets to Capitol Hill.

As the leader of the pioneering group Public Enemy, Chuck D. (otherwise known as Carlton Ridenhour) infused hip-hop beats and rhymes with lyrics addressing black nationalism and other controversial subjects. Public Enemy's choice of heroes -- including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan -- hasn't endeared the group to the cultural mainstream.

"Being a political target is okay," Chuck D. tells Insight. "Your voice has to be loud enough so when you're brought to the table, you can be taken seriously. And the Nation of Islam is the best situation, I believe, for black men in this country."

The rapper, who began his career in broadcasting as an MTV correspondent to the 1996 Republican National Convention, now can be heard nightly on the Fox News Channel as a commentator and political analyst. "It's pretty much a partial career," he says. "I can hopefully take some of the aspects of the black community, frustrations of the young and people without voices, and bring them to a higher medium." He has aspirations of becoming a "21st-century, generation-next Charles Kuralt."

In fact, Chuck D. has a distinguished record of public speaking, serving as keynoter at gatherings of the National Urban League, National Alliance of African-American Athletes and Jim Brown's "Amer-I-Can" prison reform program. He was a panelist with actor Edward James Olmos, former Los Angeles Police Chief Darrell Gates and the late widow of Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, on the 1993 Connecticut Forum on Racism. And he is a fixture on the high-school and college lecture circuits and spearheaded an educational outreach program called Rappers Educate All Curricula Through Hip-Hop. …

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