Underneath the braggadocio, hubris and arrogance in the comments that Hip-Hop artists direct at one another in the media, is a mixture of unwarranted confidence, greed, vanity, insecurity and envy and jealousy. The vast majority of the aforementioned characteristics have little or no redeeming qualities at all. They have led to the shedding of blood, lying, robbery, slander, libel, and the general disrespect for others. Most rappers, even in their creative works, speak in great detail, in a negative way, of the destruction that these human traits often cause. It is obvious from just a cursory sampling of the most popular rap songs, that Hip-Hop artists are intimately acquainted with the dark side of human nature and frequently criticize what they witness and experience in this area. Artists have proven that they are capable of identifying and condemning these qualities. If that is the case, and it is, then why are these character flaws so pervasive in the music business and among entertainers, in general? And more importantly, why are they so visibly displayed in the public conduct of Hip-Hop artists?
At a certain point Hip-Hop artists seem to recognize that even within the music industry, these character flaws not only put their lives in danger, but also pose a serious threat to their careers and business enterprises. However, by the time artists honestly admit that their lives, careers and business enterprises are threatened by their personal imperfections and those of others, and the manner in which they manifest themselves in the music business, many artists think that it is “too late” to alter the image that has been crafted for them, or to change their public conduct, even, the very words that they use in public and the tone and spirit in which they convey those words.
A large part of the inertia, resistance and fear that keeps artists from evolving toward greater consciousness and conduct comes from, or is directly connected to, the pressure and temptation to use the media for personal and professional gain.
It is this dynamic which we have focused on in recent weeks in both the end of the Beanie Sigel-Jadakiss “problem” and the release of Suge Knight from jail.
In the Beanie Sigel-Jadakiss problem we identified how, regardless to the conduct of the reporter and media publication involved, both artists attempted to use the controversy stemming from the rumors, perceptions and idea that they were feuding with one another, to sell records. We are not sure how it all evolved, but at a certain point, both artists decided to use the controversy for personal and professional gain. This is dangerous, and eventually that fact became obvious to both artists and to others like Russell Simmons, who decided that enough was enough and stepped in to encourage a reconciliation of both talented artists, who are both increasingly wealthy Black men, under 30 years of age.
In the case of Suge Knight we watched, hoping for the best, as Suge Knight gave several interviews prior to and immediately upon his release from jail. We recognized right away what was happening. Although he knew of the great risks involved and what some mischief-makers in the media would do with his words, Suge Knight made a conscious decision to use the media for personal and professional gain, partly to clear the air on a variety of issues, but also to promote his record label. But as we watched, at different moments of the various interviews that Suge Knight did for media outlets, we could literally see how Suge was walking an apparently impossible tightrope, laid out for him by the interviewer and his own motivations and strategy. He did pretty well trying to avoid the obvious and not-so obvious minefields in the loaded questions hurled his way by interviewers, who do not give a damn about Hip-Hop, but we believe he made some mistakes that can and probably will be used against him and the entire Hip-Hop community, in the future.
It can certainly be said that competition and frank verbal communication are what make Hip-Hop, in certain ways, very special. There is a tremendous value placed upon the full expression of the individual in Hip-Hop, which is admirable. And there is a constant attention placed upon the improvement of one’s skills and the mastering of their craft. Comparisons play a big part in this. It is hard to not watch or read a Hip-Hop interview where one artist is not compared to another. Comparisons are not inherently bad. Neither is competition. But the same can not be said for invidious comparisons which now seem to be increasingly common in Hip-Hop and in the positioning of Hip-Hop artists in alternative, Black and music industry-related media and particularly in the mainstream media, which serves an audience that is unfamiliar with the nuances of the Hip-Hop community and industry. That is why it was so easy for those who get their picture of Hip-Hop from the mainstream media to be deceived into believing that the murders of Biggie and Tupac were the result of an East Coast/West Coast rap feud – a picture that was largely created by provocative articles written in Hip-Hop publications fed by the actual words of Hip-Hop artists.
Yet and still, after having seen how the media handles comparisons and the words of artists, Hip-Hop artist after Hip-Hop artist, as well as executives, continue to feel a need to talk to media outlets that have demonstrated in the past, that they do not value the lives of the members of the Hip-Hop community nor the words of the leading figures in that community. Indeed, some even feel the need to bring hostile or at least, unfriendly media outlets into private Hip-Hop settings, supposedly to make sure that “the message gets out”. We noticed this at the recent Hip-Hop summit where WNBC, NY Post and CNN reporters were given preferential treatment and access to Summit participants over Black, alternative and Hip-Hop media because of the supposed need for “exposure”. What good is exposure, we thought, if it is distorted?
Our hope is that Hip-Hop will pass this current trial that it is undergoing by mastering the manner in which members of the community communicate with one another. While we all have imperfections, we sincerely hope that artists, writers, DJs, radio morning show hosts and rap video hosts will resist the temptation to use various forums for narrow personal and professional gain, at the expense of others in the Hip-Hop community. The mere fact that we have to use others, outside of the community, in order to learn about one another in the first place, should provide a sober reminder of the tremendous vulnerabilities that exist within the community and which make us all susceptible to the evil efforts of others who would very much like to see Hip-Hop destroyed, once and for all.
There is no need to help that plan along simply because we could not control our tongue(s).
Here is a portion of the Bible, which provides insight and instruction regarding the power of our mouths to build and destroy.
It is certainly food for thought for those of us who reach hundreds, thousands and millions with our pens and our tongues. It also is especially relevant to artists who are victims of invidious comparisons and their own “need” to use the media to further themselves and their careers in a shortsighted manner.
James 3- 4:1-3 from the New American Standard Version:
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.
Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,
but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.
Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?
My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?
You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Friday, August 17, 2001