Critics of gangster rap


NAACP buries N-word at public ceremony

Racial slur laid to rest by delegates at organization's 98th annual convention

July 9, 2007
Baltimore Sun (AP)
By Corey Williams

DETROIT -- There was no mourning at this funeral.

Hundreds of onlookers cheered this afternoon as the NAACP put to rest a long-standing expression of racism by holding a public burial for the N-word during its annual convention.

The ceremony, which NAACP leaders called "historic," included a 20-minute procession led by two pale gray Percheron horses slowly pulling a simple pine coffin from downtown Detroit's Cobo Center to Hart Plaza.

As it reached the plaza, the coffin -- adorned with a bouquet of fake black roses and a ribbon with a derivative of the word -- was carried on the shoulders of eight pallbearers to a spot in the outdoor amphitheater as a church choir sang: "We've Come This Far By Faith."

The coffin will be buried beneath a headstone at historically black, Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery.

"Today we're not just burying the N-word, we're taking it out of our spirit," Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said to loud applause and cheers.

"We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word. We have to bury the 'pimps' and the 'hos' that go with it."

He continued: "Die N-word, and we don't want to see you 'round here no more!"

The N-word has been used as a slur against blacks for more than a century.

It remains a symbol of racism, but also is used by blacks when referring to other blacks, especially in comedy routines and rap and hip-hop music.

"This was the greatest child that racism ever birthed," the Rev. Otis Moss III, assistant pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, said in his eulogy.

"We've come here not to mourn, not to grieve. But if anyone is confused, the N-word is a creation of America."

Public discussion on the word's use increased last year following a tirade by "Seinfeld" actor Michael Richards, who used it repeatedly while on stage at a Los Angeles comedy club.

The issue about racially insensitive remarks heated up earlier this year after talk show host Don Imus described black members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" on April 4.

NAACP leaders and others soon challenged blacks and the entertainment industry to stop using such terms.

Minister and rap icon Kurtis Blow has thrown his support behind the NAACP's efforts. He called for people, especially young people, to stop buying music by artists who use offensive language.

"They wouldn't make rap songs if you didn't buy them. Stop supporting the stuff you don't want to hear," said Blow, who is credited with helping create the genre's popularity in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"I've never used the N-word and I've recorded over 150 rap songs. I've never used profanity. It's possible you can use hip-hop and not offend anyone."

Charles Smith, a 19-year-old NAACP member from Los Angeles, said he would like to see current rappers and hip-hop artists stop using the word and other derogatory language in their music.

"There are better ways to make money," he said. "If I can't say it around my family, I can't say it at all."

However, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of Detroit's Fellowship Chapel and member of the NAACP national board of directors, said Monday's efforts were not an attack on young people or hip-hop, but a commentary on the culture the genre has produced.

"We're not thugs. We're not gangstas," Anthony told the crowd. "All of us has been guilty of this word. It's upon all of us to now kill this word."

Local businessman and former Detroit Lions defensive lineman Robert Porcher said he once used the word as a term of endearment for friends. That view changed after he spent nearly three weeks in Africa, where he never heard the word.

"I made a pact to myself that anytime I heard any of my teammates using it I'd make it known that it degraded black people," said Porcher, who was at Cobo to view the funeral march.

The NAACP has been criticized with being out of touch with young blacks, but Tiffany Tilley said the organization is moving in the right direction.

"This is a great start," the 30-year-old Detroit resident said. "We need to continue to change the mentality of our people. It may take a generation, but it's definitely the movement we have to take."

The NAACP held a symbolic funeral in Detroit in 1944 for Jim Crow, the systematic, mostly Southern practice of discrimination against and segregation of blacks from the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction into the mid-20th century.

The organization's 98th annual national convention ends Thursday.


Rap pioneers join NAACP in funeral for the N-word, sign on to 'STOP' Campaign

NAACP News Release

June 29, 2007

Rap industry legends Kurtis Blow and Eric B. have joined the NAACP in eliminating the use of derogatory terms and images aimed at and used by African Americans. The pair will act as pallbearers and be among entertainers, intellectuals and community leaders as the NAACP hosts a funeral for N-word during the 98th NAACP Annual Convention taking place in Detroit July 7-12.

"The N-Word is the most vicious of all racial insults and the most well known example of racist language and self-hatred by African Americans," said NAACP Chief Operating Officer Nelson B. Rivers III. "The NAACP believes the time has come to celebrate the end of its wretched, destructive life. There is international interest in this powerful and symbolic action and we are calling on others of goodwill to march with us against this word that hurts and diminishes us everyday."

On Monday July 9, NAACP delegates and supporters will march from COBO Hall to Hart Plaza where burial services for the N-word will take place.

"We need to transform the minds of our people," said rap pioneer and emcee Kurtis Blow. "By reforming our minds we will change society. By changing the way you think of yourself, you will change the way others think of you."

"This is not just about burying the N-word," said deejay Eric B., who along with rap partner Rakim generated a string of hits in the '80s and '90s.

"This is more importantly about burying the attitude and behaviors that cause you to act like or be called that word. It's time to take a stand."

The N-word funeral is a dramatic awareness-raising tool that is a part of NAACP STOP Campaign -- an initiative of the NAACP Youth & College Division - that seeks to "stop" demeaning African American images in the media, particularly with respect to the portrayal of African American women.

"We must recognize the need for balance within the African American community in regards to what we deem acceptable in music, film, and other media," said NAACP Youth & College Division Director Stefanie L. Brown.

"Images reflected in songs and music videos that show half-dressed African American women being objectified or demeaned by men, or young African American men as thugs must STOP. These kinds of images promote hurtful and false stereotypes of young African Americans."

The targets of the STOP Campaign are the record and television industries, recording artists and the African American community. For more details on the campaign that includes a personal pledge, go online to: www.naacp.org.

The NAACP commends others who have already taken a principled stand on these issues. For example, in late April Roberts Broadcasting Companies implemented a new policy designed to ban the airing of all music and content that degrades women and/or is violent, racist or sexist in nature at its TV and radio stations. Master P and his son Romeo are breaking from the pack and starting Take A Stand Records. The label will feature only those artists who have pledged to be role models, with proceeds going toward scholarship funds for underprivileged kids.

The NAACP has been at the forefront of the battle against negative stereotypes of African Americans starting with protest of D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" in 1915. It was the late C. Delores Tucker, an NAACP Special Contribution Fund Trustee, and others in the 1990s that picketed and sued to remove sexually explicit lyrics from rap and hip-hop tracks, citing a concern that the lyrics were misogynistic and threatened the moral foundation of the African American community.

Additionally, the NAACP's Hollywood bureau was created to increase diversity in television and was established to monitor and regulate the entertainment industry. The annual NAACP Image Awards are produced to acknowledge the contributions of talented minorities who are often overlooked in their own industries.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.


The Imus test: rap lyrics undergo examination

April 25, 2007
Washington Post
By Teresa Wiltz and Darragh Johnson

At first blush, it seemed as if the latest furor over misogyny and racism in rap had died down, eclipsed by more tragic headlines. Shock jock Don Imus, in the wake of uttering his now-famous two-word slur, got the sack while a victorious Al Sharpton declared that "more people need to get this message." But two weeks past its news expiration date, the debate seems to be gathering renewed strength.

Today, rap is both an art form and an industry under intense examination, both from within and without. Perhaps the late C. DeLores Tucker, who began railing against rap's "pornographic filth" in the early 1990s, was onto something after all.

On Monday hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who just two weeks ago was arguing for the rights of rappers to express themselves as artists, did a seeming about-face and called for the voluntary banning of "bitch," "ho" and the N-word from the lexicon as "extreme curse words." He called for a coalition of industry executives to "recommend guidelines for lyrical and visual standards." Then the NAACP yesterday unveiled an initiative to halt racist and sexist imagery in the media, aimed at the record and television industries, recording artists and the African American community. And tomorrow, in a belated benediction, a civil rights group will honor Tucker, the leader of the National Political Congress of Black Women who initiated a national crusade against gangsta rap and took the recording industry to task for putting profits ahead of social responsibility.

Rap, facing sluggish record sales, is at a cultural crossroads. A University of Chicago study released in February said that 62 percent of black teens think rap music videos are degrading to black women.

Was veteran rapper Nas right when he titled his latest album "Hip Hop Is Dead"?

"I don't see rap in a crisis," Simmons said yesterday. "This happens every 10 years. People are blaming rap for all of society's ills."

His call for the removal of the unholy trinity of rap insults came as a response to "public outrage," Simmons said, but he remains wary of encroachments on the First Amendment. "It's the potential for us to head off a nasty discussion that promotes censorship."

Rappers, he said, are "going to make poetry no matter what anyone says." And no matter how hard-core their expressions, a segment of the buying public seems to want it.

"I don't think it's going to have a significant impact," Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard magazine, said of Simmons's recommendation. "A lot of broadcasters will be cautious anyway. I believe that those standards are already adhered to. I don't know how often you would hear the B-word on the radio."

In the music business, decisions are driven more by commerce than ethics, he added, and sales of unedited albums far surpass sales of the "clean" versions. "I don't see that changing."

Tucker's boycotts of hard-core rap and the stores that sold it didn't stop the industry from churning out more and more explicit recordings. Back then her quest seemed quixotic, schoolmarmish and finger-wagging. (On a 1999 release, Snoop Dogg mockingly dedicated his CD to the people "who say gangsta rap is dead: [Expletive] y'all.") While her efforts made headlines and seemingly pushed Warner Bros. to offload the Interscope label, gangsta acts such as Snoop, Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent sold well.

But the Imus incident recharged a debate that never really went away. "This is what you would call a perfect storm. Hip-hop was already going through a purging process and self-examination," said Davey D., a hip-hop historian and journalist in the San Francisco area. "The debate around hip-hop being dead brought many of those issues to the forefront. People have grown weary."

To Tucker's husband, Imus's slur "brought about a revival of the struggle she waged, literally, by herself for the past 14 years -- she struggled against this, and speaking out against lyrics and how they demeaned and defamed women," said William Tucker, vice chairman of the Bethune-Dubois Institute, which is honoring his wife, who died in 2005.

There was a time when the rap heard over commercial airwaves was an art form preoccupied with the issues of the day, from Melle Mel's haunting classic about ghetto life, "The Message," to Public Enemy's chanting "Fight the Power." Even for the most devoted hip-hop heads much of rap is hard to take these days, given the same old beats and raggedy rhymes about pimping, loose women, guns and money. (So-called "conscious rap," as embodied by the likes of the Roots and Mos Def, remains forgotten in this debate.)

"Rap is not a perfect art form. I don't know an art form that is," said Danyel Smith, editor in chief of Vibe magazine. "Rap gets a lot of blame, fairly and unfairly, for misogyny and violence, while people tend to forget American cinema, for the last 100 years, has explicit misogyny and explicit violence in Technicolor. Which frankly is what lot of rappers, gangsta and otherwise, are influenced by."

The rap genre has been reeling commercially, with album sales plummeting by 27 percent between 2004 and 2006, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (Album sales across all genres were down 11 percent for the same period.) The genre's free fall has continued this year, with album sales down by more than 33 percent during the first quarter, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"Hip-hop is a dog at this point. It's not a terrible dog, but records aren't selling," said Felicia Palmer, editor of SOHH.com, a leading hip-hop site. "If I were a record label person, I'd use this as an opportunity to turn things around by taking the proactive approach and putting out a different type of product. If hip-hop is declining, it behooves us to bring it back to where it should be. . . . I'm glad this is happening and that the finger is being pointed back at us. Don Imus has taken a major fall, and he's not going down by himself."

The question of hip-hop's culpability in the Imus issue is one that some rap-industry figures appear reluctant to address. Label executives and radio programmers on both coasts repeatedly declined to comment for this article. Will the renewed focus on rap's responsibilities bring a revival of socially conscious rap?

"We can't continue to embrace the 'Do as I say, not as I do' mind-set. It never works. . . . We need to turn the mirror back on ourselves and see if we're participatory in our oppression," said Asha Camille Jennings, a New York University law student who three years ago, while a student at Spelman College, organized a protest against Nelly for his negative images of black women, including a video depicting their bodies as credit card machines.

"It starts from within. Whether Snoop calls me a ho or Don Imus calls me a ho, I don't care," she said. "I'm tired of us blaming other people. Nobody held a gun up to 50 Cent's head and said, 'Call that woman a ho!' He wrote the lyrics and he presented it to the record label. They didn't say, 'I'm worried, you only said "ho" three times, I need more.' "

Staff writer J. Freedom du Lac and special correspondent Melinda Newman contributed to this report.


Beating the Rap

Will the Imus imbroglio trip up hip hop?

John Fund on the Trail
April 16, 2007
Wall Street Journal

Maybe. Just maybe, the Don Imus firestorm will finally provide some clarity as to how our culture treats black women.

On yesterday's "Meet the Press," host Tim Russert mentioned how he and other journalists appeared on the Imus program for years knowing it used over-the-top humor. He also noted that rapper Snoop Dogg degrades women and yet is hired by Chrysler to sell its cars. In response, PBS's Gwen Ifill, herself an early victim of Mr. Imus's degrading rants, was refreshingly candid. "So we're all hypocrites, Tim. Let's see what we can do to get past it."

If Mr. Imus deserved to be fired, then some scrutiny also needs to be applied to the $10 billion hip-hop music industry. Many rap songs have positive messages, but record labels still put out "gangsta rap" songs that frankly would have no recognizable lyrics at all if words as bad as or worse than what Mr. Imus used were excised.

The pollution also affects television. Last year, as Mr. Russert noted, MTV aired a cartoon that featured a Snoop Dogg-like character who is accompanied by two bikini-clad black women wearing dog collars and leashes--just as Mr. Dogg himself did at the 2003 Video Music Awards. In the cartoon, the rapper orders one of the women to "hand me my latte" as she crouches on all fours and scratches herself like a canine. It ends with a scatological scene too vile to describe here.

But many in the rap business continue to defend such filth. "Comparing Don Imus' language with hip-hop artists' poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mind-set that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship," rap mogul Russell Simmons said in a statement Friday. Busdriver, a West Coast rapper, claimed that " 'bitch' or 'ho' can be terms of endearment." Snoop Dogg himself explained that gangsta rappers "are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We're talking about ho's that's in the 'hood that ain't doing sh--. . . . These are two separate things." But some rap artists are now finally urging restraint. Luther Campbell, the Miami rapper who pioneered the use of nasty rhymes as a member of 2 Live Crew in the 1980s, concedes that rap "sometimes goes too far and we need to do a better job of filtering to make sure the music is not offensive."

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a syndicated columnist, points out that "Imus is the softest of soft targets" and says scrutiny should now be directed at the "black rap shock jocks who made Imus possible. They gave him the rapper's bad-housekeeping seal of approval to bash and trash black women." Mr. Hutchinson says that while it's understandable that blacks are hypersensitive to racism from whites, they must also recognize that the failure to speak out against all who commercialize misogyny and ugly racial stereotypes "fuels the suspicion that blacks, and especially black leaders, are more than willing to play the race card, and call white people bigots, when it serves their interests but will circle the wagons and defend any black who comes under fire for bigotry."

It's certainly true that many black leaders, ranging from Calvin Butts of New York's Abyssinian Baptist Church to Queen Latifah to the editors of Essence magazine have spoken out against offensive rap lyrics. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have also raised their voices against them. On Friday Barack Obama told a black South Carolina audience that offensive rappers "are degrading our sisters." It's about time he stepped forward, since it was Mr. Obama who helped legitimize the rapper Ludicrus, whose oeuvre includes such songs as "Ho," "You'z a Ho" and "I Got Hos," by inviting him to his Chicago office last year to talk about, as the Associated Press put it, "lighting the way for the nation's youth."

But there have been almost no calls demanding that any "gangsta rap" artists be driven from the airwaves as Mr. Imus was or that the record companies promoting "gangsta rap" be boycotted. Pepsi did drop Ludicrus from its ad campaign after his lyrics angered Oprah Winfrey and also became the subject of a pointed campaign by Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, one of the few media figures who has been willing to take on hate rap foursquare.

But many liberals would do just about anything rather than credit Mr. O'Reilly with any positive role in the culture. Too many of them were until this month busy scrambling for invitations to appear on "Imus in the Morning." Some are now honestly admitting chagrin at their desire to share Imus' microphone: Ana Marie Cox of Time magazine admits she went on the show only "to earn my media-elite merit badge."

As for Mr. Sharpton, while he points out that he has attacked abusive rap music lyrics, he is careful not to advocate doing too much about them. When CNN's Glenn Beck asked him when he would be "trying to get these guys fired from their record contracts as much as you're trying to get Don Imus thrown off the radio," Mr. Sharpton was evasive. "These record companies ought to be hit so that we will take the profit our of [gangsta rap]," he said. But when Mr. Beck asked him specifically about the artists themselves, Mr. Sharpton said the Imus case was different because he was "on a federally regulated radio station and television. If those [artists] were talk show hosts, I'd be marching." Is Mr. Sharpton unaware that gangsta rap has also been played on radio and TV?

Not that those broadcast outlets don't have some standards. When MTV aired the Kanye West's "All Falls Down" video, it bleeped out the words "white man" in the following lines: "Drug dealer buy Jordans, crackhead buy crack. And the white man get paid off of all of that." Radio stations in Canada bleeped out the words "white girl" from the lyrics of Mr. West's "Gold Digger," a song that included the line: "Leave your ass for a white girl." When Lisa Fager, the head of IndustryEars.com, a group promoting restraint in rap music, asked MTV why it would edit out such references to whites she was told "they didn't want to offend anyone." Ms. Fager, who has herself worked in the recording industry, is opposed to censorship, but says the Federal Communications Commission should enforce existing laws that ban, for example, broadcast radio stations from playing the most outrageous material before 10 p.m. "I do not believe we are supposed to sit still while young women are dehumanized, infected with HIV and abused by young men programmed to think of women as nothing but sex toys," she told New York's Daily News. "That's immoral and cowardly."

Here's hoping the whole Imus affair spurs not just more clarity but less cowardice when it comes to other aspects of what Mr. Obama calls our "coarsening of the culture." Mr. Imus is history for now. But the most offensive rap artists are still growing strong. Accountability for misogynistic and racist remarks should apply equally to Don Imus and Snoop Dogg.


The Imus opening

(Undated)
UCLA Center for Communications & Community
by George White

"The Radio-Television News Directors Association joins the National Association of Black Journalists in condemning the racist and sexist remarks by radio talk show host Don Imus about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

".Broadcasters have an important and powerful role in society and this deeply troubling episode should remind us again that we should never take lightly the power of our words and the commitment to fairness and accuracy.

"This unfortunate incident and the heated discussion that has followed has provided a national focus on an issue that deserves attention, both from the public and from the media. This is a moment of opportunity to reinvigorate an important discussion in our society, a discussion about diversity and the devastating impact of ill-chosen language and imagery."

This April 11 statement from the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) says it all. The controversy over Don Imus, recently fired by CBS Radio and MSNBC TV for making a racist and sexist comment, is really an opportunity to address a range of important media-related issues - sexism, media accountability, diversity and media and business and sponsorship among them.

Ideally, these issues would have been a big part of the agenda at the annual joint convention of the RTNDA and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) April 13-19 in Las Vegas. That was not the case - possibly because the Imus storm broke too close to the convention for major scheduling adjustments to be made. Hopefully, members of the two associations, broadcast regulators and media accountability advocates will earnestly begin to discuss media failings in the months ahead.

Ironically, Imus inadvertently created an opening to re-examine some critical media issues. Opportunities for action have emerged in the wake of the controversy and there are signs of some movement on some of the matters. Here is a review:

Sexism 

Media Accountability 

Diversity &

Media Business & Sponsorship

Sexism

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is among the organizations that hope to galvanize women's rights advocates during this unexpected national discussion on sexism. In the wake of the Imus firing, NOW - on its website - reviewed its role in the protest.

"{NOW} leaders worked overtime to make sure Imus and {Imus producer} McGuirk would be held accountable - generating over 30,000 emails from our supporters, participating in demonstrations, conducting countless interviews with the media, strategizing and speaking out with allies and more."

Throughout the controversy, NOW cited Imus' recent and past comments as egregious examples of sexism - not just racism. NOW also touted diversity as a way to address sexism in the media.

"The fact that MSNBC and CBS Radio removed repeat-offender Don Imus from the public airwaves is a real victory," says NOW Communications Director Lisa Bennett in a website column, "but it's only a small step in the ongoing efforts of NOW and other feminist and civil rights groups to diversify the images we watch, and the voices we hear, and make public misogyny, racism and bigotry unacceptable."

The news coverage on the controversy of sexism and racism was also exclusionary, NOW President Kim Gandy says in a commentary. She says the sources in news reports and those chosen to discuss the issues on TV and radio were predominantly men. Black women were rarely included in broadcast discussions, she says.

"Despite the advances that women and people of color have made as working members of the media," says Gandy, "their presence in top management and as owners is still minuscule. The news can't help but reflect the lack of diversity and inherent privilege of its ownership, and the power imbalance that persists in our society."

NOW hopes to use the Imus opening to recruit new support. Consider this website message:

"Thanks to our joint efforts, including your tens of thousands of messages and protests across the country, CBS and MSNBC have now dropped Imus. Stay informed about how you can help NOW combat racism and sexism. Sign up for our e-mail lists, tell a friend, and support our work. Make sure you're part of the next victory."

African American women's organizations also vowed to fight on. "The action today does not solve the problem," E. Faye Williams, chairwoman of the National Congress of Black Women, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. "Imus is not the first to denigrate black women, and he will not be the last. We can not allow his firing to be the end of what happens. It's not over because CBS says that it is over."

Misogyny in the recording industry is a separate subject for First Amendment advocates who oppose the censuring of expression. However, misogyny in certain rap music videos disseminated by TV and radio outlets owned by companies with federal broadcast licenses is fair game.

It's only fitting that the National Congress of Black Women responds to the Imus opening because the late C. Delores Tucker, co-founder of the organization, waged a high-profile battle against misogyny in rap music - putting record industry executives as well broadcasters on the spot.

Now, Hip-Hop industry mogul Russell Simmons is putting broadcasters and recording industry execs on the spot. Simmons on April 23 issued a statement calling on the broadcast and recording industry to adopt a voluntary ban on the dissemination of "misogynistic words" as well as a "racially offensive" term frequently used in gangsta rap.

In addition, he is recommending the formation of a "Coalition on Broadcast Standards" consisting of leading executives from the music, radio and television industries. This coalition would recommend guidelines for "lyrical and visual standards."

Simmons took this stand in the wake of an appearance April 16 and April 17 on the Oprah Winfrey show. In a two-day town hall meeting - a broadcast copied and posted on YouTube, Oprah and her audience and a group well-known critics of rap music lyrics, grilled a panel of Hip-Hop industry leaders - Simmons among them. Oprah Winfrey has now entered this arena. In a two-day town hall meeting - a broadcast copied and posted on YouTube, Oprah and her audience and a group well-known critics of rap music lyrics, grilled a panel of Hip-Hop industry leaders - mogul Russell Simmons among them.

The critics included media figures such as Diane Weathers, former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine.

"These guys are all really embraced by the mainstream," she says during the telecast. "This has to be unacceptable."

At one point, the entire Hip-Hop panel shouts in unison, acknowledging "the problem" of misogynistic lyrics and images.

Media Accountabiliity

Meanwhile, media watchdog groups such as the Fairness and Accuracy In the Media (FAIR) have been trying to engage its constituents in the Imus debate, as evidenced in this April 9 dispatch on its website:

"Contact Westwood One president Peter Kosann and MSNBC general manager Dan Abrams," FAIR implored, "and ask whether, given the track record of empty apologies from Don Imus, their companies have any problems with the hateful slurs the talk host will predictably air in the near future."

The mainstream media covered these mobilization campaigns and reported on the reaction of industry observers and scholars. Consider the lead paragraph in this San Francisco Chronicle report

"CBS cancellation Thursday of Don Imus' syndicated radio program for derogatory remarks he made about female college basketball players could signal a tipping point in the type of language that major broadcast outlets will tolerate from even the most profitable and popular performers."

One of the most visible advocates for media accountability - the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) - announced that it would use the Imus opening to press its campaign. NABJ President Bryan Monroe explains from his organization's website:

"If we allow this incident to be just another story - a two-day blip good for selling some extra papers or pulling a few more viewers to the tube, only to be bumped off the front page and the A-block of news reports by the latest Anna Nicole Smith episode - then we, indeed, will be at fault.

"So, here's how NABJ will continue to keep the conversation going:

At our upcoming board meeting, April 20-22 in Chicago, the NABJ Board of Directors will look at how we can establish an ongoing dialogue about journalism, the media and race.

Then, at the 2007 NABJ Annual Convention & Career Fair, Aug. 8-12 in Las Vegas, we will devote significant time to a major plenary on the topic, bringing together voices from media companies, entertainment, journalism and sports. We have already invited the heads of CBS and NBC News to join the discussion

In partnership with the Maynard Institute, we will also launch at the convention a sweeping NABJ Content Audit, looking at the journalism performed in major markets in America and how the media covers African Americans. We are looking for volunteers in Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Washington, D.C., Newark and San Francisco to help with the effort. If you are interested, please email rwilliams@nabj.org." In addition, the NAACP Youth & College Division weighed recently weighed in, launching a "STOP" campaign in a bid to halt "demeaning images of African Americans in the media, particularly.the portrayal of African American women."

The Civil Rights group is also seeking support for its new campaign to create pressure for more diversity in decision-making positions in the entertainment industry.

Diversity and Media

The issue of diversity in the mainstream media - or lack of it - suddenly became a media story in the wake of the Imus affair. While the diversity critiques of activists such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were well reported, the response of journalism organizations did not generate comparable news coverage.

For example, the Radio TV News Directors Association (RTNDA), linked the Imus affair to its campaign for diversity.

"To help guide such conversations in the newsroom, turn to RTNDA's updated Diversity Toolkit, which contains a downloadable workbook with streaming video of stories to help stations evaluate how they address diversity in their newsrooms and in their coverage. This resource encourages journalists to broaden the definition of diversity to include a variety of voices and groups.

"The updated toolkit, available at www.rtnda.org/diversity/toolkit.shtml, contains:

A downloadable instructional guide for diversity training within the workplace. Interviews and varying definitions of diversity with news leaders. Streaming video of five in-depth stories about diversity. Step-by-step instructions for holding a diversity workshop and strategies for achieving diversity in hiring, retention, advancement and content. A form to order a free copy of the DVD."

Media consolidation also became an issue again as a result of the Imus opening. Consider this message from Stop Big Media, a very large coalition that includes the Newspaper Guild and other unions, women's organizations and media watchdog groups.

" Out of the Picture, a new study by Free Press, finds that while minorities make up 33 percent of the U.S. population, they own only 3.26 percent of all broadcast TV stations. The FCC can't simply hand over more broadcast stations to the likes of News Corp., General Electric and Viacom while ignoring the appalling lack of minority owners in the media.

"Use the form below to speak out against FCC efforts to make our media system less diverse. Use the text provided or write your own comments about how media consolidation will impact your community."

Business and Sponsorship 

Early in the Imus controversy - before his firing - news organizations such as USA Today realized that much of the public wanted to know how the show's sponsors would react.

The wisest pundits on the Imus affair realized that the response of his show's sponsors would determine his fate. They were right. When companies such as American Express, Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and General Motors withdrew their support, MSNBC and CBS cancelled his show.

A wide range of groups realize that a strategy for influencing sponsors is a key to generating change in the media. For example, Susan Scanlon, chair of the National Council of Women's Organization, which has 11 million members, posted this message in an April 9 column:

"Go to www.now.org to get the names and addresses of the people who war against women on radio and television. Only if African-American and women's money begins walking away from these purveyors of prejudice can we expect to see a change. It's time to inform . CBS, and MSNBC - and their corporate sponsors - that a company is known by the man it keeps."

We should remember that both MSNBC and CBS had announced that Imus would receive only a two-week suspension for his offences until businesses began withdraw their sponsorship from his program.

If advocates really want to use the Imus opening to end racism and sexism in the media and promote quality content, they will have to enlist grass roots community groups and build a consumer movement to convince business sponsors that this is the time for change on the local and national broadcast level.


Rap mogul wants racist lyrics ban

April 24, 2007
BBC News

The founder of legendary hip-hop label Def Jam has called for three sexist and racist words to be banned from songs.

Russell Simmons said there was "growing public outrage" about the use of the terms, which he said should be viewed as the same as "extreme curse words".

He asked broadcasters and record companies to voluntarily remove, bleep or delete the words from music.

And he suggested setting up an industry watchdog to recommend guidelines for lyrical and visual standards.

'History of oppression'

Simmons, the pioneering entrepreneur whose label has released music by Public Enemy, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, objects to the use of "nigger", "ho" and "bitch".

He said: "The words 'bitch' and 'ho' are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African-American women have experienced in the United States as part of the history of oppression, inequality, and suffering of women.

"The word 'nigger' is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression, and multiple forms of racism against African-Americans and other people of colour."

Last week, Simmons called a private meeting of influential music industry executives to discuss the issue.

'Social responsibility'

But no music executives were associated with the announcement by Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.

Simmons added: "It is important to re-emphasise that our internal discussions with industry leaders are not about censorship.

"Our discussions are about the corporate social responsibility of the industry to voluntarily show respect to African-Americans and other people of colour, African-American women and to all women in lyrics and images."

His comments follow the sacking of US DJ Don Imus for referring to the players on the Rutgers university women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos".


Ban 'extreme curse words,' rap guru urges Def Jam co-founder

April 24, 2007
National Post
By Daniel Trotta, Reuters

NEW YORK - A prominent U.S. hip-hop executive wants to eliminate the words "bitch," "ho" and "nigger" from the recording industry, considering them "extreme curse words."

Yesterday's call by Russell Simmons comes less than two weeks after radio shock jock Don Imus lost his nationally syndicated and televised radio show after he called a women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

It also came the same day three women police officers in New York said a sergeant had called them "hos" during a recent roll call at a Brooklyn station house.

Tronnette Jackson and Karen Nelson, both black, and Maria Gomez, who is Hispanic, have filed complaints with the New York Police Department's Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.

In a separate incident, a fourth female narcotics officer said a sergeant had used similar language to her after Mr. Imus's outburst, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Simmons, co-founder of the Def Jam label and a driving force behind hip-hop's huge commercial success, called for voluntary restrictions on the words and setting up an industry watchdog to recommend guidelines for lyrical and visual standards.

"We recommend that the recording and broadcast industries voluntarily remove/bleep/ delete the misogynistic words 'bitch' and 'ho' and the racially offensive word 'nigger,' " he said in a statement with Benjamin Chavis, his co-chairman of the advocacy group Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.

"These three words should be considered with the same objections to obscenity as 'extreme curse words.' "

Their latest remarks represent a sea change from the statement issued by the pair on April 13, a day after Mr. Imus' show was cancelled.

In it, they said offensive references in hip-hop "may be uncomfortable for some to hear, but our job is not to silence or censor that expression."

The Imus controversy stoked a debate in the United States about how to deal with inflammatory words that are widely considered offensive but at the same time commonly and casually used in youth culture.

Black leaders such as Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson have led the charge to suppress offensive words while many artists have argued for freedom of expression. New York City declared a symbolic moratorium on the "n-word" in February.

"Our internal discussions with industry leaders are not about censorship. Our discussions are about the corporate social responsibility of the industry to voluntarily show respect to African Americans and other people of colour, African American women and to all women in lyrics and images," the statement from Mr. Simmons and Mr. Chavis said yesterday.

The network recommended the formation of a Coalition on Broadcast Standards that would consist of leading executives from music, radio and television.


Imus critics taking aim at language of hip-hop 

April 16, 2007
Albuquerque Tribune 
By Marcus Franklin, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Fighting in vain to keep his job, radio host Don Imus claimed rappers routinely "defame and demean black women" and call them "worse names than I ever did."

That's an argument many people made as the Imus fallout intensified, culminating with his firing Thursday for labeling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos." Now that Imus has been silenced (for the moment), some critics are moving down the radio dial to take on hip-hop, boosting the growing movement against harmful themes in rap.

"We all know where the real battleground is," wrote Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock. "We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us (black people) than some old white man with a bad radio show."

"We have to begin working on a response to the larger problem," said the Rev. DeForest Soaries Jr., who as pastor of the Rutgers coach helped mediate the Imus imbroglio. Soaries announced Friday he is organizing a nationwide initiative to address the culture that "has produced language that has denigrated women."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, among the loudest critics calling for Imus' termination, indicated entertainment is the next battleground. "We will not stop until we make it clear that no one should denigrate women," he said after Imus' firing. "We must deal with the fact that ho and the B-word are words that are wrong from anybody's lips.

"It would be wrong if we stopped here and acted like Imus was the only problem. There are others that need to get this same message."

It is a message that was spreading even before Imus' comments.

After "Seinfeld" actor Michael Richards was castigated for a racist on-stage rant, the New York City Council passed a symbolic resolution banning the N-word, and other cities around the country have passed similar measures.

Cultural critic, author and columnist Stanley Crouch, a longtime foe of rap music, suspected the Imus ordeal would galvanize young black women across the country. He said a key moment was when the Rutgers players appeared at a news conference this week - poised, dignified and defying stereotypes seen in rap videos and "dumb" comedies.

"When the public got to see these women, what they were, it was kind of shocking," Crouch said. "It made accepting the denigration not quite as comfortable as it had been for far too long."

Some defenders of rap music and hip-hop culture, such as the pioneering mogul Russell Simmons, deny any connection between Imus and hip-hop. They describe rap lyrics as reflections of the violent, drug-plagued, hopeless environments that many rappers come from. Instead of criticizing rappers, defenders say, critics should improve their reality.

"Comparing Don Imus' language with hip-hop artists' poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mind-set that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship," Simmons said in a statement Friday.

The superstar rapper Snoop Dogg also denied any connection to Imus. "(Rappers) are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports," he told MTV.com. "We're talking about hos that's in the Õhood that ain't doing (expletive), that's trying to get a n----- for his money."

Criticism of rap is nothing new - it began soon after the music emerged from the streets of New York City more than 30 years ago.

In 1990, the rapper-turned-actress Queen Latifah challenged rap's misogyny in her hit song "U.N.I.T.Y." In 1993, C. Delores Tucker, who was chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women Inc., led an organized movement - which included Congressional hearings - condemning sexist and violent rap.

That same year, the Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem drove a steamroller over a pile of tapes and CDs.

In 2004, students at Spelman College, a black women's college in Atlanta, became upset over rapper Nelly's video for his song "Tip Drill," in which he cavorts with strippers and swipes a credit card between one woman's buttocks. The rapper wanted to hold a campus bone-marrow drive for his ailing sister, but students demanded he first participate in a discussion about the video's troubling images. Nelly declined.

In 2005, Essence magazine launched its "Take Back the Music" campaign. Writers such as Joan Morgan and Kierna Mayo and filmmaker Byron Hurt also have tackled the issue recently.

T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, author of "Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Hip Hop's Hold on Young Black Women" and a professor at Vanderbilt University, said many black women resist rap music and hip-hop culture, but their efforts are largely ignored by mainstream media. As an example, the professor pointed to "Rap Sessions," the 10-city tour in which she's participating. She said the tour and its central question - Does hip-hop hate women? - have gotten very little mainstream media coverage.

"It's only when we interface with a powerful white media personality like Imus that the issue is raised, and the question turns to `Why aren't you as vociferous in your critique of hip-hop?' We have been. You've been listening to the music, but you haven't been listening to the protests from us."

Crouch said change in rap music and entertainment likely won't come fast, because corporations are still profiting from the business - but it's coming.

"I've been on (rappers) for 20 years," Crouch said. "I was in the civil rights movement. I know it takes a long time when you're standing up against extraordinary money and great power. But we're beginning to see a shift."


 Shock-jock racism uproar throws spotlight on rappers 

April 16, 2007
Yahoo News 
By Rob Woollard, Agence France Presse

The national outcry in the United States over racist remarks by radio host Don Imus has triggered a fresh debate over the use of misogynistic language beloved by rap artists.

As civil rights activists held victory parties following the sacking of Imus over his racial slurs, other black commentators began soul-searching over epithets such as "ho" and the portrayal of women as sex objects in rap videos.

For some, Imus's use of the phrase "nappy-headed ho's (messy-haired whores)" to describe the mostly black Rutgers women's basketball team was an inevitable consequence of rap argot entering common usage by osmosis.

"The language from the rappers and comedians has seeped into the culture to the point that Don Imus thought it was okay to call black women 'ho's'," said Carol Swain, a professor of law at Vanderbilt University.

In a blog on the Huffington Post, commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson said rappers like Snoop Dogg shared responsibility for the Imus furor, and accused black leaders of tolerating sexist rap lyrics for too long.

"Imus demeaned a basketball team, Snoop and his pals have demeaned a whole generation of young blacks, and especially young black women, and blacks have let them get away with it," Hutchinson wrote.

"That's why Imus is their Frankenstein."

Snoop Dogg, who this week received a suspended prison sentence and 800 hours of community service after pleading no contest to drugs and weapons charges, dismissed the argument that hip-hop was to blame.

"It's a completely different scenario," the rapper told MTV. "(Rappers) are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports.

"We're talking about ho's that's in the 'hood, that ain't doing s..t, that's trying to get a nigga for his money. These are two separate things."

But for Hutchinson, the language Snoop used in his defense only serves to provide further evidence of the problem.

"In one grotesque sentence in his knock against Imus, Snoop managed to get in all the ancient stereotypes about black women," Hutchinson wrote, calling on leaders like the Reverend Al Sharpton to boycott the rapper's next album.

Sharpton meanwhile has insisted that sexism in any form should not be tolerated. "We will not stop until we make it clear that no one should denigrate women," he said at a news conference in New York on Thursday.

"No one, even in the name of creativity, should enjoy a large consumer base when they denigrate people based on race and based on sex."

Film-maker Byron Hurt, whose recent documentary "Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes," looks at sexism and gender stereotypes in mainstream hip-hop culture, meanwhile took aim at music videos populated by scantily clad women.

"You're seeing repetitive images of woman as boy toys, as sex objects. I think that's a problem," Hurt told CNN.

But Russell Simmons, a record executive and leader of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a group which aims to promote the music, said rappers were only guilty of reflecting the world around them.

"We're a violent country. That's our sad truth. And rappers are a reflection sometimes of our sad truth," Simmons said, rejecting comparisons and Imus and the hip-hop community.

"Hip-hop is a worldwide cultural phenomena that transcends race and doesn't engage in racial slurs," Simmons said Friday in a statement.

"Don Imus' racially motivated diatribe toward the Rutgers women's basketball team was in no way connected to hip-hop culture."

Vanderbilt academic Swain meanwhile expressed hope the Imus furor would force the black community to address the sexist portrayal of women by rappers.

"If we engage in a broader dialogue and hold members of our community accountable then that will be a positive for the whole affair," she said.


Imus insult is a double whammy 

April 10, 2007
Detroit Free Press
By Desiree Cooper

This isn't shaping up to be a good week for womankind. I've written recently about the twin oppressions of racism and sexism, arguing that for me, the sting of sexism cuts deeper. 

As if to help me reiterate the point, along comes shock jock Don Imus, insulting the Rutgers University women's basketball team, eight of whom are African American. Last Tuesday, Rutgers lost its bid for its first NCAA women's championship. While commenting on the game the next morning, Imus called the Rutgers players "nappy-headed hos" on the air. 

His comments about the players' hair evoked the legacy of racism in America, as women of color historically have been compared unfavorably with the white ideals of beauty. The civil rights community has been inflamed, but Imus' comments were as sexist as they were racist. "He put it all together, essentially calling them men and also calling them whores," said Linda Greene, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a founder of the Black Women in Sport Foundation. "It's an example of how gender stereotypes operate a specific way when it comes to black women."

 Sexism isn't a sport This year marks the 35th anniversary of Title IX, which in part requires schools that receive federal funding to provide equal opportunities for men and women in sports. After 35 years, female athletes should be able to take the court, play their hardest and not risk commentary about how sexy they looked while competing. 

For Temple University professor emeritus Tina Sloan Green, Imus' comments fuel a bigger fear. "The attack is on their sexuality and femininity because there's a fear that women's sports will take funding and even advertising dollars away from men's sports," said Sloan Green, executive director and president of the Black Women in Sport Foundation. She's also the first black woman to be inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. "By perpetuating the stereotype that these women aren't really women, it helps slow down the process of women getting involved in sports." 

Though he has apologized -- Imus said he was just cracking a joke -- I haven't found one black woman who's laughing. 

Sexploitation from beyond the grave.  White women aren't having a good week, either. While Imus was fighting to salvage his 40-year career, Playboy announced it will publish a 10-page tribute to Anna Nicole Smith in its May issue. They say beauty is only skin deep, but evidently, when it's blond and buxom, beauty can go six feet under. You would think that after her tragic overdose, the fight over her corpse and the lineup of her baby-daddies, Smith has suffered enough indignities after death to last a lifetime.

Give it a rest, Hugh Hefner. Smith may have thought that becoming the March 1992 Playboy cover girl and the 1993 Playmate of the Year were crowning achievements, but it's all too evident they were exploitation of a sad, troubled woman. She may have lived as a sex object; let her die as a human being. 


Singer decries "degrading" images of black women in music 

Singer Jill Scott is urging music fans to stop buying albums if they are offended by sexist lyrics and imagery. 

July 5, 2006
CBC

Singer Jill Scott is urging fans to 'challenge the music industry with your purchasing power. "It is dirty, inappropriate, inadequate, unhealthy and polluted," said the Grammy award-winning singer. "We can demand more."

Scott spoke Monday at the Essence Music Festival in Houston, Tex., at a panel called Who You Calling A Ho? Sisters, Take Back Our Sex!

The singer was especially incensed by the portrayal of black women in pop music lyrics and video, which she deemed "degrading."

"We can force things. We can change things. Challenge the music industry with your purchasing power," said Scott, according to the Associated Press.

The seminar also featured former video dancer Karrine Steffans, author of the book Confessions of a Video Vixen, and actor Shemar Moore of the TV show Criminal Minds.

Steffans admitted her lack of self-esteem led her to a career as a video dancer: "I was always told I was ugly. I didn't realize my own power and my own worth."

Self-confidence needs a boost

Moore supported Steffans in trying to bolster the self-confidence of young, black women: "Ladies, you are queens and you need to believe it."

Scott said she wants to see different depictions of women in music.

"There are many stories to be told that aren't about our sexuality."

Scott's comments come in the wake of a battle of words between rapper and actor Ludacris and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Ludacris has accused Winfrey of being against rappers because she doesn't feature them on her show. The rapper said in a May GQ article the talk show host edited his comments out of her show featuring actors from the Oscar-winning movie Crash.

The fight got bigger as other hip-hop artists joined the fray. 50 Cent supported Ludacris's comments, saying that Winfrey caters to a primarily white audience. Ice Cube added the accusation that "maybe Oprah's got a problem with hip hop."

Winfrey has rebuked the claims, saying that while she enjoys rap music, she does not condone the negative images of women that rappers propagate through lyrics and videos.


Blowing the whistle on gangsta culture 

December 22, 2005
New York Times
By Bob Herbert

Edwin "E. J." Duncan was a young man from a decent family who spent a great deal of time with his friends in an amateur recording studio his parents had set up for him in the basement of their home in the Dorchester neighborhood.

It was in that studio that Duncan, along with three of his closest friends, was murdered last week, shot to death by a killer or killers who have yet to be found. Whoever carried out the executions, it seems clear enough to me that young Duncan and his friends were among the latest victims of the profoundly self-destructive cultural influences that have spread like a cancer through much of the black community and beyond.

I keep wondering when leaders of eminence will step forward and declare, unambiguously, that enough is enough, as they did in the heyday of the civil rights movement, when the enemy was white racism.

It is time to blow the whistle on the nitwits who have so successfully promoted a values system that embraces murder, drug-dealing, gang membership, misogyny, child abandonment and a sense of self so diseased that it teaches children to view the men in their orbit as niggaz and the women as hoes.

However this madness developed, it's time to bring it to an end.

I noticed that Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, Snoop Dogg and other "leaders" and celebrities turned out in South Central Los Angeles on Tuesday for the funeral of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the convicted killer and co-founder of the Crips street gang who was executed in California last week.

I remember talking over the years to parents in Los Angeles and elsewhere who were petrified that their children would be killed in cold blood - summarily executed, without any possibility of a defense or an appeal - by the Crips or some other gang because they just happened to be wearing the wrong color cap or jacket or whatever.

The enthusiastic turnout at Tookie Williams's funeral tells you much of what you need to know about the current state of black leadership in the U.S.

The slaughter of E. J. Duncan, who was 21, and his friends - Jason Bachiller, 21; Jihad Chankhour, 22; and Christopher Vieira, 19 - was all but literally accompanied by a hip-hop soundtrack. Duncan, Bachiller and Vieira were members of a rap group called Graveside, which favored the rough language and violent imagery that has enthralled so many youngsters and bolstered the bottom lines of major entertainment companies.

This mindless celebration of violence, the essence of gangsta rap, is a reflection of the nihilism that has taken root in one neighborhood after another over the past few decades, destroying many, many lives. The authorities here have not suggested that Duncan or his friends were involved in any criminal behavior. But the appeal of the hip-hop environment is strong, and a lot of good kids are striving to conform to images established by clowns like 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg.

The members of Graveside wanted badly to make it as rappers. Said one police officer, "They probably didn't even know they were playing with fire."

The Rev. Eugene Rivers, who has been fighting for years to reduce youth violence in Boston and elsewhere, was a neighbor of E. J. Duncan's. "My son Malcolm knew E. J. well," he told me.

He described the murders as a massacre and said he has long been worried about the glorification of violence and antisocial behavior. "Thug life," he said, "is now being globalized," thanks to the powerful marketing influence of international corporations.

This problem is not limited to the black community. E. J. Duncan and his friends came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. But it is primarily a black problem, and it is impossible to overstate its dimensions.

I understand that jobs are hard to come by for many people, and that many schools are substandard, and that racial discrimination is still widespread. But those are not good reasons for committing cultural suicide.

I'll paraphrase Sam Cooke: A change has got to come. Reasonable standards of behavior that include real respect for life, learning and the law have to be re-established in those segments of the black community where chaos now reigns.

This has to start with a commitment to protect and nurture all of the community's children. That may seem at the moment like a task worthy of Sisyphus because it will require overcoming what the Rev. Rivers has described as "the sins of the fathers who have cursed their sons by their abandonment and neglect."

Sisyphean or not, it's a job that has to be done.


The sins of the fathers are visited on black youth

December 2, 2005
Globe and Mail
By Eugene Rivers

Canada's black community faces a crisis. A generation of poor, predominantly black youth is in violent rebellion against fatherlessness and, by logical extension, against law and order and an established middle-class black leadership that purports to speak for them. This largely unacknowledged crisis is part of a larger international pattern; from Kingston, Jamaica, to Birmingham, England, from Los Angeles to Chicago, we are witnessing the globalization of "thug life."

Thug life may be defined as the gangsta-talkin' world view that celebrates and promotes, through a multibillion-dollar media and fashion industry, the rhetoric and reality of black-on-black violence and criminality. This phenomenon, which has emerged from the gangsta wing of the hip hop nation founded in the 1970s in U.S. ghettos, has emerged as a powerful symbol of the cultural and political decay of black civil society. In this world, style is substance. The obligatory "big pimpin'" hyper-masculine pose is essential for many young black males to conceal the underlying political impotence that masquerades as manhood.

The involvement of Jamaicans in Toronto's current violence has an added dimension. A troubled political history in that island has led to the development of a culture of violence whose existence precedes the emergence of global thug life. This pattern has trailed Jamaican immigrants to the U.S. and the U.K., and the resulting deportations have simply magnified the problem as sophisticated criminals are returned to the island, train new thugs and, eluding the immigration barriers, cycle back the gang activity to foreign countries.

The violence now being witnessed in Toronto's poor black neighbourhoods is ultimately the voice of political orphans denied the firm discipline and direction of the black fathers. It is less the sins of Pharaoh than the sins of the fathers who have cursed their sons by their abandonment and neglect.

Here in Boston, the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation and its lead site, the Ella J. Baker House, have been working on issues of violence among high-risk black youth for the past 10 years. In our field work in the U.S., U.K. and Jamaica, there is a common theme of fatherlessness and a failure of leadership from the black middle and upper classes that contributes to gang-related violence in the ghettos.

The Globe and Mail reports that nearly 50 per cent of all black children under 14 in Canada have just one parent. Two in three black children from Jamaica are being raised by a single parent. What can black Canadians do about black-on-black, gang-related violence beyond denouncing other's failures and racism?

If black Canadian political and religious leaders are to successfully engage the issue of black-on-black gang-related violence as a social and public policy question, they must first own it, morally and politically. They must accept their moral complicity by having so far failed to effectively engage this crisis. Only by publicly acknowledging their failures can they legitimately criticize the failures of others. Such moral transparency is a prerequisite for any rational discussion of the delicate topic of race and violent crime in any Western society.

Where there has been success in other cities in alleviating the violence among black males, there has been a full-court press from a coalition of organizations: law-enforcement agencies (especially the police), churches, the private sector and government agencies have worked together to address the plethora of needs of kids caught up in gangs. Where young men obstinately reject involvement in jobs and educational or recreational programs, law-enforcement agencies have collaborated closely with black churches to ensure their incarceration.

The black churches have a unique role to play in engaging the cultural and practical dimensions of gang-related violence as they minister, mentor and monitor young people. Churches can have significant impact in the lives of youth when they develop long-term mentoring relationships with young men on the edge of violence. They can minister to their moral and material needs, developing programs that provide access to training and jobs. And in monitoring the involvement of youth in violence, they can lend their moral authority to the action of police when enforcement of the law becomes the only option. These are a few of the steps outlined in the Ten Point Plan; they might be a helpful starting point in crafting a plan to address Toronto's crisis.

Black churches must become visible on the streets. They must commit men to work the streets of the most violent neighbourhoods to reclaim the orphans who live there.

Rev. Eugene Rivers is president of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundations (www. ntlf.org), which is working to build grassroots leadership in 40 of the worst U.S. inner-city neighbourhoods.


Essence takes on rap music

A black women's magazine has launched a campaign to address the explosion of sexism and misogyny in rap music. 

January 20, 2005
Tolerance.org
A web project of the southern poverty law center
By Camille Jackson

Essence magazine has kicked off the new year with a campaign to combat the explosion of hypersexual images of women in rap music videos.

The monthly magazine for women of color is offering a platform for readers to discuss depictions of women in rap music videos.

There's plenty to discuss. Successful rap videos these days seem to require half-naked women, in the words of Snoop Dogg, dropping it like it's hot.

Charges of sexism erupted last year when St. Louis rapper Nelly appeared in a video swiping a credit card down a woman's backside. The charges again surfaced when Atlanta rapper Ludacris appeared on his album cover about to bite into a woman's leg. The degradation crossed color lines with an old, underground tape of white rapper Eminem raging about a "black bitch" he used to date.

"An entire generation of Black girls are being raised on these narrow images," Essence editors write on the Take Back The Music website.

"And as the messages and images are broadcast globally, they have become the lens through which the world now sees us. This cannot continue."

In response to Essence's call for feedback on sexist and misogynistic images, one respondent, named Lisa, wrote: "I've given up on hip hop. It happened a few years ago. I just stopped waiting for the next song, the one that wouldn't insult me, bring me down, or just plain hurt. It never seemed to come. So I stopped listening to hip-hop stations, bit by bit."

Using a critical lens Besides offering a platform for public discussion, Essence Editor-in-Chief Diane Weathers plans to address sexism in hip-hop music in regular features throughout the year.

An article in the March issue, for example, will profile women who appear in videos and research the impact of these videos on teenagers. There also are plans to distribute a guide that will help parents protect their children from harmful images and offensive lyrics.

For starters, Essence editors suggest listening to music with a more critical ear, paying attention to lyrics. Watching a music video with the sound muted also may help viewers catch sexist images.

As issues are addressed, Weathers says she'd like to provide "readers and friends with e-mail addresses and phone numbers of some of the major music video programmers. We want to let the public know how to air their concerns and how to complain."

Essence editors have declared the last week of February as "Take Back the Music Week," when they will co-host a panel discussion at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.

Last spring, students at the historically black college objected to rapper Nelly's visit to their campus, challenging him to participate in a discussion of sexism in his music. Nelly declined to appear.

Later, he told Essence, "I respect women, and I am not a misogynist. I am an artist."

The editors at Essence hope their campaign will change attitudes and change how women of color are portrayed in the media.


Children come home to roots

March has strong words for rap music and gangsta youth

September 10 - 16, 2003
Village Voice
by Dasun Allah

The story of the September 6 "Million Youth March" in Brooklyn does not begin and end with low turnout and a lack of violence. Aside from the usual trappings of fiery rhetoric, Pan-African flags, and black power salutes, there was a determined spirit that has eluded past events as speakers took on everything from education, black-on-black crime, and police brutality to rap music and Russell Simmons. In a festive, block-party atmosphere, a crowd estimated at anywhere from 300 to 1,000 braved the blazing sun to hear leaders exhort the youth to learn more about their cultural foundations, stress that higher education is not for suckers and squares, and heap criticism upon the "gangsta" mentality permeating inner-city communities. March convener and New Black Panther Party (NBPP) head Malik Zulu Shabazz said gangs should protect their communities, not destroy them, while others, decrying youth violence, highlighted the Bloods' and Crips' revolutionary roots.

"There's young leadership that needs a voice to come forward," said Shabazz. "I mean, we had gangbangers, Delta Sigma Theta [sorority members], rappers, poets. No one really seems to be giving young people a chance and trying to work with young people, so we see that as our duty right now."

An important component of the march's agenda was a revolutionary reclamation of Hiphop culture. In light of rap superstar 50 Cent's recent "pimp and ho" MTV Video Music Award performance, a spectacle many progressives see as regressive, some of the sharpest rhetorical barbs were directed at the rap industry. Several people cited the MTV incident or ridiculed the rapper's lyrics. "The movement must be developed for real artists who are not controlled by the five major [music] conglomerates that are controlled by our enemy," Shabazz told the Voice.

The sharpest contrast to previous marches, though-particularly the first, convened by the late Black Nationalist leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad in 1998-was the absence of an oppressive police presence. Organizers say this was testimony to the level of their cooperation with police. "Brother Malik came in and sat with different grassroots organizations such as [the late Abubadika Sonny Carson's] Committee to Honor Black Heroes," says Naquan Muhammad, a march organizer and Heroes Committee member. "We were able to help [Shabazz] with making sure he had an open communication with local law enforcement so that the problems that took place in Harlem wouldn't take place in Brooklyn."

The program began with a procession down Fulton Street to the rally site. There were young speakers, albeit visibly inexperienced ones. "Some of the criticism of the prior marches was that there were too many adults and not enough youth," said host City Councilman Charles Barron. "There was a real attempt to make it a more youthful march." Others speaking were Pam Africa of MOVE; members of the National Action Network; former political prisoner Fred Hampton Jr.; and Minister Kevin Muhammad, a Farrakhan representative.

"It's clear that the leadership [at the event] represents the leadership of the black power movement in this city," said Shabazz. "Reverend Herbert Daughtry, Barron, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Adelaide Sanford, Dr. James McIntosh. You put that leadership together with the rappers and others and you have the base for a true movement that will begin to defend and develop the interests of our people."

What is unclear is whether or not this effort will include Russell Simmons's Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). Shabazz took swipes at the mogul-activist, charging that Simmons and Reverend Al Sharpton had repudiated him and the march. Although the accusation against Sharpton proved untrue, Shabazz maintains his charge against Simmons.

"When we see [Simmons] in person he says he supports the march and supports us, [and] he will help us. We honestly and earnestly believed he was sincere," said Shabazz. "But [calls] just went unreturned and then we hear on the day of the march that he has repudiated us. Lied and said that he didn't support us, and that has to be the last straw."

"He said that we repudiated him and that's not true," said Minister Benjamin Muhammad, president of HSAN. Muhammad says that the lack of a HSAN presence was no indication of opposition. "A lot of people drop Russell's name for different motives," said Muhammad, but he added nothing has changed the HSAN's position on Shabazz. "We wish them well. We have no beef with Malik or the NBPP."

When asked about resolving their differences, Shabazz said, "We believe in black unity and we would prefer to have a good relationship with Simmons." Later he remarked, "I'm not begging and bootlicking Russell Simmons for anything."

"I think that Russell Simmons, Al Sharpton, Ben Chavis, all of us, we're all going to come to the table eventually because we have to," said Barron. "There may be some differences now, but we will resolve them for the sake of our youth." Follow-up activities in the works include after-school and weekend programs, an anti-violence and police-brutality initiative, and a progressive rap compilation CD.


It's time for a renewed attack on hip-hop's women-hating

December 2, 2002
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
By Bakari Kitwana

It has been nearly a decade since C. Delores Tucker, Dionne Warwick and the National Political Congress of Black Women led the charge against degrading portrayals of women in hip-hop lyrics and music videos.

Anti-women lyrics, however, have become perhaps even more defiant.

A rally last week at Sarah Lawrence College might mark a turning point in the crusade.

"It isn't enough just to turn off the TV," said Tauheeda Yasin, a 20-year-old junior who organized the rally. "African-American, Latino, Asian and white suburban youth internalize these attitudes, which justify calling women by derogatory names and committing physical or psychological abuse. We must address this issue, and this event aims to start the conversation."

Yasin, president of the Muslim Student Association and a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, said she was watching "The O'Reilly Factor" one day, and Bill O'Reilly slammed Pepsi for allowing rapper Ludacris to appear in its ads.

"The next day Pepsi pulled the ads," Yasin said in an interview. "I figured if O'Reilly could have that type of response, we should try to do something about this issue."

Organized around the theme "Video Hos, Chickenheads and Bitches: Revolution Within the Revolution of Hip-Hop," similar rallies and forums are planned for early next year at Howard University, the University of California at Los Angeles and the Atlanta University Center. Yasin hopes the rallies will continue at colleges and universities across the country and lead to a larger political movement.

Her vision might not be far-fetched. There's a growing political consciousness among the hip-hop generation that is manifesting in a variety of ways. Hip-hop kids always have engaged in activism, and rappers have long spoken out on political issues. But in the last few years, what was sporadic seems to be becoming a central part of the culture.

From grass-roots organizations such as the Little Rock, Ark.-based Say It Loud and the New York City-based Hip-Hop Speaks, and student hip-hop clubs such as the Hip-Hop Generation at the University of Wisconsin to Web sites such as www.contrabandit.com and online newsletters such as San Francisco-based DJ Davey D's Hip-Hop Political Newsletter, political concerns are increasingly part of the hip-hop conversation. It was just a matter of time before hip-hop's negative images of women came front and center.

Of course, there will be skeptics who will ask what makes the crusade against misogyny in hip-hop different this time around. There are two reasons I believe this renewed battle will have different results.

First, there is a high wind of change blowing in America. Fueling this passion for change among many youths are the stunning contradictions between the democracy and freedom that we have been taught as our American birthright and American policy that flies in the face of it when it comes to the war on terrorism and the possible coming war on Iraq, to name a couple.

Second, painfully absent from the C. Delores Tucker campaigns of yesterday were young women themselves. This allowed the issue to be quickly buried in the rubble of the ongoing generational divide, eventually fizzling altogether.

Any successful battle to change hip-hop has to come from young people themselves. When the issue of misogyny in hip-hop is raised by rap artists' own peers, no one can hide behind the generational divide that was used to dismiss this criticism in the early 1990s.

And when it comes to young women leading the charge, expect no argument from older feminists who have long been incredulous that young women were not offended by the hateful and demeaning name-calling and representations. Many have wondered how young people, given that feminist awareness has been so much a part of the politically correct culture of our time, have swallowed hip-hop's misogynistic pills while dancing along to their own degradation.

Part of the answer to this question lies in the fact that although this generation is familiar with feminist ideas, it has not been politicized around feminism - until now.

When I asked Yasin about the source of her motivation for the renewed crusade, her answer should be plenty to inspire us all, especially as we prepare to celebrate hip-hop's 30th birthday.

"I see my sisters and little cousins dancing to this music, and it made me think it's time to check the situation," she said.

Certainly, hip-hop as a culture is full-grown enough to agree.

Bakari Kitwana is the author of "The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture."


Reprinted from the web site of the 
National Congress of Black Women

NCBW continues its high-visibility campaign against the entertainment industry’s glorification of violence, misogyny, drugs and pornography. Dr. Tucker and the NCBW’s Entertainment Commission have taken the battle from the retail level into the boardrooms of giant corporate backers like Seagrams and Time-Warner – with tangible results.

After NCBW’s sidewalk protest (above), Time-Warner canceled its planned release of “Smack my B– Up.” Last year, Time- Warner’s CEO cited “dramatic changes in the music industry as a result of the concerns of Dr. C. DeLores Tucker and others” in telling his stockholders the company would no longer market music that “glorifies violence, promotes race hatred, denigrates women and encourages drug abuse.”

In the case of Seagrams, after protests by Dr. Tucker and NCBW, the company ceased distributing Interscope’s Death Row Records, and their shock rocker Marilyn Manson faded from the limelight. Now the fight continues against Interscope’s new French owner, Vivendi, and against today’s even worse lyrics typified by gansta/porno rapper Eminem, whose recent Grammy awards were denounced by NCBW.

http://www.npcbw.org


Verbal graffiti

February/March 1994
Crime and Justice International
by Jess Maghan, University of Illinois at Chicago's Office of Security 

More people have been hurt by words than by guns. - Anonymous

The performers of Gangsta Rap lived up to the misogynistic, violence-laden lyrics during 1993, with continuing arrests for murder (Snoop Doggy Dogg), assault misdemeanor (Dr Dre), sodomy (Tupac Shakur), and other shooting incidents (Dogg, Flavor Flav). Incidents of violence are increasingly being reported at local Gangsta Rap "wanna-be" concerts. 

The lethal lyrics of Gangsta Rap are definitely contagious. The December 11, 1993, Detroit Free Press reports, "Hard-line Rappers Might Be Detroit Cops." "Diary of a Killer Cop," a gangsta-style rap album by Out Cold Cops---purportedly 10 Detroit Police Officers---calls for unlimited head-busting to clean up the streets. Out Cold Cop's lyrics are rough and laced with profanity, racial epithets and violent threats. The group's producer---using the alias "Jerry Flynn" and burying his face behind a blue bandanna, dark glasses and blue baseball cap---insisted that OCC are real officers who must shield their identities to protect their jobs. "They've got badges and guns," the producer said. "If they're harsh, it's because they are not out there patrolling Sesame Street. They are enforcing the law by any means necessary." All members of the group are black and the message of OCC is one of frustration with lawless streets and junior badmen. 

Gangsta Rap, created in Los Angeles' Compton neighborhood, defines and glorifies the "gangsta" lifestyle, with an unapologetically violent and sexist edge. Hype aside, the lyrics deal with killers and drug dealers (IceT and Ice Cube), political issues (Public Enemy and KRSOne), and stories of black life. Rap has developed into a significant musical and fashion force for white and black listeners and dance remains a big part of the show. Defenders of Gangsta Rap claim the lyrics are protected by the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech and that the intense interest in Gangsta Rap provides the clearest example of talented young artists grappling to rise above the violent inner-city lifestyle depicted in this music. 

In December 1993, black womens' groups urged a national crusade to persuade the music industry to clean up violent Gangsta Rap lyrics that they say demean and threaten women. In nearly two hours of testimony in a Senate hearing room, they called for picket lines around stores selling violent rap but stopped short of asking for a formal boycott of the records and the radio and TV stations that air them. Delores Tucker, head of the National Political Congress of Black Women, said these groups will put pressure on producers and distributors of rap music to "stop the wholesale marketing of this kind of music across America."

Jesse Jackson also has launched a major drive indicting the denigrating influence of Gangsta Rap. Jackson views Gangsta Rap as center stage in the marked increase of violence and black on black crime, a crisis that Jackson calls "the primary civil rights issue of our time." Many black churches and civic groups are joining the anti-Gangsta Rap campaign. In the Chicago Sun Times , columnist Ben Johnson cites the holiday celebration of Kwanzaa as welcomed spiritual strength in facing denigrating forces such as Gangsta Rap. "Adhering to the true spirit of our African roots," he says, "would remove us from the divisive actions that threaten to ruin our community, the dispiriting lyrics of gangsta rap, the burgeoning growth of gangs and violence and disdain by many black youths for education because it somehow means `acting white'" ( Chicago Sun Times 1/1/94).

Samuel Tropez, incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary and writing in the award winning prison news magazine, The Angolite , decries the extensive use of the word "Nigga" by and among black inmates: "We are calling each other "nigger," and by doing so we continue to associate ourselves with the part of our heritage that symbolizes degradation, death and oppression." Tropez continues, "Why do we use the word `nigga'? It truly is an ignorant person that lets someone else define who they are, what they will be....What about the rap group N.W.A. (Niggas With Attitudes)? This implies that not only are blacks ignorant but they are angry over being ignorant. The group has a point. Many black people are angry for being kept ignorant by an institutionalized racist system. But the point is defeated by using the word `Nigga'" ( The Angolite , Sept/Oct 1993). 

Ferlinghetti's Coney Island of the Mind (1958) and Ginsberg's Howl (1956), both long poems attacking the American values of the 1950's, come to mind. These were the first poems to spell America with a hard "KKK." Considered extreme (and revolutionary) in that time, this poetry ran the circuit of coffee houses and student unions. Lacking the televised, blasting stanzas and throbbing mid-tempo beats and graphic copulation-dancing framing Gangsta Rap, these poems now seem tame in their flower-child frame of the late fifties and sixties. Neither nostalgia nor justification can excuse or refute the message of hate, racism, despair and death embodied in the Gangsta Rap game. Nowhere is the temptation to talk nonsense parading as profundity as great as in the poisonous lyrics of Gangsta Rap. Increasingly repugnant to the moral sense of blacks and whites, Gangsta Rap continues to bombard its own with denigration and defeat. 

Oblivious to the adage that more people have been hurt by words than guns, America's Gangsta Rappers could use another lesson from the 1950's: "Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them".* At the current rate of violence, we may well see the adage above reversed, and the lyrics of Gangsta Rap must take some of the responsibility.

Editor's Update:

Operation PUSH is calling for a 40-day "gangsta rap fast," asking music fans and radio stations to stop buying or playing rap recordings that PUSH says use profanity or promote violence. PUSH Executive Director Janette C. Wilson asked for the temporary moratorium while appearing on a local radio station. PUSH also is planning a seminar billed as a rap summit on February 4 and 5 at its headquarters in Chicago. The call has drawn criticism from fans of hip-hop music, which ranges from the alternative rap of Arrested Development to the gangsta rap of Ice Cube and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

*Democratic Presidential nominee Adlai E. Stevenson, Denver, September 5, 1952

Jess Maghan is editor of CJ the Americas and Director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Office of Security Programs.


Rat-a-tat of gangsta rap is sick, say blacks

November 28, 1993
Sunday Times
By Geordie Greig

SNOOP Doggy Dogg is a strange role model for millions of American children: a convicted drug pusher who is accused of murder. Yet he is the fastest rising star in the American music world.

He is the latest excrescence of gangsta-rap - the glorification of ghetto violence and degradation of black women which is sweeping young black America. His new record, Doggystyle, was released on Tuesday after he was freed from jail on $1 m bail, and is already a bestseller.

Many other blacks are appalled. Desperate to fight the teenage black-on-black violence that is lacerating their communities, they have launched a backlash against gangsta-rap and are demanding censorship if young black musicians fail to snow more responsibility.

"This negative message of destruction and denigration of life has got to stop," said Nathan McCall, a black writer who is spearheading the initia- tive for change. "It is having a corrosive effect on young black Americans who hold these rappers up as heroes. Their songs are overwhelming the power of parents, teachers and other figures of authority."

He added: "What is important is we tell our kids now what is right and what is wrong and some rap is clearly very wrong."

Criticism of rap is still taboo among some blacks, who fear betraying their race and siding with racist whites. "Young blacks have enough critics without us slamming them too," said one black scholar. "At least these guys are out there making a living."

Many black children are also reluctant to have the older generation criticise their idols, who boast of "packing" guns as a "protection thing".

But black parents, politicians and intellectuals are sick of rap's glorification of ghetto violence and the degrading depiction of black women as "bitches and hos [whores]".

For many, the last straw was the arrest of Tupac Shakur, another successful rapper. Three weeks ago he was accused of shooting two off-duty police officers. Last week he was charged with a sex attack on a woman. His music is the target of a lawsuit brought by the widow of a police officer shot dead by a young hoodlum listening on his car radio to a Shakur song that encouraged cop-killing: "What the **** would you do? Drop them or let them drop ,you?  I choose dropping the cop."

Earlier this month Favour Flav of Public Enemy was charged with attempted murder after allegedly chasing a neighbour down 23 flights of stairs in a Bronx high rise, armed with a semi-automatic.

Controversy is not new, to rap. It first made headlines with its anti-police messages by singers like Ice-T, who sang about "dusting off some cops" with a chorus of "die, die, die, pig, die". Ice Cube taunted Korean shopkeepers with "don't follow me up and down your market/Or your little chop suey ass will be a target".

What is new is rap's destructive attitude towards blacks by blacks. "Rat-a-tat and a tat like that/Never hesitate to put a nigga on his back," sings Dr Dre, Dogg's producer.

McCall said that such violent sentiments were "a shock to the black commu nity, because we understood how to react to forces outside the black community. The puzzling thing now is that it is all from within. Many people just do not know what to do".

The Rev Calvin Butts, a Harlem minister and black activist, has responded by crushing a pile of offensive rap CDs under a steamroller in front of his church.

"It is time we fought back. We need to say that it is wrong what they are doing and to stop the rot," he said last week.

The Rev Jesse Jackson, America's most prominent black activist, has joined the fight. "We are going to take away the market value of these attacks. Anyone, white or black, calling our women bitches and our people niggers, will have to face the wrath of our indignation," he said.

Already some radio stations are banning rap records that promote violence. Black Entertainment Television has digitally obscured guns in rap videos in an effort to be "gun- free" by the end of the year. "We are tired of the violence and particularly the amount of guns," said Verna Dickerson, its executive producer.

In universities, where rap is studied as an important youth trend, some black scholars defend its destructive message as a legitimate art form that reflects the reality of ghetto life. This is music of a brutalised class of young Americans. It's meant to outrage. It is a legitimate art form as a result of their lifestyle of repression and poverty," said Michael Thelwell, a lecturer in Afro- American studies at the University of Massachusetts.

But others say it helps perpetuate violence, "To protect rappers from criticism just because their music is created by a number of African Americans who are repressed and from the inner cities is wrong," wrote Sonja Peterson-Lewis, associate professor of Afro-American Studies at Temple University, Philadelphia.

"Normal critical values apply as much to rap as anything else. Its message is at times offensive and that is the bottom line."


Black women's groups want 'gansta rap' cleaned up

December 20, 1993
Kitchener-Waterloo Record

Washington (AP) - Black women's groups urged a crusade to persuade the U.S. music industry to clean up violent "gangsta rap" lyrics that they said demean and threaten women.

They called for picket lines around stores selling violent rap, but stopped short of asking for a boycott of "filthy" rap records and the radio and television stations that air them.

DeLores Tucker, head of the National Political Congress of Black Women, said the groups will put pressure on producers and distributors of rap music to "stop the wholesale marketing of this kind of music across America.

"We don't want to use the word boycott, but we want to bring to the community what this rap is all about," she said.


Women rap gangsta rap

December 20, 1993
Toronto Star

A coalition of American black women's groups Friday urged the music industry to stop releasing "gangsta" rap because the lyrics demean women and promote crime.  Citing a string of hit rap songs with lyrics about rape and shootings, the National Political Congress of Black Women and other groups said at a Senate building news conference in Washington that the songs should be banned from the airwaves.


Songs hateful to women banned

December 9, 1993
Kitchener-Waterloo Record

New York (AP) - WBLS, one of New York City's most influential black radio stations, is banning songs that advocate violence or have lyrics that are profane or hateful toward women.

"If we play it, we're putting our seal of approval on it," Frankie Crocker, vice-president of WBLS owner Inner City Broadcasting Corp., said Tuesday.  "We're taking the higher road.  We're doing what is morally right."

Pierre Sutton, Inner City chairman, refused to discuss which records or performers would be affected.

But many recent hits are likely victims, such as I Get Around, rapper Tupac Shakur's tribute to bachelorhood, or Downtown, a demand for oral sex by the female singing trio SWV.


Rapping back - Afro-American women rap singers are tired of sexist lyrics and attitudes of some male rappers

August 1, 1991
Essence
By Deborah Gregory

New Jack City may go down in history as the only Black gangsta' movie, but it will also be notorious for the number of times expressions such as "ice the ho" and "cancel the bitch" were mouthed by slick New Jacksters. But then again, certain hyped-up members of the audience were too busy yelling out similar "dissin'" sentiments to notice. Just another Saturday night at the movies, right?

Nowadays, taking their cue from the mostly male world of rap (I lost count of how many times Ice Cube said the word bitch on his album AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted), a segment of the Black community has learned to accept bitch and ho as everyday nicknames for women. But the dissin' game doesn't end there. Because sexist homies have done such an excellent job of downgrading women, some sisters have taken it to heart and even started cashing in on male-propagated stereotypes. Rap groups with names such as Bytches With Problems (B.W.P.) and Hoes Wit Attitude (H.W.A.) have sprouted. Fortunately there are some outspoken, self-respecting and politically correct sisters determined to turn the turntables on sexism. Righteous rappers like Yo-Yo, MC Lyte, Harmony and, of course, Queen Latifah have bum-rushed the mike--and they're packing enough rhyme ammunition to send the male-dominated world of rap spinning on its Nikes.

Yo-Yo

Yo-Yo is feeling a little nervous today sitting in her hotel room in Portage, Indiana. She's on a two-week tour with H.W.A. and B.W.P. "I don't think I belong here," she says, shaking her blond braids. She's here because Ice Cube, her producer, has arranged it. "But I came here to say what I have to say and I will." What Yo-Yo has to say is plenty, and the crowd loves her, but they aren't too sure what to make of the others. The lyrics on her debut album, Make Way for the Motherlode, cry out for women to stand up for their rights: "Guys ain't nothing but dirt/And they'll flirt with anything dressed in a miniskirt," she sneers on "Girl, Don't Be No Fool." On "Put a Lid on It," she cautions that women should be wary of men who act like dogs: "A lot of guys just want to screw you/And after that they play like they never knew ya."

Without a doubt, this 20-year-old has lit into Black women's rights more than any other female rapper. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles as Yolanda Whitaker, with her single mother, who worked as a security guard in the public-school system, and seven brothers and sisters, Yo-Yo learned what time it is. "I came out rapping from a woman's point of view 'cause I saw that no one was speaking up for the ladies," she says. "And I don't give a damn if men label me a feminist. It's about time someone gave men feedback and said, 'I'm not your ho or your bitch. I'm a strong, intelligent Black woman!'"

Yo-Yo earned her reputation for battling sexist boys when she was 14. By the time she was 16 her "rep" at George Washington Preparatory High School had grown so large even rapper Ice Cube wanted to meet her. (They both appear in Boyz N the Hood as natives of South Central L.A.) "He approached me in a shopping mall and introduced himself, then asked me to do some work with him," Yo-Yo recalls. Guess Cube knew you can't keep a good woman down. Now that this fired-up sister has a public forum, she's started an organization called the Intelligent Black Woman's Coalition (IBWC), which serves as a support network "to help sisters of all races make positive changes in their lives," Yo-Yo says. She visits chapters around the country when she is on tour. "No female is too young to stand up for her rights, either," Yo-Yo says emphatically. She talks proudly about her younger sister, who handed out some "Yo-Yo's Taking Over" buttons to the girls in school. "She called me the other day to tell me that a bunch of girls had started a rap group called Sisters Are Taking Over," Yo-Yo says, smiling at the thought. Could this be the age of the womanist rappers?

MC Lyte

Shoot-from-the-hip rapper MC Lyte, born Lana Moorer in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, has been coming out strong for about three years now. She's not the least bit concerned with looking "girly" or creating an image that's based on her sex appeal. Clad in tailored suits or comfortable jeans and a turtleneck as she is today, she focuses her energy on devising ingenious and entertaining "story raps" like "Please Understand," which kicks different takes on men playing women. One of them is about a guy named Corey: "This little player must have thought I was a fool/He took me out to lunch and offered me a ride home/When we got there, he asked could he use my telephone/I said yeah sure flipped him to the floor cause he said, what's up and tried to feel my butt/I kicked him down the stairs and said what you provin/Rolled him to his car and said get movin." On her album, Lyte as a Rock, Lyte raps about a guy named Sam. "He's a real dog," she quips. "We all know guys like this who'll do anything just to get over and get what they want because they're into that drug thing." Although 20-year-old Lyte speaks out loudly and clearly on drug abuse, no-good men and "holding your own," she shies away from such terms as womanist and feminist. "Sure, I consider myself a role model for younger kids, but on the real tip--I'm just young and having fun," she laughs. Lyte gets serious quickly, though, when the subject of male rappers "dissin'" women comes up. "I don't know what is wrong with these guys," she says, shaking her head. "Some girls in Compton must have ripped them off or something!" As for her personal preference in men, Lyte practices what she preaches: "I've never let a man dog me and I never will. It's just not gonna happen!"

Harmony

Harmony, 24, doesn't just walk into a room--she floats in, buoyed by the African head wrap that she's rarely without. After a minute of talking with her, you know her consciousness ain't just on the surface; it's rooted in the urban reality where she grew up as Pamela Scott in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. What concerns her most? "Being a positive role model for young Black women," she states without hesitation. "Whether we accept the responsibility or not, as rap artists we greatly influence young people's minds." Clearly rapper KRS-One--who happens to be married to Harmony's sister, rapper Ms. Melodie--greatly influenced her decision about the kind of rapper she'd be. Harmony had been yearning for a medium that would allow her to express her "down for the sisters" point of view. "All my life I worked for a bank or the police department and I hated it because it had nothing to do with who I really am," she says. Now that she's in an arena that reflects her true feelings, she has a very definite goal--to change the "ho," bitch and "skeezer" stereotypes of Black Women, perpetuated by male and now by certain female rappers. But her game plan includes more than just putting inspirational messages on wax. She also dresses in an Afrocentric manner, in a style that's never provocative. "Sure, I thought about wearing a tight miniskirt on my album cover to sell more copies!" she admits.

At a recent Howard University rap symposium, she spoke up about the butt-shaking, miniskirted packaging of Black women in the music media. "I'm sick to death of that being the dominant image of us," Harmony moans. On her song "What You Need" from her debut recording, Let There Be Harmony, she raps about this polemical topic: "Rap about what?/A break beat or a cut/I ain't no slut who sells records with her butt!"

Harmony also doesn't sell records with her hair (or anybody else's for that matter). And it turns out that's her other pet peeve: "Why do men make me out to be some militant feminist just because I keep my hair covered up and I don't have a weave? Why don't they ask L.L. Cool J why he always has a hat on?" Laughing, she adds, "Now there's a thought."

Queen Latifah

The almighty Queen Latifah also prefers a regal Afrocentric look. She sports custom-made crowns and clothing in natural fabrics, usually purchased at boutiques in her hometown, Newark, New Jersey, where she was born Dana Owens. She's crownless today, though, as she gets ready for her scenes in the film Juice. "I don't know who was in my room at my house while I was gone," she sighs as she sits in the cramped quarters of her trailer, slicking back her hair, "but I can't find any of my crowns." Crown or no crown, the Queen commands respect. "I'm inclined to show women in as positive a light as I can," she says proudly. "A lot of people call me a feminist because of that, but I prefer the term common-sensist: a woman who can hold her own--any day!"

Hard-hitting and boisterous cuts from her album Ladies First exhibit the kind of confidence she has in herself--and in women's abilities to take over. "Some think we can't flow/can't flow/Stereotypes they got to go/got to go/I'm gonna mess around and flip the scene into reverse/With what? With a little touch of ladies first . . ."

Bravado comes naturally to the statuesque Queen of Royal Badness. At 14 she formed a rap group with two other girls from school called Ladies Fresh. At 19, with a stompin' debut album, All Hail the Queen, under her belt, she started The Flavor Unit, her own management company. She's always trying to help new rappers get started. "I got my break because Fab 5 Freddy of Yo! MTV Raps heard my demo and played it for someone at Tommy Boy records," she explains. "Now I want to give back what was so freely given to me." And the Queen means what she says. Even now, while she's waiting to rehearse for her next scene in Juice (she plays the host of a deejay competition), five young brothers (four of them extras) are harmonizing on the stairwell to pass the time. Latifah comes out of a waiting room and listens intently, then decides she likes what she hears. "Please let me help y'all get a record deal," she says excitedly. Her excitement is contagious. Everyone senses that a deal is truly in the making. But where there's Latifah, there's a deal in the making. After she finishes her weeklong stint on Juice, it's off to L.A. for her six weeks of filming House Party 2. Then it will be time to "drop a new album" and help some new artists work on their material. Like the Queen says, "I want to do it all. Why not?"