If Rappers take Heat for Inflammatory Words Why Can’t Sarah Palin?

I have a few questions that have been nagging me about all the issues falling out around this past weekend’s tragedy in Tucson?

First, there’s been a lot of talk about how accused Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner is mentally unstable, crazed and out of his mind. People are looking at his smiling/ smirking mug shot  and concluding that only a genuine psychopath would display such demeanor after killing 6 people in cold blood and injuring 14 more.

Personally I don’t know.. I never been around anyone who’s killed 6 people so I have no idea how they would act. I would imagine if it was me I’d be remorseful, but when I watch folks like Fox News commentator Glenn Beck telling us he wants to kill filmmaker Michael Moore or  Bill O’Reilly saying he thinks Washington Post columnist Dan Milbank should be decapitated ,they seem to be jovial. They seem to relish in the idea of ending someone’s life.

Is that the mindset of a violent person? Are they all smiles? Is that why Loughner was smiling?

Accused Tucson Massacre killer Jared Lee Loughner smirking

When I heard former governor Sarah Palin unapologetically use gun rhetoric in describing how she wanted to eliminate her political opponents, she seemed pretty gleeful even after receiving complaints. One of those opponents who voiced concern was shooting victim Gabrielle Gifford, but Palin paid her no mind. She never stopped smiling.

Noting that a smiling Jared Lee Loughner indicates craziness, my question is; ‘Just how crazy is he?’

Is he too crazed to hold a political opinion? Does he know the difference between a socialist and a communist? Is he discerning the difference between a commentary from MSNBC host Keith Obermann and one by radio hosts Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage?

Perhaps a mentally unstable  Loughner reacted and followed the leads of the loudest  most ruckus voices around. After all, all the tough talk about ‘don’t retreat and reload’ is not hidden. It’s pretty much mainstream.Such rhetoric along with footage of angry Tea Party folks showing up to rallies with guns threatening to take their country back are shown on the highest rated news stations like Fox. Inflammatory rhetoric expressing violence comes off the mouths of  some of the country’s most visible hosts, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

In a staunchly conservative state like Arizona it’s almost impossible to escape a steady of diet these loud, in your face personalities and their violent rhetoric. Whether he leaned to the left or to the right, there’s no doubt  he was exposed right-wing, Fox News-like pundits   routinely denounce civility in both words and actions. There’s no doubt in mind that had an influence.

580 Freeway Shooter claims he was inspired by Glenn Beck

Now some folks reading are thinking what I’m saying is a bit far-fetched. The argument they’ll try to put forth is it’s not about the speaker it’s about the listener. They’ll insist that the person on the receiving end of a political tirade needs to be RESPONSIBLE for their actions. In other words,  a pundit like Sarah Palin is not responsible for the way someone reacts to her public utterings?

A guy like Glenn Beck who fantasized about killing Michael Moore and crusaded against the Tides Foundation is in no way responsible for the near deadly actions of would be mass murderer Byron Williams, the 580 Freeway shooter who went toe to toe with police while en route to the Tide headquarters where he planned to lay in wait?

I asked these questions because some of the same people defending this violent rhetoric from political pundits  and politicians weren’t too kind when it came to rap artists who invoked violent imagery to make a political point.

The most famous among these is Public Enemy who 2o years ago did the song ‘By the Time I Get to Arizona‘.  Here, they wanted to bring attention to the fact that there were certain politicians who were refusing to allow the state to recognize the Dr Martin Luther King holiday, so they did a song that spoke to it.

Chuck D

In the accompanying video, the group  showed black and white re-enactments of Civil Rights demonstrations which were juxtaposed with images of Chuck D and his armed crew the heading to the office of one of the Senators opposed to the holiday where they handed him a box of poisoned chocolates. As the video ends we see Chuck D blowing up the car of an unnamed elected official.

Needless to say folks went nuts over the video. Chuck D and Public Enemy were accused of fostering violence with some critics stating that there would be blood on their hands if anyone resorted to violence as a result of this video.

Chuck pointed out it was basically political theater, but very few in the halls of power were trying to hear that. As far as they were concerned Public Enemy had crossed the line.


Rudy Giuliani

Another group that caught heat was Queens based group Screwball who had an issue with then Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In ’99 around the time that police shot and killed an unarmed Amadu Diallo 41 times, the group  did a song called ‘Who Shot Rudy?’ The song was widely cheered and accepted throughout many of NY’s Black communities where residents were at odds with the police. Many in the establishment including the Mayor weren’t happy. The group got a visit from NYPD who confiscated their recording equipment and CDs. I recall the outrage that was voiced toward the group..

‘How dare they call for the shooting of a public official ‘? , is what critics howled.

Like PE Screwball was told there would be blood on their hands should any violence go down.


We can list at least a dozen more examples where artists have caught heat over what was described as troubling politicized rhetoric. The list includes Sista Souljah who got a harsh rebuke from then president candidate Bill Clinton when she made racially charged remarks around the Rodney King riots. Clinton went after a Souljah as a way to prove to skittish voters he could stand up to Black leaders.  When he heard that Jackson had invited Souljah to speak at his Rainbow Push convention, he dropped his harsh critic which is now known as Sista Souljah Moment.

Bay Area rapper Paris had his album delayed and he got a visit from the Secret Service when he released a song called ‘Bush Killa‘ which was featured on the album ‘Sleeping With the Enemy’. The track starts off with the mock assassination of President George Bush Sr . That caught folks attention. But what really made people angry and perhaps triggered the Secret Service visit was the inner sleeve album cover that showed Paris in a knit cap holding a rifle ready to shoot the President.

Paris described the song as a ‘revenge fantasy‘ and political art. All conversations along these lines went out the window as political pundits soundly rejected the political rapper accusing him of having gone too far.


In June of 2001, Boots Riley and his group the Coup released an album called Party Music where they had the World Trade exploding. Boots explained that he wanted to show a symbolism of capitalism being destroyed to underscore the political content of his album. It was no different then the video released a few years prior  during the East-West Coast Battles where Snoop Dogg was depicted knocking down a building that characterized the NY skyline. It was symbolic.

When the 9-11 attacks took place, the Coup, who weren’t on too many people’s political hit list, suddenly found themselves under the microscope. The symbolism was taken seriously in quite a few circles. Some wanted to know if this album cover would encourage other acts of terrorism. Words like Unpatriotic and Treasonous were bantered about when referring to a group that had been consistent with their political views for almost a 10 years before 9-11.

One of the more infamous rap songs where an artist came under fire for ‘influencing’ the public into destructive action was Ice Cube‘s ‘Black Korea‘ . This was a racially charged song where Cube targets Korean merchants in the hood for not liking Black people.

Fresh in his mind was the shooting death of 15 year-old Latasha Harlins,a Black girl who was killed by a Korean grocer. It sparked racial tension between Blacks and Koreans in LA and the Black Korea took things to new heights.

Ice Cube

When the Rodney King riots occurred, many Korean merchants were on the receiving end of anger being expressed. Cube was caught in the firestorm and blamed for helping bring harm to innocent people.

Cube defended the song as being a reflection of the political and racial climate at the time. Many others including quite a few political types though Cube was irresponsible with his words.

The point being expressed by citing these examples is that law enforcement and many of these political pundits when on the receiving end of harsh words no longer wanna uphold the ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ adage . Suddenly we’re not having conversations about listeners being responsible. Sudeenly we’re’ concerned about the influence of the artist.

Is the GOP and Right wing trying to have it both ways?

I guess if we had time and space we could have a lengthy discussion about the war around cop killer type songs. Numerous artists ranging from Ice T to NWA and Ice Cube to Mac Dre to 2Pac have all faced not just a firestorm of criticisms but saw their songs banned, concert venues stipulate they could not perform their respective songs, lawsuits, a stinging letter from the FBI, labels dropping them etc. The list is long.

From where I sit, if everyone from the FBI on down to law and order politicos feel that a rapper and his video have undue influence on the public then the same rule applies to these right-wing talk show hosts and politicians like Sarah Palin.  Glenn beck himself said it best.. He’s an entertainer. Sarah palin says she uses colorful rhetoric to appeal to folks.

Well if they’re entertainers and choosing words to ‘appeal’ to folks why can’t the same criticism and censoring actions that that Ice Cube and other rappers had to endure not apply to Sarah Palin and her gun totting rhetoric.  What’s good for the geese is good for the gander.Right?

something to ponder-

Davey D

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

18 comments on “If Rappers take Heat for Inflammatory Words Why Can’t Sarah Palin?

  1. There was a dept of homeland security report in 2009 that called right wing terrorism the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat in the nation due to the economy and the first black president. It predicted “Lone Wolves” and small terrorist cells embracing right wing ideology. The right wing lead by current speaker of the house John Boehner, decried the report as Obama playing politics and taking his eye off the “real” threats.

    Obama who hasn’t met a republican talking point he didn’t agree with proceeded to bury the report and disbanded the homeland security unit that produced it.

    So yeah the government was monitoring these people but since it was politically inconvenient in 2009 to appear partisan they stopped.

    I bet 90-100% of Glenn Beck/ Sarah Pallin supporters vote, write thier congressman regularly and participate in democracy. Hip Hop is an easy target because it’s supporters do not participate. If there were political consequences to picking on rappers they wouldn’t do it.

  2. I don’t think this is a clear comparison.Rappers aren’t political representatives.They just pretend to be in their music. If you want to make an accurate comparison compare rappers to other entertainers. A more accurate comparison would be to ponder if Lady Gaga said she would chop off Korean store owners dicks (like ice cube did) would she catch hell? If Madonna did a video that dramatized the assassination of political representatives (Like PE did) because they failed to implement some policy she wanted would Modonna catch hell? When you use realistic comparisons I think it puts all this in perspective.

    A more realistic comparison for your purposes would be to ask if Barbra Lee had targets of republicans (or democrats) on an online image map and was espousing Sara Palin-esk rhetoric around it, and some black guy shot one of these republicans or democrats, would the consequences for Barabra Lee be greater than Sara Palin?

  3. Actually seafood.. anyone who espouses a political position is a ‘political rep..’ the comparison is appropriate bc you are dealing with media personalities making public statements via their respective crafts.. All at the end of the day are entertainers.. Glenn beck is no different then the local rapper on the block.. In fact the local rapper on my block maybe more politically astute..

  4. No Dave, there is a difference between people who are in a a direct position to shape policy and people who are rappers.

    As far as this manipulative confused line between entertainment, personal business advancement & political theater, I think Glenn Beck is really no different than you or any other rap guy. so in that regard – I completely agree.

  5. Actually, Madonna’s original video for her single “American Life” showed George W. Bush catching an armed grenade and the video fades to black before the obvious explosion. She pulled it because she sensed that a vicious backlash was going to occur.

  6. Actually, seafood, as far as I agree with you, it means Sarah Palin and the others who are actual elected representatives should be more accountable. It’s an artist’s bailiwick and privilege to use metaphor, to play act, and to express strong emotional content. One’s political representative should show you the system is working, not calling for its overthrow.

    Personally, I’ll take less explosive rhetoric from either side. Violent fantasies squick me, and so does that mug shot. At least, the rappers seems to know they are describing a sucky reality, not one that delights them.

  7. @Scyllacat/Seafood

    Sarah Palin is a half term drop-out Governer. She is not an elected official and just about any rapper I could name is probably much smarter than Sarah Palin will ever even try to be.

  8. I love your perspective on this. It’s not one I expected to hear. Thank you for taking the time to put together such a thought-provoking post.

    It really matters what people say. Art and music is cathartic, and the intention of the artist is often to bring awareness to a situation. That’s a valid message, and it has its place in the world. At all times, however, the artist needs to recognize that they are always responsible for the message. The message is the reason for the art.

    This is slightly different than what should be expected for our political discourse and messages in the world outside of art. While I might expect a musician or other type of artist to express a strong opinion with a potentially disturbing message, I also should expect my politicians to act like professionals. That is part of their job description. Likewise, I believe that a television station (such as Fox) or a radio station that intentionally presents opinion pieces as “factual” is absolutely responsible for the effect of the rhetoric that they and their hosts present.

    If it’s an opinion piece, it should clearly state that fact. If it’s news, it should be stated as such. if a more balanced station such as CNN posts a falsehood, I expect them to retract it and make amends.

    In any case, people will hear what they want to hear, and if something fits with their belief systems, they’re more likely to grab onto it and hold it dear. Things that don’t fit are rejected out of hand. It’s human nature. So, when the media presents falsehoods and violence under the pretense of news and rational opinion, they will damn well reap what they sow.

  9. Sarah Palin is a half term drop-out Governer. She is not an elected official and just about any rapper I could name is probably much smarter than Sarah Palin will ever even try to be”.

    She is a former presidential candidate and possibly a future presidential candidate. Her “smarts” compared to rappers are beside the point. She’s in a role striving to shape policy directly. Rap entertainers aren’t – unless they’re running for office. Just because somebody sounds “neat” when they rap doesn’t put them in the same umbrella as people striving to shape policy. That goes for entertainers like Glenn Beck and it goes for rappers.

  10. I think seafood discounts that “rappers” have taken the next power step, by being political donors and activist. You can’t directly shape policy if you are not an official, but the next best thing is to get who you want to shape it elected. All the hip-hop moguls from Russel Simmons on down are in the process.

    Sarah Palin is a tabloid politician. Comparing her to a real policy shaper like Hillary Clinton is like comparing Paris Hilton to Sandra Bullock in the entertainment world. Paris probably has more twitter followers.

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  12. You could say any number of politicians are “tabloid politicians”. It’s completely beside the point. The point is by virtue of the role they are striving for it puts them in a different fold than rappers.

  13. @seafood.. Glenn Beck is what?? a politician or a entertainer who speaks on politics? What is Bill O’reilly a politician or an entertainer who speaks on politics? What is Sarah palin? A former governor who tuned entertainer? There is no difference between them and any artist who decides they will weigh in on politics..No difference at all..

  14. Example:

    The reason people take David Duke more serious than racist rock bands is because of the roles he strives for. He once ran for president.

    It doesn’t mean that racist rock bands haven’t had a bad effect on society, it just means there is a line.

    If you want to toss all of this under the umbrella of “social influence in the media” and remove the formal political element that’s fine, but rappers aren’t the underdog anymore than anyone else in that case.

    Ice Cube can say he will chop off Koreans dicks on an album that went gold but if I broadcasted myself saying that on the internet to a following of quarter of a million people I would probably get arrested, (if not shot) let alone get rewarded with a hollywood career.

    And that’s another point.All the rappers that have been mentioned are actually famous and some very wealthy. They were REWARDED for what they did.

    Just like the Glenn Beck.

    I think the article posted just lends to the confusion more than it clarifies it, and it’s a kind of confusion omnipresent within the hip hop lifestyle and one that’s very difficult to explain to people entrench in this nonsense.

    All these entertainers use the same sensationalistic means to game the public for their own business ends. If you want to be the exception then confront it head on, admit it, grow up and be one.

    The rest is irrelevant

  15. There is a history of the racist double standards that is called politics. Palin and the minions know exactly what their hate speech will do–they have learned how to eliminate their enemies and hide behind first amendment rights.

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