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Hip-hop's role in the war on black culture

By Ewen Ramsbottom | 15 October 2016

The insidious control system that we have clearly has contempt for the bulk of humanity - those it considers to be 'useless eaters.' But it strikes me that it harbours a particularly hateful brand of contempt towards people of colour. Lawrence Fishburne's Furious Styles character in the classic movie 'Boyz N The Hood' nails it when he points out to his son that a gun store and a liquor store are the two consistent features in any of LA's black neighbourhoods.

Throughout modern history the system has employed various methods to destroy black communities, create negative stereotypes of black people in the eyes of others, and to subvert and corrupt its forms of artistic expression. This stance can be seen from more obvious measures such as the importing of slaves from Africa and the flooding of black inner-city ghettos with crack cocaine and laboratory-developed AIDS, to less blatant strategies. The 'blacking up' of white people such as Al Jolson and the participants in 'The Black And White Minstrel Show' would be one. The gradual degeneration of hip-hop is another.

As other commentators have shown, hip-hop is an art-form which has black cultural traditions built into its very fabric, so any co-ordinated attempt to corrupt it also has the effect of corrupting the cultural identity of its people. Pretty much all evolutionary ties to these past elements have now been cut through the continual phases of corporate artificiality that hip-hop has undergone.

The desecration of moral values relevant to black people has not been immune, either. As if things had not been degraded enough, in his guest verse on the remix of Future's 'Karate Chop,' (itself a master study in the absurd deployment of Auto Tune,) Lil' Wayne included the line 'I beat that pussy up like Emmet Till.' Quite rightly, this incurred the scorn of certain factions of the black community, given that Emmet Till was a 14-year-old African-American who was brutally beaten and murdered by racist thugs in 1955 after supposedly flirting with a white woman. His mutilated body was weighted to a fan blade bound to him by barbed wire and dumped in a river, (which gave rise to Kanye West's lyric on 'Through The Wire' where he states his girl is 'scared to death that her man look like Emmet Till' after his jaw was wired together following a car accident.)

Here, with the Lil' Wayne lyric, was one of the leading figures in contemporary 'black' music, (I know … I know,) desecrating the memory of one of the most tragic African-American figures with a throwaway one-liner in a trashy piece of audio garbage. Among the most vocal critics was Airickca Gordon-Taylor, a cousin of Emmet Till and the founding director of the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, who said:

"To compare his murder and how beaten and how bullied… and tortured he was, to the anatomy of a woman, was really very disrespectful… I just couldn’t understand how you could compare the gateway of life to the brutality and punishment of death. And I feel as though they have no pride and no dignity as black men."

Epic Records subsequently issued an apology. To paraphrase the Mandy Rice-Davies character in the film 'Scandal,' 'well, they would, wouldn't they?

Cash Money Records, the label that spawned Lil Wayne, clearly hadn't learned much of a lesson when they released Nicki Minaj's 'Lookin' Ass Niggaz.' In the promo shot, Minaj used a famous photo of the black civil rights leader Malcolm X looking out of a window holding a rifle, while the song's video shows her replicating the pose and shooting at men. Two on-line petitions demanded the picture's removal. The first was worded:

"You come from a rich legacy. Without the work and life of Malcolm X, you would not be able to do what you do. Unfortunately you have chosen to disrespect and dishonor the legacy that he left us ... We demand that you remove the picture."

The second tackled Minaj's glamorisation of guns, writing:

"Malcolm X carried a gun as he feared for the safety of his family and himself, and was aware he would someday be killed by political opponents. The image of Malcolm X looking out the window highlighted that fear. Nicki Minaj’s use of guns in her new music video speaks to the gun culture in our society today where gun violence is an acceptable norm."

Minaj issued a part-apology on her Instagram page, worded:

"What seems to be the issue now? Do you have a problem with me referring to the people Malcolm X was ready to pull his gun out on as 'Lookin Ass Niggaz?' Well, I apologize. That was never the official artwork, nor is this an official single. This is a conversation. Not a single. I am in the video shooting at Lookin Ass Niggaz and there happened to be an iconic photo of Malcolm X ready to do the same thing for what he believed in!!!! It is in no way to undermine his efforts and legacy."

As Black Dot observed in an interview on the subject for this book:

"I think it arises because Lil' Wayne and Nicki Minaj and them are so removed from African culture, so to speak. Meaning, there's a generation now, and they are part of that generation, that don't care about Malcolm X, they don't care about Emmet Till. They don't care about anything but themselves. And part of that is this new multicultural thing we have going on in America, where everybody is everybody. As a result, you lose the base of who you are.

"But when you're disconnected through culture, and all this becomes just about money, hoes and things of that nature … he probably ran across a picture of Emmet Till and figured, 'oh shit, look how messed up this guy's face is. Let me mention that.' And he mentions it with no kind of connection to it whatsoever. That's why it was easy for him to kick those lyrics. I believe it wasn't until the backlash came that he said, 'oh shit!  Wooah!  I think I touched a nerve there so let me back up.' And it's funny because, if we as a collective got pissed-off at half the things these guys said, they wouldn't say it. So I think the record label tells them, this is what we're talking about for the most part - money, hoes and clothes, this and that. Stay out of anything political."

David Icke, arguably the world's best-known conspiracy author, turns out to be highly clued-up on the machinations of the corporate music machine, and of hip-hop's role in particular. When I interviewed him for the very first 'Good Vibrations' podcast, he told me that he had once been selected by the manager of Public Enemy to go up on stage at one of their shows, such had been the appetite among hip-hop's free-thinkers to the information he had put out during the 1990s. On another occasion in New York, hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa had attended one of his lectures, and he spent time explaining to Icke that what purports to be 'hip-hop' in these times is really nothing of the sort. In my podcast, Icke made a striking point about what hip-hop's present-day obsession with materialism, 'bling' culture and the acquisition of personal wealth really represents:

"One of the things that saddens me among black America… is when I see the people who have come through from the families of former slaves, taking on the so-called 'values' of the slave-owners!  Not only taking on the values… but taking on the religion that was imposed on them by the slave-owners… To see people enslaved by a religion that was imposed upon their ancestors after they were appallingly brought from Africa to serve the slave-owners… And of course, the slave-owners' values are money, wealth, control… And here's Jay-Z making the point that this is a great thing!  Look at the bling, look at my big car, look at my clothes!  How much did I make last year?  A million dollars here, and a million dollars there!

The long-standing tendency towards rappers boasting about their material possessions is a baffling thing, when you really apply some critical thought to it. An MC taunts their listeners by relaying how much richer they are than them, and how much better they're doing in life, often addressing the listener as 'nigga,' 'muthafucka' or 'bitch' in the process. In many cases, the listener will have paid money to be reminded of their apparent inferior status, (I say 'apparent' because, in a significant number of cases, it's all fiction, and the rapper will no better off than most of the people listening due to the way the recording industry is set up to always work in the favour of the corporation and never the individual … a bit like the rest of daily life!)  Why should it be that people find it entertaining to be lyrically taunted in this way? The outstanding conscious rapper DISL Automatic addressed this on his track 'Here I Stand' in specific reference to Jay-Z when he stated: "ain't it funny how they love it when a grown man brags, 'bout the jewellery and money that none of his fans have?"

The corporations have shaped and moulded the music in line with their larger social engineering plans, reinforcing in the public's mind the notion that life is an inevitable struggle, that money and material possessions are the judge of a person's true worth, and that individuals should know their place in the world. It's an expression of the externalisation of power. Celebrities are placed on pedestals, giving the view that they're more important and worthy than the little people who are merely worker-ants, there to keep their heads down, pay taxes and be grateful to the hand that feeds them. Any tactic that denies people the acknowledgement that their true power lies within themselves is fair game for this control network.

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