Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

On The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network’s Language Ban

Here’s that promised piece from Davey D I mentioned the other day. It provides the deep context for the editorial by Dave Zirin and I that ran in the LA Times yesterday, and it’s coming from one of the people who has been at the forefront of this hip-hop media justice movement for two decades.

I should also mention that there is a quote of me apparently going off on the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network’s “recommendation” for a voluntary industry ban on the N-word, the B-word, and the H-word, a “Coalition on Broadcast Standards”, and artist mentoring, and in today’s AM New York.

This quote was taken out of context by the reporter. Last week, reporter asked me how I felt generally about the reaction of activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton. He was not asking specifically about the ban which, when he interviewed me, had not yet been announced. Folks, that’s called shitty reporting.

For the record, my position is simple: radio and TV already have banned these words, so the statement–a “recommendation” for “voluntary action”–does nothing new. There are no real incentives in this for the industry to bring more balance to the airwaves.

As for all this top-down stuff, it will always be too little too late unless hip-hop generation activists who have been working hard on the issues and have the community’s interest at heart are brought into the discussion. Otherwise, it is posturing and grandstanding.

Extra stuff:

* Here’s what Bakari Kitwana and Joan Morgan think.

* Lastly, Davey and Chuck Creekmur from allhiphop.com will be part of a roundtable panel on Fox News with John Gibson this afternoon at 5pm est/2pm pst to talk this stuff. Tune in.

Finally, I don’t agree with everything in Davey’s piece, and he does call out a lot of close friends of mine, some of whom I’m very inclined to defend. But I also know, having known Davey for two decades now that this piece is probably the realest he’s been in a long time with himself and with his audience.

Read it and debate it in the context of the major soul-searching we all are doing now.

This Gangsta Stuff & Russell’s Call For Change
by Davey D

I’ve read the recent criticisms launched at Russell Simmons and the assertions that his current position of wanting to ban the use of certain words on records is “self-serving.” Of course it is. Anything Russell does is gonna be self-serving. What did we expect? Wasn’t that the plan? Weren’t we supposed to create an economic, political or social situation where he would see it in his best interest to change up?

He has business interests to protect — and the social and political climate has rightly changed now, with calls for balance growing substantially louder. Russell’s business is being impacted by people who are tired of the mass marketing of the mainstream minstrelsy that we see all day, every day.

Certainly no one seriously expected Russell or Ben Chavis to come up to Harlem to watch a screening of Turn Off Channel Zero. Why would we? And let’s be honest…did we really want them there? I think one of the things we overlook is the role that we played in getting these issues as much attention as they’ve gotten. We are the ones who changed the current climate with our collective efforts.

The fact that so many people are fed up is the result of the Turn off the Radio tribunal longtime radio vet Bob Law had up at the church on 126th street in NYC several years ago.

The climate was also changed as a result of the Hot 97 campaign, which was quite successful in New York. We not only made them lose money, but we blemished people’s records as well, and even got several people dismissed as that station saw its ratings drop. They went from number 1 to number 8 in their market, which, in the radio industry, is major. Sure there were other factors at hand, but we certainly played a big part in initiating change there.

The climate change that we’re seeing is also the result of the KMEL People’s Station campaign put together by Tony Coleman of Minds Eye Collective and Malkia Cyrill of Youth media Council in San Francisco after I got bounced from working there. That was a successful campaign that forced KMEL to start playing local music and even offer me my job back (which I turned down).

We’re seeing the change in climate now as result of Black Out Fridays in Detroit too. There we had intense lobbying efforts by Industry Ears to the FCC, Attorneys General, and Congress about the continued abuses of our airwaves. The new focus on balance is the result of people like Chuck D, dead prez, Immortal Technique and so many others…voices who railed against fucked-up media in public spaces in places. It’s also the result of films like Turn Off Channel Zero and Hip Hop Beyond Beats and
Rhymes, and of the Zulu Nation’s Bring Back The Balance campaign.

This climate is the result of us starting our own media outlets like The Block Report, Freemix Radio, Soul Patrol, Harrambe, Radio, Breakdown FM and others. I could go on and on…

These changes, both large and small, are due to us pushing and pushing — and agitating and demanding better scenarios for our collective community. Russell’s proposal to change lyrics is but a small victory…he wouldn’t have done this a year ago. We now need to take credit and push even harder for substantial change both within and outside of the industry.

Having been deeply involved with the first wave of content battles back in ’88 when we led the NWA boycott, I clearly recall how the community argued ferociously against our effort. We did two weeks worth of radio shows getting community input back then, and I remember how many well-meaning Black folks who considered themselves conscious and revolutionary told us we were straight-up wrong. Maybe I’ll post those landmark radio shows at some point — shows which which included me, the guys from Digital Underground, Beni B of ABB records and all the Black college deejays from the Bay at that time. Now that time has passed people have a very different stance, but that big debate back then lead to the formation of the Bay Area Hip Hop Coalition.

The debates we had were fierce. Many felt we should never glamorize disrespectful language, while others felt like NWA and Luke were somehow revolutionary. Hell, I even have a tape of KRS coming on our show praising the rough use of language by those guys — he felt like it was good thing at the time.

There were many who felt that the stories by NWA needed to be heard and that they were indeed a reflection of us. I recall people throwing their fist in the air saying “fuck what white people think, this is our music” and “we gonna use the N-word all day long.” People felt like keeping it ‘hood was important. We were coming off the tail end of people criticizing Bill Cosby for not showing his Brooklyn neighborhood as a rough and rugged ghetto. Even Spike Lee caught heat for having a ‘too clean’ Brooklyn ‘hood when he showed Do the Right Thing.

I recall white writers like Dan Charnas of The Source getting props and blessings from revolutionary types when he praised Ice Cube for reflecting anger in the ‘hood when he called women bitches. In fact, I even remember Harry Allen almost coming to blows with this cat because he took such a strident stance and had revolutionary types ‘supporting his efforts.’ If you think I’m lying go back and look at the arguments that were raised at that time around this subject matter.

Part of the praise placed upon NWA and gangsta rap was this was Hip Hop way of ‘keeping it real’ (that’s when that phrase started to get popularized). Hip Hop has always been about being honest and true to the subject matter at hand — but soon that definition got narrowed down to Hip Hop supposedly keeping it ‘true to the streets.’

Complicating this issue further was the fact that West Coast rap prior to NWA often wasn’t even considered Hip Hop by our east coast brethren. I have all those early New Music Seminar tapes with Egyptian Lover and Rodney O complaining about being clowned when they came to the Big Apple because their music was considered too soft.

I also remember groups like The LA Dream Team, Sir Mix-a-Lot and numerous others being dissed. Paradise even talks about the time when Hammer came up to the Latin Quarters by himself to do his song “Ring ‘Em,” which was big hit in the hoods out here in Cali, but was clowned in NY.

NWA, with its booming beats and harsh lyrics, put LA and the west on the map and got Cali some acceptance. This was a big incentive for folks out here to overlook their own morals and common sense and get behind those gangsta groups that knocked the doors down. Personally, despite doing some of NWA’s first interviews, I felt uncomfortable calling what they did revolutionary because I recall both Cube and Eazy telling me they were cursing up a storm as a way to initially be funny and that they enjoyed seeing the shocked look on people’s faces. They weren’t doing it because they really felt that way (as many like to romanticize). Look at some of the old articles on them and you’ll see them admitting to that.

This was a big point of contention, and was also the beginning of how shit started to get co-opted. When we did the boycotts, they were the result of community approval, involvement and support. The boycotts were effective and lasted for a year, and we did follow up interviews with NWA about them.

During one landmark interview, Cube spoke passionately about his desire to change and be more political, and even talked about the internal debates he and his group were having about being responsible. It wasn’t that long after that that he left the group, and much of what he talked about soon surfaced on his Amerikkka’s Most Wanted album.

Ironically the NWA boycott was broken by white deejays who felt like the group’s material, and material like it, should be heard, and that NWA was somehow more authentic and real then groups like X-Clan and Public Enemy.

This assessment not only played itself out on college radio, but it was replicated on commercial radio as well — and I personally saw our playlist switch up almost overnight from playing PE, X-Clan and Paris to gangsta rap.

Again, non-black deejays like Theo Mizuhara lead the charge in pushing gangsta material over the positive. This attitude was also embraced by several high profile black writers like Cheo Choker, James Bernard and later Toure — who once bragged to me via email that he “killed the career of Public Enemy” by writing a widely read negative review of their album

In hindsight, we can see (and hopefully understand) that it was probably a mistake for us to not have been more involved in demanding what we knew to be right at the time, and we soon began to see people cash on the love that those outside of our communities were showing for gangsta rap. In 2007, we are seeing the end results.

The fact that we helped create a climate to start to turn things around is a good thing. If it manifests itself in stations saying they wanna change up then that’s great. If it means it will help get more people excited about doing a different type of rap highlighting different subject matter then I’m all for it.

If it means Russell (who for the past few years has said he would never try and tell an artist to change his or her lyrics) is now calling for an end to hateful and derogatory words in commercially-released material, I say that’s good thing. We should push harder and encourage more to follow suit.

What’s the next step? That’s our collective challenge.

Now that we have people ready to push for better music, how do we intend to distribute? Keep in mind that while we were arguing about Russell being a culture vulture, the RIAA and US Copyright Law flipped the script and developed a new type of payola which effectively has wiped out Internet radio and any other digital distribution streams.

They got the US Copyright office to raise rates by 1200% and to have it apply retroactively starting on May 15th. Appeals to this ruling have been denied, which means that most small internet broadcasters and streaming will stop by the end of May because cats are gonna be bankrupt. The big players like AOL radio, Yahoo and Microsoft will be around, but not the rest. So how are we gonna get all this good alternative music across?

If you think you can get around it by using independent artists, think again. Because of fear of lawsuits, most internet providers are gearing up to protect themselves from lawsuits. They won’t want to take the chance of one of us putting out RIAA-owned material, so they will take precautions and limit the ability to pass the good music along.

While many small broadcasters like us (who saw the internet as a saving grace) will now find themselves in serious legal and financial jeapordy, the big time radio stations are cutting side deals with the major labels so they don’t have to pay the high royalty rates — in exchange for normal airplay.

This is why some of us — like me, Paul Porter, and Lisa Fager from Industry Ears — were harping on this payola stuff so much. Now the shit is about to come back and haunt us big time. That’s a serious battle that we will have to undertake. For those who have concerns about censorship, this change in copyright law is where we have the real battle.

Peace out for now,

Davey D

posted by @ 8:39 am | 2 Comments

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Don’t Scapegoat Hip-Hop :: LA Times Editorial with Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin and I teamed up to get this editorial into today’s Los Angeles Times:

No Scapegoats: The Other Side of Hip-hop
By Jeff Chang and Dave Zirin

April 23, 2007

MUCH OF THE criticism of commercial rap music – that it’s homophobic and sexist and celebrates violence – is well-founded. But most of the carping we’ve heard against hip-hop in the wake of the Don Imus affair is more scapegoating than serious.

Who is being challenged here? It’s not the media oligarchs, which twist an art form into an orgy of materialism, violence and misogyny by spending millions to sign a few artists willing to spout cartoon violence on
command. Rather, it’s a small number of black artists – Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and 50 Cent, to name some – who are paid large amounts to perpetuate some of America’s oldest racial and sexual stereotypes.

But none of the critics who accuse hip-hop of single-handedly coarsening the culture think to speak with members of the hip-hop generation, who are supposedly both targets and victims of the rap culture. They might be surprised at what this generation is saying.

In his recent PBS documentary “Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” filmmaker Byron Hurt made clear that rap music can be as sexist and homophobic as it can be positive and enlightening. Marginalized young women and men have found their voices in hip-hop arts, gathering to share culture at b-girl conventions around the world or reading for each other in after-school
poetry classes. Hurt’s film pointed the finger where it needs to be pointed – at American popular culture, which has trafficked in racist and sexist images and language for centuries and provides all sorts of incentives for young men of color to act out a hard-core masculinity.

If all the overnight anti-hip-hop crusaders really cared about the generation they want to save, they would support the growing Media Justice movement led by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa and such outspoken women activists as Malkia Cyril and Rosa Clemente. The group contends that such media powers as Emmis Communications and Clear Channel have corrupted hip-hop radio.

The critics would engage young public intellectuals like Joan Morgan (“When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost”), Gwendolyn D. Pough (“Check It While I Wreck It”) and Mark Anthony Neal (“That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader”)*, who are defining what they call a new hip-hop feminism.

The gap between the programming on Viacom’s MTV and BET and young people’s interests seems never to have been bigger. According to the Black Youth Project, a University of Chicago study released in January, the overwhelming majority of young people, especially blacks, believe rap videos portray black women negatively. That’s one reason rap music sales declined 20% last year and remain down 16% this year.

Yet sales are a poor indicator of what is really happening in hip-hop.

Local hip-hop scenes are thriving. Great art is being made not just in music but in visual arts, film, theater, dance and poetry. It can be seen in the works of Sarah Jones, Nadine Robinson, Rennie Harris, Kehinde Wiley and Danny Hoch. Hip-hop studies is a rapidly growing and popular field at colleges and universities, with more than 300 classes offered. In hip-hop after-school programs, voter registration groups, feminist gatherings and public forums, the future of hip-hop is under discussion. These hip-hop thinkers want to take the culture that unites many young people and channel it toward political engagement. In 2004, voter registration campaigns using hip-hop to target youth produced more than 2 million new voters under the age of 30.**

To confuse commercial rap made by a few artists with how hip-hop is actually lived by millions is to miss the good that hip-hop does. If hip-hop’s critics paid attention to the hip-hop generation, they would learn that the discussion has already begun without them and that they might need to listen. Then a real intergenerational conversation could begin.

UPDATE :: Two additional notes I need to clarify:

* Mark’s book on hip-hop and masculinity was somehow missed in the Times edit, and is called New Black Man. It’s a very important book.

** There were more than 4 million new voters between the ages of 18 and 29, and more than half–the 2 million plus cited here–were Black and Latino, a demographic watershed that has gone completely ignored by mainstream media and most progressive media, for that matter. In any case, this fact somehow got mangled in the final edit. You can find more information on this here.

posted by @ 6:40 am | 7 Comments

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

A Must-Hear :: Davey D Takes Out Rap Misogyny, John McWhorter, and Hip-Hop Haters

From this morning’s broadcast of WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, Davey D ethers rap misogyny, anti-hip-hop media pimp John McWhorter, and hip-hop haters.

Recognize: Long before Sharpton and Constance Rice and a whole long line of civil rights generation anti-hip-hop crusaders did, Davey D and Kevvy Kev launched the first nationwide rap boycott over issues of misogyny back in 1989, when they called for the Bay Area hip-hop community to decide whether or not they wanted to hear NWA. Over the course of two weeks, the people called in and voted to stop playing NWA. Both are Bronx men who grew up with the old school and moved to the Bay Area to become heroes for many of us.

At the same time this was being aired today, rap industry execs were having an emergency meeting behind closed doors to talk about how to handle the continuing blowback from the Imus incident. We can assume that the agenda included how to handle a growing beef with the Rev Al Sharpton and two panel discussions on Oprah’s show that may have caused more damage than good.

Fam, there is no reason to think that much in the way of substance will be coming out of there.

The bottom line is that if the conversation on gender and hip-hop is going to go anywhere, we have to stop letting civil rights-gen mouthpieces act like the hip-hop generation doesn’t have its own history and voices, and we have to stop letting media folks go to the old names when the real work has been happening with real people down here on the ground for decades.

Davey will be telling his full story on this episode on his myspace page and website soon, and I’ll post that when it’s ready.

posted by @ 3:55 pm | 2 Comments

Monday, April 16th, 2007

Getting Random

Sorry Yankees. We still own you.

Hip-hop journal Words Beats and Life is soliciting submissions for its new issue. The topic is timely: “It Ain’t My Fault: Blame It On Hip-Hop”. Download the call on that page link above. It’s hard to find, but it’s in the right corner.

For those of you who caught the New Orleans riff, come check us out this weekend in Seattle at the EMP and the University of Washington.

If you are in NYC this weekend, skip the Yankees game and go see Kwikstep & Rokafella’s Full Circle Productions 10th Anniversary at PS 122. This is where, 16 years ago, Kwikstep and the Rhythm Technicians set off perhaps one of the most important events in the hip-hop arts movement ever, “So What Happens Now?” It is recognized now as the production that launched the hip-hop theater movement.

Busy week here in the Bay too. We have a Total Chaos event Tuesday night at the Yerba Buena Center and you can catch your boy interviewing Aaron McGruder on Thursday night at the Jewish Community Center. All the info is here.

posted by @ 5:08 am | 2 Comments

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

42 :: More Than A Number

Thank you, Jackie Robinson.

posted by @ 8:53 am | 0 Comments

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Nutn But A Number

Islanders Give New Meaning to 40 Water

Big up to Weyland, Sake Uno, and all the Aries and Taurus April massive…

posted by @ 7:55 am | 0 Comments

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