"She’s had rapists, child molesters, and lying authors on her show. And if I’m not a rags-to-riches story for her, who is?" — Ice Cube
I begin my essay with this quote for one reason: it is a lie. O’Shea Jackson (Cube’s government name) was born to two UCLA faculty members on the outskirts of its campus. He got into rap, not because of any piercing poverty-driven need or wretched-of-the-earth existence, but because he didn’t want to be an architect.
He joined Eric “Eazy E” Wright, another suburban slacker, and Dr Dre, DJ Yella, and MC Ren to form NWA, a group whose racist, sexist, violent, and homophobic lyrics spoke about people they never knew, experiences they never had, and a community for which they had no right to speak.
As a solo artist, Cube aimed to take Amiri Baraka’s title of the America’s nastiest black bigot, specializing in soul-scarring genocidal reveries about Jews, women, Koreans, and black people who didn’t think and act like him. After Tupac and Biggie died, he focused more on making B-movies and working on the chitlin circuit of black films. One hoped and assumed he would have grown out of his hate-filled twenties, but since the suburban public’s thirst for black genocide has came back with a vengeance, Cube has decided to return to his hate mongering roots.
He's casting paid actors to create his own sadistic race war in the TV show Black/White (go look up Bruno Marcotulli’s film credits in IMDB), and creating another sadistic album, Laugh Now, Cry Later, which takes up the joys of not being a father and bashing interracial relationships. I cannot think of many people in the history of American popular culture who have taken so much from this country while giving so little.
Now he wants the head of Oprah, queen of American television and one of America’s greatest modern humanitarians and Horatio Alger stories, yet unpopular with the hip-hop/hipster crowd because she won't take an ax to the white man once a week and give an hour-long exclusive interview to Chamillionare. As a psychological play, it’s easy to see why Ice Cube would look at Oprah and recoil with rage.
Oprah was born in extreme poverty in the Deep South, while Cube was born in relative academic privilege. Oprah survived a hard childhood, while Cube had a peaceful two-parent home. Oprah overcame tremendous hardships to rise to tremendous heights, while Cube searched for hardships and reconstructed himself as a ghetto sadist to validate his existence. Oprah is a strong successful female, while Cube wrote several songs about raping strong successful females.
Oprah has an audience that spans the world, while Cube’s audience barely goes beyond his B-movie stardom and the frat boys who eat up his records. Oprah is Cube’s nightmare made flesh, a walking remainder that he made his empire on flimsy excuse mongering, and a symbol that there have been people who have done much more with much less than he had, and who have been much more noble while doing so.
Cube’s argument with Oprah is a piggy back of Rapper Ludacris’ beef with her, which in turn was piggybacked by rappers 50 cent and Killer Mike. Now, Syracuse professor Boyce Watkins, in numerous interviews and on talk shows, is giving the gripes of these rappers the imprimatur of academia. Central to Watkins’ arguments is that, although these rappers might have vicious and violent lyrics towards women, they have come from bad situations in their lives and have done some good by making money for themselves and being successful in the cinema.
These rappers, according to Watkins, symbolize the downtrodden black male, and because Oprah doesn’t give them a voice, she is showing that she hates black men. My argument would be that Oprah's main goal, like millions of black people concerned about the state of Black America, is to do everything in her power to try and make it better. Oprah understands that when Cube, Ludacris, and Fiddy’s checks clear and the frat kids who bang their music on the weekends go back to school on Monday, Black America has to deal with serious problems by itself, problems that are certainly not the fault of rappers, but problems that rappers are certainly not helping.
If trying to solve those problems means stepping on the self-esteem of a couple of vulgar gangsta millionaires, so be it.
Also, given their hits ("Cave Bitch,” “Move Bitch, Get Out The Way,” “You's A Ho,” “ I Got Hoes In Different Area Codes,” and “Dont Fuck With A Bitch From The Projects”), Ice Cube and Ludacris have a tremendous amount of nerve to suggest that the most successful black woman in the history of this nation bow down and respect them. Both men have made their careers by stepping on the necks of black people, primarily black women, and given that there is such a thing as a first amendment in this country, that’s fine.
To quote Candide, one has the right to cultivate their own garden. But why can't people understand that Oprah, as well as the majority of black people who don’t buy and aren’t interested in both men’s music, might want something else to be entertained by? Why should black people who don’t like rap be punished for wanting something else? Why should they be punished by avoiding Cube and Ludacris altogether?
Why should they be punished for thinking there is more to Black history than “hoes in different area codes"? Why should Oprah, and millions of other black people, be punished for not swallowing whole Cube's and Ludacris’ vision of black women, and daring to think that Cube and Ludacris just might not be the font of black male expression? (And why do so many people think of Cube and Ludacris as the font of black male expression?)
Gangsta rap’s defenders have never stopped to think that maybe Oprah, like millions of black people, knows those "bitches" that Ludacris wants out of the way are raising our children without the help of fathers. Maybe Oprah knows those "cave bitches" that Cube wants to rape are struggling with high numbers of sex crimes, high numbers of sexual abuse, and record numbers of AIDS cases. Maybe Oprah knows that those "hoes in different area codes" are succeeding in spite of periously little love and respect from black men.
Maybe, just maybe, Oprah knows there have been millions of families tormented by the crack that Young Jeezy and Chamillionare love to rap about, that millions of young black men have been scarred by the absentee fatherism that Ice Cube has recently bragged about, and millions of black people have been traumatized by the misery, pain, and self destruction that Hip Hop America gobbles up for its entertainment every hour on the hour.
Ludacris and Ice Cube aren’t the reason for Black America’s misery, pain, and self-destruction. What they have done, however, is written the soundtrack to it, and profited mightily in the process. The debate they have with Oprah isn’t about their right to do so, as no one is saying that Gangsta rappers should be censored. We live in a democratic society and if the gangsta rapper wants to profit from someone else's pain and the gangsta rap fan wants to dance to it, it is their right.
The debate with Oprah is about is Black America’s (or at least the vast majority of Black America that doesn’t buy hip hop records) right to turn away from that Ludacris, Ice Cube, and that gangsta rap fan in disgust.