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Hip-Hop Infantilizes the Black Male

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There is a tendency among young African-American men who are desperately hoping to make it into the record industry to infantilize themselves – a practice that has unfortunately been adopted by many African-American males. Within contemporary hip-hop, rappers have chosen “Lil’” as an essential characteristic to denote their identity, for example, Lil’ Wayne, Lil’ Bow Wow, Lil’ Cease, Lil’ Romeo, and so on – all of which serve to infantilize the African-American male.

Within hip-hop culture, the terms “son,” “boy,” “kid,” and “baby” refer to African-American men rather than children. Songs like “What Happened to that Boy” speak of the murder of African-American men, but refer to those murdered as boys. The lyrics are not speaking of murdering children, but men.

Hip-hop mogul, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, has chosen the rebellious black infant, garbed in a diaper, as the icon of his multi-million dollar company. It is certainly true that contemporary hip-hop reinforces this tendency. Aspiring young rappers imitate this practice and are thereby willingly infantilizing themselves.

It is time for the hip-hop community to reject this practice. Power is stripped from the infant. The infant must be coddled and cared for, and cannot function as an autonomous agent within the world; he must be provided for.

Surely if one were to confront contemporary rappers, they would undoubtedly insist that, “It’s not that serious” or “You’re making a big fuss over nothing.” The truth is that there is a big fuss to be made. How is one to take the plight of the African-American male seriously if members within our own community refer to themselves as boys and kids?

When I was younger, in all truthfulness, I didn’t see the harm or what all the fuss was about. Now that I’m a man, I can understand the terrible threat of ascribing infantile names to one’s identity and how it ultimately undermines the effort and knowledge used by these men to amass their wealth.

The biological truth is that boys grow to men, which is natural. To willfully identify a man as a child is counter to what nature intended; thus it is unnatural. Hip-Hop artists have poisoned the minds of young, black boys for too long with the ever-elusive hope of a record deal and a pathway out of poverty.

The sobering truth is that the vast majority of these boys will grow to be men, yet retain the mentality of an infant. This is what is at stake. It is therefore imperative, and I would challenge all hip-hop artists, to drop the “Lil’.”

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About Jason J. Campbell

  • Jordan Richardson

    Yeah. Right.

    Did you ever consider that adding the “Lil” or any other such terms emphasize the energy and vibrancy of youth? Perhaps even the creativity of youth and the openmindedness of a child? Your request towards “all of hip hop” to “grow up” is, ironically or not, really infantile and silly. I was hoping to see this marked as “Satire,” but then I realized that you were actually serious.

  • tupac’s cousin

    All the rappers you named whose name start’s with “lil” were very young and “lil” when they got in the rap game…hence their name! Indeed “Bow Wow” has dropped the “Lil” from his name now that he is no longer “lil”. There are many social problems in the black community, but this is not one of them.

  • bliffle

    Little Stevie Wonder dropped the ‘little’ as he matured, but when is “Little Richard” going to do it? Would he just be “Richard”, or maybe “Big Richard”.

  • DanC

    Perhaps this is ‘lil tendency stems from a desire to be coddled, kept, provided for and defended. In other words, to be suckled at the teat of government, with no thought to being self-reliant. A slave to ‘the man’, just as much so as might have been 200 years ago.

  • Jordan Richardson

    If that’s the case, why aren’t you calling yourself LilDanC?

  • Jordan Richardson

    I’m curious if the author’s theory applies to females, ie. Lil’ Kim.

    Also curious if the author believes that the use of potentially infantile imagery, for instance the cover of Nas’ debut or Notorious BIG’s Ready to Die (which is, of course, where the logo for Bad Boy came from), means the same as having an infantile term as a part of one’s stage name.

  • http://jasonjcampbell.org/blog.php Jason J. Campbell

    Jordan Richardson makes a good point. Yes I do think it has the same consequences for female rappers. Both biggie and Nas’ album covers had the same effect. As I’m sure you know Jordan, the last track on Ready to Die is about suicide. It’s a Sambo mentality, it’s an attempt, albeit a latent attempt to trivialize our abilities to think. Why not have the fully realized black male artist on the cover of such an historic culture forming album? I’ll tell you why…it would be too intimidating. The child makes the content accessible. It won’t scare off potential buyers. The image of Biggie, before we knew what Biggie was about, with a label called Bad Boy and tracks like “Ready to Die” and “Gimmie the Loot” would scare of potential customers. Thus, our image, as black men must be watered down so it won’t be so threatening. Keeping the ‘Lil is important because it does infantilize us. I love Big and Nas but I love my people more and we gotta wake up and at least take notice of what we’re doing. I usually don’t comment on my own piece but your questions warranted a response.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I think you’re generalizing hip hop, Jason, and that’s unfortunate. Like any culture, there are multiple individuals that represent multiple facets of the human experience. We should not set aside a culture or race for any reason, nor should we hold them to other standards based on the actions of a few.

    I’d encourage you to listen to Nas’ latest record in particular, in which he discusses politics and culture with intelligence, wit, and eloquence. His debut had no such “effect” as you reference, either. Rather, it laid the groundwork for a brilliant career in music and described life on the streets through the eyes of the artist. Are artists not supposed to tell their stories?

    In terms of Biggie, I don’t buy your “Sambo” comment at all, especially given your attempts at providing evidence. That’s a pretty significant accusation, especially in light of what the last track on Ready to Die is about. Biggie’s debut carried dark themes that set it apart from the standard rap content at the time. His exploration of darker themes, including the darker title of the record, was unique in many ways. Is he not supposed to explore those themes because he’s black? That is an absurd, insulting notion.

    What do you make of suicide when Kurt Cobain referenced it? Is it also an attempt to trivialize the ability to think? No, I would hope not.

    In terms of imagery, the use of a child or an infant on a debut album is nothing new. And subsequent releases by the artist feature imagery that symbolizes growth in the industry. An infant and the image of one is nothing to fear, for a black artist or any other artist, and the notion of needed to reject it for fear of some sort of racial dilemma is outright silly and promotes racism more than it does not. I think your point has no basis other than in inflated terminology. It lacks clarity, evidence, and fitting examples.

    Incidentally, Lil Wayne’s record from this year is one of my favourite albums of the year and I included it on my year-end list over in the music section here. It is musically and lyrically compelling from start to finish and I would hate to discredit ANY artist, regardless of colour or creed, because he or she used a prefix that was allegedly “infantile.”

    The only thing here that discredits a culture is the insistence on stifling creativity and intelligent discourse by hiding behind showy terminology.

  • http://jasonjcampbell.org/blog.php Jason J. Campbell

    Thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments. Jason.

  • Jordan Richardson

    You’re quite welcome.

    I guess I was just hoping that you would utilize the comments section as a way to expand upon or clarify what I believe to be a relatively offensive and strange theory.

    Regardless, cheers and I look forward to reading more of your pieces.

  • Tony

    Nothing that you talked about had anything to do with hip-hop. If you gave the genre a listen you would realize there is a big difference between rap and hip-hop. Go and buy the Low End Theory, then tell me how infantile hip-hop is.

    There are real cultural problems in the African America community — many of which are highlighted by RAP — but by monolithically lumping all “black” music together all objectivity is gone from the point of view.

  • Marcia Neil

    Album themes contain ‘Lil’ — the performers just give a rendition of the theme. Performers also perform music-themes that they themselves would find in a store or as personal gifts (some are somply carried away and placed on stage). ‘Little Richard’ is also an album-theme, as was ‘Little Stevie Wonder’ — all the Richards and Stevies that inspired the music are no longer “little” but truly might be more associated with ‘Little’.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Go and buy the Low End Theory, then tell me how infantile hip-hop is.

    Or ANY Public Enemy album.

  • http://colinsnotebook.blogspot.com/ Col

    There are some issues around hip-hop, but I dont think this is one of them

  • John Lee Peterson Jr

    I think that the point should be made that there is crisis within our African American Communities among our youth. Particularily black males. There is absence of decisive leadership and integrity. The solution to this problem is endowed in the heads and hearts of our fathers, brothers, and sons. Revival begins in the spirit!