In a wide-ranging interview during the press tour following the finale of Celebrity Apprentice, I ignited a huge controversy when I told Huff Po’s Josh Zepps that I thought "Hip-hop has done more damage to black and brown people than racism in the last 10 years.” I then challenged anyone to find "a youngster – a Puerto Rican from the South Bronx or a black kid from Harlem who has succeeded in life other than being the one-tenth of one-tenth of one percent that make it in the music business – that's been a success in life walking around with his pants around his ass and with visible tattoos..." Or going around with their faces buried deep inside their hoodies, I could have added?
Like lyrics extolling the virtue of guns, drugs and violence, fashion can also be destructive. Drooping pants and perennial all-season hoodies are instruments of self-segregation. They accomplish the same result as the racists who opposed Dr. King’s March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
Are they graduating high school? Getting into college? Getting a job that pays more than minimum wage? Or are they more likely to end up in prison, fathering children out-of-wedlock and continuing a vicious self-defeating cycle? My friend Rolland Martin, the former CNN commentator who anchors "News One Now" on TV One, interviewed me this morning about the Huff Po comments. I should have stopped the whole controversy in its tracks right then and there. Instead, I plunged onward, trying to explain what I realize were unnecessarily broad generalizations about an entire music genre. If I had it to do over again, I would not have chosen to speak about hip-hop or urban lifestyles of the rich and famous. Now that I’ve stuck my foot in it, let me try to explain what I meant.
Rather than emphasizing the wealth and remarkable influence of artists like Jay-Z, P-Diddy and Snoop Dog, all of whom survived their own run-ins with crime and the law, remember the examples set by Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG and countless other artists in hip-hop/rap’s long history of guns and violence.
Consider the lyrics from BIG’s “Player’s Anthem”:
“I spit like M1's
Got mad guns up in the cabin
Cause Cease ain't the one for the dibbin and dabbin shit
I make it happen, you got your ass caught
All you saw was fire, from the Honda Passport
or the M.P., what if you see, then I miss ya
I blow up spots like little sisters
G'wan grit ya teeth, g'wan bite ya nails to the cuticles
Like Murray, my killings, be the most beautiful…etc.”
How about Suge Knight, now accused of murder in Los Angeles after running over a hip-hop rival two weeks ago? Lil Wayne, Lil Boozy, TI, Fifty Cent, what kind of role models do they represent as they glorify a drug and gun culture that is tearing communities apart? Isn’t their message that you have to be part of the criminal underworld to have credibility? That you have to survive near-death experiences? That you have to confront cops? Have a gun? Ravage and abuse multiple young women? That you’re going to live bad, hard and die young?
On the front page of Thursday’s New York Daily News, the headline reads “Nicki’s Murder Horror,” recounting the murder of a member of Nicky Minaj’s road crew, De’Von ‘Day Day’ Pickett, stabbed to death Wednesday morning in a Philadelphia bar. In a few weeks, someone is going to write the musical epitaph of ‘Day Day’ and it will be about the need for revenge and more guns and violence.
I added in my comments on Huff Po that the most powerful men in hip-hop, the elder statesmen, also bear responsibility for pushing young minority men too far out of the dominant culture to succeed in life.
"And I love Russell Simmons," I said. "He's a dear friend of mine. I admire his business acumen. At some point, those guys have to cop to the fact that by encouraging this distinctive culture that is removed from the mainstream, they have encouraged people to be so different from the mainstream that they can't participate other than, you know, the racks in the garment center and those entry-level jobs, and I lament it. I really do. I think that it has been very destructive culturally."
While I wish the subject had not come up, I stand by my comments on Huff Po. Like lyrics extolling the virtue of guns, drugs and violence, fashion can also be destructive. Drooping pants and perennial all-season hoodies are instruments of self-segregation. They accomplish the same result as the racists who opposed Dr. King’s March from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Moreover, I challenge anyone to dispute my basic premise that the heroes of hip-hop have been leading black and brown youngsters down the wrong road.
Or in the immortal lyrics of the late Notorious BIG,
“(How ya livin Biggie Smalls?) I'm surrounded by criminals
Heavy rollers even the sheisty individuals
Smokin skunk and mad Phillies
Beatin down Billy Badasses, cracks in stacks and masses
If robbery's a class, bet I pass it
Shit get drastic, I'm buryin ya bastards
Big Poppa never softenin
Take you to the church, rob the preacher for the offerin
Leave the f**r coughin up blood, and his pockets like rabbit ears.”
Wouldn’t Dr. King be horrified? Racism has long been a cancer on the heart of America. For all its entertainment value, hip-hop/rap is also a self-inflicted wound, encouraging self-segregation. And some of the biggest names in the business bear some responsibility. But it was not my place to bring it up in a way guaranteed to bring the angry response that obscures the issue of social responsibility and emphasizes instead the kind of "I said, Russell says" now running on TMZ.