Fear And Loathing In The Dirty South | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Fear And Loathing In The Dirty South

I'm an opinionated chick, but every now and then, an issue comes a long that, no matter how much I ponder it, I can't quite firmly take a side on it. Choosing one side would be denying the reality of the other, when both are very real.

So it is with rap music—especially nasty "bitch" and "ho" lyrics.

Don't misunderstand: I hate those particular lyrics in rap—the nasty versions that glorify reducing women to "tricks" who just want a man's money, and therefore he gets to talk nasty about her and even use her body as a credit-card machine in a video as Nelly did famously in a video last year.

But I like rap. I like the origins of hip-hop—it's an incredibly authentic culture that found hope in hopelessness. As you'll read in Adrienne Hearn's cover story, starting on page 12, hip-hop is about much more than nasty lyrics. So many people today, of all races, associate rap with "gangsta" culture, and drugs, and guns, and violence—but it grew from the attempts of young people in places like the South Bronx to have an alternative to those options. They were growing up in neighborhoods that started as segregated ghettos and then just ended up fraught with urban blight due to discrimination and unequal resources. Drugs had been pumped into their 'hoods (and, no, the suppliers didn't often look like them), and they were used as the street dealers. They were given guns to fight the street battles; they were paid little attention by a white majority culture that didn't give a damn about them.

They needed their own expression. They created their own art. Like the soul food of their Southern slave ancestors who cobbled table scraps into delicious recipes (now served in fancy restaurants), hip-hop was an eclectic fusion of what they had at their disposal: records, turntables, microphones, spray paint, sidewalks to dance on, parks to have block parties in and keep the gang members out of. It was a hodgepodge: There was rebellion, politics, competition, fights, violence, social activism, art. It was a movement all its own.

Along the way, "rap music" as a commodity was born. As were well-to-do "gangsta rappers" who suddenly had the commercial power to say some mighty harsh stuff on their albums. They decided to tell the world—which was starting to pay attention to, and wanting a piece of, their culture—what life was really like on the inside of the ghettos. They started rapping about police brutality and profiling, poverty, the violence of the streets. I was in New York City during the N.W.A. and Public Enemy heyday, and I just couldn't find a lot to fault about the lyrics of many of those songs—sure, they were harsh, but so was what was happening to young blacks, both from the drug suppliers and from the anti-drug enforcers, from the police to the job market. They were telling their stories, and they weren't pretty. This is America, and we don't censor words because we don't personally like them. We must protect the speech that offends us the most.

But the lyrics started reflecting the anti-women views found too often among young men of all races—words of power from males who seem to want to ensure that there is someone lower on the totem pole than they are. And while under attack for being "super-predators" and "wild animals," the voices of a young black generation seemed to want to pass on something worse to the young women they had some power over: they were bitches, ho's, disposable objects of desire and ridicule.

Today, the rap industry is canned and produced and manipulated, and worth billions. The saddest part, of course, is for young African Americans to bring a music industry to its knees, and then not use it to help build respect for their culture, especially among people of their own culture. That's the case with these misogynistic lyrics.

Many would-be rap stars mean well. They want to achieve success by any means necessary, and then use their money and their power to help the community. I love to see rappers like David Banner show up at a Boys and Girls Club event and tell the frantic-but-attentive group of young teens to stay in school, to use their right to vote, to do the right thing. Then I watch the young girls flock around him to grab free copies of "Like A Pimp" and grimace. "By the time I hit the door, I saw hoes on the flo'."

Rappers have the right to do whatever kind of lyrics they want to. But that doesn't make any kind of lyrics right. There is a time that personal responsibility must come into the equation—after all, where is the empowerment of riding to success on the backs of the women of your community?

It is true, of course, that if enough people would stop buying "ho" lyrics, then they would stop trying to sell them. But, meantime, I would like to hope that more and more hip-hop artists—as any other artists who use their art to promote violence and disrespect—would start self-regulating what they are putting out about women. Sure, expose brutality and the unfairness of the Drug War and the problems with black imprisonment and white blindness to your problems—we need to hear those things, even in the harshest of language—but why help build a culture of women who don't respect themselves because their popular culture doesn't respect them—and then who might grow into the women the culture doesn't respect? It's a vicious cycle, as societal problems usually are.

In my idealistic way, I'd like to think that this movement could really take hold here in the Dirty South. Our artists could lead a new revolution in respect for women if they decided they wanted to.

After all, this is the region where so many black women fought, and fight, so hard to keep families together in the worst possible conditions, even as they were being sexually exploited and stereotyped. Right here in the South, our music could be truly revolutionary and educational about black women's special history as nurturers and leaders. Black women deserve to honored, not disrespected. It's up to rappers to just decide they're going to be.

Artists, you got the power. Use it.

Richard Barrett refers to Donna Ladd as "the hip-hop editor." She doesn't mind.

Previous Comments

ID
69689
Comment

Well said Donna. You're not the only one conflicted, and I think throwing the blame game is ridiculous. Women...respect yourselves and men. Men....respect yourselves and women. Nelly, get your credit card out of our asses ;)

Author
emilyb
Date
2005-02-25T18:19:45-06:00
ID
69690
Comment

Man, that bitch Donna makes some good points... for a ho. ;) (I hope you know I'm kidding)

Author
Tre
Date
2005-02-28T16:38:37-06:00
ID
69691
Comment

Snort! Chortle! Giggling hysterically here. Of course, Tre. Luv it! Although I have not taken "ho" back, so watch out, Little ... oh, never mind. ;-D

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-02-28T17:04:50-06:00
ID
69692
Comment

:-D ..I can fill in that blank (I deserved it). hehehe Seriously, did Nelly really do that? I missed that.

Author
Tre
Date
2005-03-01T11:59:44-06:00
ID
69693
Comment

Rapper 50 Cent's life imitates his "art:" one member of his entourage apparently shoots another during a live radio interview that was, ironically enough, promoting 50 Cent's new album entitled "The Massacre." http://www.azcentral.com/offbeat/articles/030150cent01-ON.html

Author
buckallred
Date
2005-03-01T12:33:51-06:00
ID
69694
Comment

Similar shooting incident involving rapper Lil' Kim (and her alleged perjury) detailed in this article: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=entertainmentNews&storyID=7788678

Author
buckallred
Date
2005-03-02T16:20:37-06:00

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