In the mad scramble to clean up rap music (which is certainly taking its sweet-ass time, isn’t it?) and Russell Simmons’ desire to remove the N-word, “bitch,” and “ho” from all rappers’ vocabularies, all in the wake of ex-shock jock/Golden Girl Don Imus’ now-infamous Rutgers women’s basketball team comments, everyone appears to be overlooking a couple of important factors.
For one thing, a change to the image of hip hop music may be long overdue, depending on who you ask, but using the Imus incident as a catalyst for this change is crucially misleading. All of the news coverage of Imus and his comments have focused on the specific words he used — say it along with me: “nappy-headed hoes” — but not the discussion with which those words came about (scroll down here for a transcript). He’s referred to the Tennessee players (Rutgers’ opponents) as “cute,” and the Rutgers players as “rough” “nappy-headed hoes,” with his producer adding that they were “hardcore.” Looking at Tennessee’s ’06-’07 roster, you’ll notice 4 of the 11 players pictured are white, in addition to their star player Candace Parker, who is pretty light-skinned. Looking at the Rutgers’ ’06-’07 roster, you’ll notice that 2 of the 10 players are white, and of the 8 remaining black players, most of them are rather dark in complexion (at least in comparison to Parker).
I think — or, at least, I hope — that I’m not offending anyone by saying that, in today’s society, light skin is often looked upon as being “more attractive” than dark skin. You don’t have to walk too far past a newsstand to see a magazine cover with shot of Beyonce or Halle Berry or Tyra Banks being praised for their beauty. It’s a stereotype, plain and simple, and that’s why major news outlets like Fox News and CNN never brought it up in the midst of their Imus coverage. I mean, when Mel Gibson went off in a drunken delirium about how the Jews “own” Hollywood, there was no CNN Special Report entitled “DO The Jews Own Hollywood?” (Although, that would have made for some compelling television.) It seemed as if everyone got mad at Don Imus for his comments, and rightfully so, but never really thought about why they were mad. As offensive as the phrase “nappy-headed” is, there’s far worse things that could be said about African-Americans (and Don Imus has said such things in the past). And as far as the word “ho” goes, I’m a follower of J-Zone’s school of thought — “If you’re getting offended by it, then I must be talking about you!”
It seems like the mere use of the word “ho” has brought hip hop into the spotlight, and the so-called need to clean up the lyrics and the use of foul language. But if you ask any stuck-up old person who hates rap music what they would rather do without — the violence and perceived negative messages in the music, or the use of foul language — they’d likely choose the former over the latter. And, truth be told, these two things are not necessarily tied together. Exhibit A: Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby.” (I’d YouTube it, but this is my first post here and I don’t want everybody to hate me.) I know you remember it, because I know I remember it, and I’ve tried SO hard to forget it. Here are some choice lyrics from the song that, in 1990, was simply unavoidable:
“Jealous ’cause I’m out getting mine/
Shay with a gauge and Vanilla with a nine/
Ready for the chumps on the wall/
The chumps acting ill because they’re full of Eight Ball/
Gunshots ranged out like a bell/
I grabbed my nine — All I heard were shells/
Falling on the concrete real fast/
Jumped in my car, slammed on the gas/
Bumper to bumper the avenue’s packed/
I’m trying to get away before the jackers jack/
Police on the scene, You know what I mean/
They passed me up, confronted all the dope fiends”
Shootouts, police chases, dope fiends — all in language that’s PG-13 at best. You can disrespect women without calling ‘em “bitches” and “hoes.” You can be a killer (on wax, at least) without screaming “Die motherfucker! Die motherfucker! Die!” (which, in German, would translate to “Thee motherfucker! Thee motherfucker! Thee!”) And even if the N-word somehow got “outlawed” and no rapper ever uttered it again, would that really significantly alter the music that’s coming out nowadays? Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I don’t think it would.
But don’t get me wrong here — I commend Chamillionaire for “stepping up to the challenge” and making his upcoming album profanity-free. And I also (reluctantly) commend Master P for doing the same thing, although I have to agree with 50 Cent’s statement that Master P isn’t selling records anymore, and I personally am not buying Master P “taking a stand” against explicit lyrics — if anything, Master P is taking a stand against the fact that no one cares about Master P anymore. All I’m saying here is that there is no “solution” to how to “fix” hip hop — simply put, it is what it is. And if there is a solution, it sure as hell isn’t the removal of three words from all rap records from this point on.
Oh, and Don Imus is a prick, but that should go without saying.