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Really Really Good: Al Sharpton + Hip-Hop Music = Political Showdown

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The firestorm of controversy that Don Imus and his off-color remarks whipped up dragged a few unwilling participants into its heated whirlwind.  As soon as the news wires began running the story of Imus and his choice of words regarding the Rutger's female basketball team, many of the shock jock's supporters cried foul.  Hip-hop music was cited as an example of the double standard that exist in the media and society, tainting the story with additional racial division.  People began asking some hard questions about the choice of lyrics that many African-American artists use in describing women and themselves, while skipping over the main issue of Imus and his statements. 

Rev. Al Sharpton was in the spotlight as he publicly called for Imus to be fired and the line was officially drawn in the sand, again.  To many of Imus' fans, the Reverend seemed like an agitator looking for an easy target. His motives were questioned and to the uninformed it may have looked like Sharpton was turning a blind eye to the troubled world of hip-hop.  If there were any doubts about just how serious Sharpton was about speaking out against demeaning lyrics in rap music, they should all be cleared up after the latest developments. 

Sharpton has his eye on rappers and has said, in so many words, that he is coming after hip-hop music.  In an interview with MTV, Sharpton was quoted as saying "This Saturday at the National Action Network Convention, we will have the conversation about what we do about the violence and the [racist], sexist language in hip-hop."  With that statement, a series of events has begun to unfold that will probably peak this Saturday.

The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network held a close door meeting on April 16, with many of the top power brokers in hip-hop in attendance, including WMG CEO Lyor Cohen, Russell Simmons, Island/Def Jam Group Chairman L.A. Reid, RIAA Chairman Mitch Bainwol, and many more. While it is unclear exactly what was discussed in the meeting, questionable lyrics and the current controversy was undoubtedly the main topic of conversation at the round table, as the hip-hop industry's head honchos look to be circling the wagons in preparation of the possible oncoming attack.

On April 18, Sharpton made another surprise move by canceling plans to award L.A. Reid with the James Brown Award at his annual four day National Action Network conference, which started on Wednesday. The event will be attended by Senators John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Howard Dean (DNC), NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, Paula Zahn, Marian Wright Edelman, Governor Eliot Spitzer, filmmaker Spike Lee, Governor Bill Richardson (NM), Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, ABC’s Martin Bashir, and many more. Sharpton has promised to deliver names of corporations that support what he considers to be derogatory music, which he has been quoted as calling "gutter rap." If he does reveal a list of potential targets during the convention, Island/Def Jam will most likely be atop of the list, as he has spoken against some of the label's top acts in the past.

To add fuel to the fire, it seems that Simmons is holding his own protest as he has yet to purchase two seats to the conference as he was expected to. The reservations were a reported $10,000 each. Sharpton publicly questioned Simmons' motives for not attending as an obvious retaliation to his planned speech. Universal Music Groups reps deny any ill will and have stated they have not asked for a return of Reid's $15,000 donation.

Meanwhile, both of New York's primary hip-hop radio stations have issued statements saying they will begin to back off from playing offensive music. Power 105 FM had Sharpton as an on-air guest along with program director Helen Little, Kevin Powell, Music Director Nadine Santos and more. Little was quoted in The New York Daily News as saying, "What we're doing is holding labels and artists accountable for what they say and how they say it. We want our listeners to know that whatever they hear here, we thought about it."

Noted hip-hop journalist Davey D wrote a lengthy article on Sharpton and his motives almost three years ago.  Many of the points he raises about Sharpton are incredibly relevant today, as Davey basically says that the Reverend's underlying message is fundamentally sound but many people question his motives. As we head into election season, the rattling of sabres may have its usual purpose. This time around, no one can blame Sharpton alone for starting the fire. This time, the match and can of gasoline was clearly in Don Imus' hands. Regardless who started the wildfire, it still burns on. It's about to get very interesting in the hip-hop community. Stay tuned for more developments.

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  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    Great article.

    I think a lot of people hear Sharpton’s name and immediately think of Tawana Brawley. That case, of course, is how Sharpton came to be a household name, and Sharpton has never apologized.

    If he goes after the worst elements of hip-hop, then I’m glad. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help me feel any better about him.

  • http://purplefunkydishwasher.blogspot.com/ Robert Leu

    I think the reason Sharpton’s ability is being questioned is the length of time it’s taken to deal with this issue. If it’s an attack on the black community from the outside, he springs into action and the problem is eliminated (not necessarily solved) within a week.

    The problem of hip-hop lyrics has been around for years, and only now in the afterglow of the Imus situation is Sharpton finally addressing the issue. Is the black community not entitled to the same blitzkreig of action concerning issues that hit far closer to home than Don Imus?

  • http://www.canhead.wordpress.com Laron

    I hear you Robert, but in all fairness, Sharpton has been speaking out on hip-hop lyrics for a while now.

    Check out the link about Davey D, he talks about the last time Sharpton got involved in the debate.

    While even then some say he was a bit late, he did finally start to speak out on it and that was about 2 years ago. He himself said that he hardly had any media attention when he spoke on the issue last. he certainly has it know.

  • http://www.myspace.com/jpaulspencer J. P.

    What did Hip Hop have to do with the Imus flap?

    ANSWER: Not a damned thing. This story is about a 60-something racist finally crossing the line.

    The only reason Sharpton is going after Hip Hop is to avoid the appearance of being a hypocrite for attacking Imus and other white racists and misogynists without taking care of the obvious things in his own backyard.

    Freedom of expression means Hip Hop can sing whatever the hell they want. I’ve never liked Hip Hop or Rap, but I defend their right to say what they want when they want.

  • Helina

    You CANNOT blame CORPORATE AMERICA!! Corporate America does NOT go to these filthy low-life black men (or the correct word is really BOYS) and force them to sprew THEIR FILTH!! As a black woman, I’m willing to join and participate in any meaninful organization to stop the filthy black rappers and hip hop singers who sell millions of CDs, videos etc. that contain far WORST DIPLORABLE FILTH than the comments of Don Imus!! Blacks should PROTEST RAP and HIP-HOP music and they should PROTEST DISGUSTING BLACK COMICS such as Woopie Goldberg, Dave Chappell and many others. Blacks should be diligent in their efforts to stop the vile degrading and demeaning of our young women, not to mention the impact of other people’s view of us. Some Black people make me horribly sick when they don’t take the necessary actions or raise a LOUD VOICE to stop these filty black BOYS from making millions of dollars by WHORING and HOing down the black woman. This should start a much needed UNITY of INTELLIGENT BLACK MEN and WOMEN to stand up for their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, granddaughters etc. Here is an excerpt from Russell Simmons, a multi-millionare who makes his money pimping off demeaning black women.
    1. “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. Simmons go on to say: “Comparing Don Imus’s language with hip-hop artists’ poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mindset that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship,” Simmons said.
    The TRUTH IS: Russell Simmons, Robert Johnson (founder of BET), Snoop Dog, JAY Z, 50 Cents, etc. are the MOST VILE, FOUL, and CRASS human beings that breathe!! Since when should black men who don’t want to rise above their environment’ in a dignified manner, believe that:

    1. It’s OK to demean your women to make money, so they can enjoy a comfortable life.
    2. If they can’t make money by whoring their women, then (according to Russell Simmons)they want other people to help them out of their hopeless’ environment.
    Many of the troubles in black communities are created by black people themselves. NO BODY owes these filthy black thugs a GOD-DAMM THING!! BLACK WOMEN CERTAINLY DON’T OWE them ANYTHING! Of every racial or ethnic group of people in AMERICA today, NO other men or BOYS of any race will demean and ‘HO’ down their own women (in this vile way) like a filthy, crass black male would. Any person can lift himself or herself up if they really want to. Since most of these rappers are uneducated, why even put their self-destructive lyrics on the air? That’s a very SICK way to draw other people’s attention. I HOPE AND PRAY that those BLACK THUGS will get to read this post.

  • http://www.canhead.wordpress.com Laron

    Helina,

    Corporations ARE involved with this issue.
    It is a known fact that many of the major labels have a committee that oversees the lyrical content of many rap songs, dumping the ones that they consider too “soft” or not “hip” or “hard” enough.

    It is not by chance that there are very little “positive” rap acts on any of the major labels. Groups that go against the grain are usually not signed or promoted as much. The corporations have a bit more to do with the current state of affairs in music than they would like you to believe. The blame is not entirely theirs, but they are a part of the problem.

    Think about how many rap album covers have a rapper shirtless. Do you really think all of these guys want to pose half naked on their album covers? Some of their lyrics present them as the toughest guys on the planet. How tough is a guy with no shirt and Baby Oil on his chest?

    It’s a controlled environment and Sharpton sees and has been told this. He may have another motive as well tho’, I will admit that.

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    I’ll say it here for wont of a better place to say it. It’s incredibly facinating to me that both the Imus and the Virginia Tech killer stories / issues have devolved into a default position of blaming “the media.”

    I say default because it is the easist “thing” toblame.

    In the case of Imus, the debate is now only about the supposed impropriety of hip-hop lyrics, a music media, without consideration of music through history.

    In the case of Cho Seung-Hui, the issues – at least from all the individuals and bloggers and pundits discussing the issue – is how could NBC News be such bastards? A position I disagree with.

    Underlying Imus, is that race is still a huge issue. A tiny bit of evidence here at this site and elsewhere is the sudden re-emergency of the word “lynching” in headlines and disengenous a-hoiles saying the word has nothing to do with race. Fuck that.

    On NBC News, the real issue is mental health care in the US. The lives of the families and the victims isn’t an “issue” but it is important. Despite people saying they are being ignored, really this goes deep into people’s own ability to only see what they want to see. I’ve seen – without even trying – biographies of the victims, friends and family members interviewed on TV and check the cover of Time magazine this week. There are a lot of these “see only what they want to see” problems in national discussions of anything. Fuck THAT.

    – Temple