"Respect" effort to target gangsta rap

December 5, 2005
Seattle Times
By Lornet Turnbell

The images and lyrics are everywhere - on the radio, in music videos and in the boom emanating from car stereos on the streets.

They hype violence and denigrate women and enjoy a huge following, particularly among the hip-hip crowd.

A local social-service organization believes that such pop-culture messages breed aggression and may be contributing to an atmosphere that encourages sexual assaults against young women.

Armed with a $35,000 grant from the state, Southeast Youth and Family Services has teamed up with Seaspot Music Group for a yearlong campaign called "Respect Yourself: No Means No" aimed at young people.

Seaspot, a promotions company that bills itself as the gateway to Seattle urban culture, will distribute free CDs with "clean" music aimed at countering the message of violent, gangsta rap. The CDs will be given away early next year to young people at parties, ballgames and shopping malls.

"We're trying to get a message to kids about respecting themselves and how that ties into this subculture of sexualizing everything that can lead young people into situations where they lose control," said Jeri White, executive director of Southeast Youth and Family Services.

At issue are gangsta-rap lyrics by such artists as 50 Cent and Dr. Dre that refer to women in derogatory terms or hip-hop videos that drip with violence and depict half-dressed young women in sexually explicit scenes.

Seaspot's CEO Chukundi Salisbury, himself a DJ who sometimes plays these lyrics at parties and special events, said history is littered with failed attempts to take down gangsta rap. "We don't have the resources to fight the music industry," he said. "We're not anti-50 Cent because next year there'll be a different 50 Cent - a 75 Cent," he said.

Acknowledging that he grew up listening to gangsta rap and still enjoys some of it, Salisbury said young people have become generally desensitized to this pop culture.

"We're attacking the attitude; just because you see something on TV or hear something does not necessarily make it right. There'll always be dirt in the water; it's about giving young people a filter. "

While there are no local statistics directly linking violent music and video images to sexual assaults, experts say such entertainment nonetheless creates an atmosphere that encourages them.

Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center said, "A lot of pop-culture messages reinforce sexual assault as acceptable."

Surveys of high-school students have shown, for example, that many believe if a guy takes a girl out and spends money on her, he has a right to expect something more.

"Challenging that kind of thinking is very important," she said.

Southeast Youth and Family will provide counseling services to victims of sexual assault as part of the campaign, which is being funded by a grant from the Washington Office of Crime Victim Advocacy.

Seaspot is now taking submissions from local artists who want to have their music on the CD. It must be original and free of derogatory, racist, sexist or homophobic words, themes or profanity.