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This week, I spoke at a conference hosted by the Center for Church and Prisons in Boston, Massachusetts. Rev. George Walters- Sleyon brought together a group of people to discuss the prison problem in America, including Dicκ Gregory, Dr. Umar Johnson, the rapper Jasiri X and others who are on the forefront of the mass incarceration epidemic in America.
During my speech, I spoke about how hip-hop music, at least what we hear on the radio, has become the gospel of self-destruction. There is almost nothing about the lifestyle being promoted on most urban radio stations that leads to prosperous or healthy outcomes. Instead, from the time they are young, black males are fed consistent messages that tell them to stay high, drunk, ignorant, viοlent, broke and incredibly unproductive. Listen to most songs on the urban station in your city (which is just like the one in the next city over) and within 60 seconds, you will hear some message reminding black men of how to destroy their lives.
It’s not until years later that a brother is in a prison cell or on his deαth bed that he may begin to question whether or not he’s been duped into believing that his life was meant to be nothing more than one thugged out calamity after another. Every time a black man is convinced that he is a loser, our community loses another man who could have been an adequate husband and father. When black men are k*lling one another, turning into alcoholics or drug addicts, dying from HIV, going bankrupt or never learning how to read, there is some child, somewhere, who has lost the chance to have a good role model in his life. Racism already marginalizes us enough; we must not be convinced to marginalize ourselves.
Quite frankly, this angers me to no end. It’s one thing when we confront systematic obstacles that lead to failing schools, mass incarceration and few economic opportunities. But we must also realize that one of those oppressive systems consists of corporations like Clear Channel, which stack their profits by feeding black men a brain-eating disease called “IWannabeaStraightNigger-itis.”
Right after my reference to hip-hop and it’s problematic turn for the worse, I was accurately critiqued by the rapper Jasiri X, who interpreted my comments about hip-hop to mean that I was referring to all of the music in the genre. He reminded me that there are conscious artists like himself, Immortal Technique, Deαd Prez and others who are not interested in using their skills as a tool for black male self-destruction.
I was disappointed that Jasiri thought that I was lumping him together with artists like Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, for I clearly was not. But I was glad he asked his question, since it gave me a chance to clarify. I immediately responded to his comment by saying, “No brother, I was referring to that bullsh*t on the radio.”
I then mentioned that those who defend the ignorant artists in mainstream hip-hop often use freedom of speech as their defense of indefensible messages. But I explained that “if a corporation tells you to talk about b*tches, hoes and selling drugs in order to sell more records, that’s not free speech. That’s controlled, corporate speech designed to make a profit. You’re not a legitimate artist; you’re a rich man’s negro puppet.”
So, after the event, I asked Jasiri, “Why don’t I get to hear you on the radio as much as I hear Lil Wayne?” Wayne came to mind since we crossed paths a few months ago and were able to κill his endorsement deal with Pepsico (I don’t regret a thing). Personally, I consider anyone being used as a tool to spread toxic and destructive messages to young black males to be an enemy of the black community. I could care less if you’re black or if you’re “making dat paper”: The fact is that if you’re destroying my kids, then I have an obligation to confront you. My first goal is to educate the artist, but if the artist refuses to be educated, then we have no choice but to stop his message from contaminating the minds of our children. Anything short of that would mean that I love my children less than I love having a rapper’s friendship and approval, which is never going to be the case. Black men must protect our loved ones.
Jasiri explained that companies like Clear Channel maintain strong (and possibly illegal) monopolies on radio markets around the country, where the same music is being played over and over again. The music is not vetted to determine how unhealthy, viοlent or destructive the message is, so if a rapper talks about r@ping women, mμrdering black men, or getting high on drugs, it’s considered ripe for consumption by impressionable young black men. We see manifestations of these messages all throughout our communities, since marketing works, whether you’re selling fashion or a lifestyle.
It’d be nice if young black men were able to choose role models outside of sports and entertainment, but that’s naïve. The advent of the prison industrial complex has decimated African American families to the point that the majority of these young men don’t have a Dr. Huxtable at home every day to give them guidance.
But what that young black male does receive is a steady, daily, highly consistent dose of Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and 2Chainz on his way to school. Those messages are then reinforced when he gets to school and sees his peers imitating the behavior and ideologies being shared through music. While we might want to believe that music doesn’t have an influence, any good marketing professor will tell you that you’re out of your d*mn mind. The reason that Reebok offered Rick Ross millions of dollars to wear their shoes is because they know that if he wears them, urban kids are going to wear them too…..the point is that they imitate his behavior, even if they don’t know they’re doing it.
With that being said, Clear Channel must be confronted. They must be confronted in court, to determine whether or not they are violating laws by not playing more localized content. They must be confronted with various forms of protest in cities that have major urban radio channels. There must also be a conscious effort by all of us to turn urban radio off in our cars and replace it with something more suitable, like Pandora or other music from our cell phones.
The same way an occupied nation will have leaflets with propaganda dropped from airplanes, black people are having racist and harmful imagery and messages delivered to us through the radio. When standing up for those you love, you have to commit yourself to being rude, determined and relentless in order to achieve your goals. So, I don’t know exactly how we can get Clear Channel to stop poisoning our children, but we owe it to our kids to try. This revolution will not be televised, but it must happen nonetheless.