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Dr. Boyce Watkins Headshot

Slowing Down the Death March of Commercialized Hip Hop

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When I recently debated Michael Eric Dyson at Brown University on the problems with mass promotion of violent and misogynist hip-hop music through BET and other media, the response from the public was... well... interesting.  

On one hand, there were those who've been waiting for someone to speak openly about the problems with BET giving awards to artists like Lil Wayne, who has publicly stated that he would shoot old women, kill little babies, and engage in all kinds of other highly destructive behavior (anyone who knows his background and the "keepin' it real" mindset of hip-hop artists knows that Wayne wasn't giving a fictional depiction of the values he promotes).

On the other hand, there were those who felt that the music has very little effect on the psyches of those who listen to it regularly. It's not as if anyone can argue that the worst of hip-hop music (i.e. Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, Wiz Khalifa) is actually good for our kids. The best that anyone can argue is that the music just isn't that big of a deal. I personally know the music of all of these artists reasonably well (thanks to my kids), and I find them to be very talented. But when I hear Wiz Khalifa endorsing the idea of getting behind the wheel of a car after a night of heavy drinking, I think about one of our YBW Coalition members, Nicole Price, who lost her mother two weeks ago to a 22-year-old brother who got drunk, stole a car and drove through a red light going 80 miles an hour. You can't blame hip-hop for what happened to Nicole's mother, but we are justified in our outrage that corporate America helps to promote the artists who glamorize the choices that lead to such devastation within our communities.

Anyone who has studied psychology understands that the mantras we repeat to ourselves sink into our subconscious in ways that even we ourselves don't notice.  If every chorus we recite is built on self-destructive activities, like sexual irresponsibility or violence, we may easily find ourselves becoming de-sensitized to otherwise poor decisions. Those who already lie on the margins of our society (like uneducated black men, too many of whom are an inch away from jail or prison already) are most vulnerable to the messages of artists who encourage thinking that is devoid of responsibility or productivity.

While I stand as a man who is truly a fan of hip-hop (and even Lil Wayne, since the brother is incredibly talented), I personally argue that we should place boundaries on the messages that we allow artists (and networks) to give to our children. Even if BET edits lyrics of Lil Wayne songs when he's on the air, they are still encouraging kids to get online and find out more about his music and providing positive reinforcement for the creation of more psychological poison.

Giving him awards for his destructive messages only serves as confirmation and validation of ideas that are clearly and undeniably dysfunctional. It tells every record label and wannabe artist in the world that the black community is first in line to express sincere appreciation for music that encourages our kids to destroy their lives.

Even good parents can't protect their children from the suicide mission being sold to African American youth -- the stats in our community on STD infection, homicide, financial irresponsibility and education show that the messages are being absorbed loud and clear. While most of these issues existed long before hip hop, the glorification of the very worst we can become has only served to make these problems worse.

If we don't speak up on this issue, no one else will. I'll be damned if I am going to sit and watch our kids continue to grow up believing that it's cool to be ignorant, violent, high, drunk, broke, uneducated and lazy. We must critically assess the music we love and let artists know that we will no longer tolerate the mass promotion of ideas that are hell bent on destroying our kids

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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