I’ve recently come to the realization that Hip Hop has come to a real crossroads in 2013. In the minds of many fans, Hip Hop as a genre, a culture and a lifestyle, has reached middle age by entering its 40th year. It’s come a long way from it’s more-than-humble, grassroots inception back in the early to mid 1970s as a creation of a poor and nearly forgotten generation from the South Bronx. But you already knew that.
Hip Hop has become a multi-million dollar phenomenon that still drives the music industry. And some of its biggest and brightest stars, including Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, are some of the biggest celebrities and successful business entities in the world. But even with all of their successes, both Ross and Wayne have recently come under heavy scrutiny and tons of public backlash for seriously explicit and, according to many, highly disrespectful and profane lyrics.
In Lil Wayne’s case, he’s featured on a song by one of Hip Hop’s current “it” dudes in Future, “Karate Chop”. Wayne spews the line “Beat that p—y up like Emmett Till.” With that singular line, Tunechi set off a traditional and social media firestorm that still hasn’t died down, even causing the family of Till, a figure considered to have helped set the course for the Civil Rights movement through his gruesome beating and murder, to take offense and request a public apology. Lil Wayne has yet to fulfill said request.
Only a few months later, Miami’s self-proclaimed boss Rick Ross, a.k.a. Rick Rozay, a.k.a. the Teflon Don, was featured on a song by Atlanta emcee Rocko entitled “U.O.E.N.O.” On the song, Ross rhymes, “Put a molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it/ I took her home and enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it…”, which seems to strongly imply taking advantage of a woman that has been unknowingly drugged, which equals rape.
But what should really put Ross’s detractors over the edge is his recent back peddling and weak attempt to clear up what he says is a “misunderstanding”. Here’s Ross’ response that’s by now all over the Internet:
“Woman is the most precious gift known to man. And there was a misunderstanding with a lyric…a misinterpretation where the term rape was–wasn’t used. I would never use the term rape, you know, in my lyrics. And as far as my camp, hip hop don’t condone that, the streets don’t condone that, nobody condones that.” Ross is yet to offer a formal apology for the lyric, either.
There already has been and will be much reported about, written on and made of both Ross’ and Wayne’s lyrics. Their respective camps of fans will probably err on the side of both emcees being brilliant and, at worst, will probably say that both are cases of “just another rap song” that’s not supposed to be taken literally. While at the opposite end of the spectrum, critics have been quick to call the lines by both men crude, vulgar, senseless and obscene.
But opinions are like an excuse for missing work after a night of heavy drinking: everybody’s got one when it’s convenient. Regardless of where one’s opinion might land, both of these instances underscore something that is totally undeniable…Hip Hop is at a crossroads. And in more ways than one.
In one instance, there was a time when the public didn’t have the access to emcees and their lyrics at such break neck speed like they do today. The Internet and the social media revolution have changed Hip Hop forever in that basically anybody can become a journalist, music critic and/or social activist overnight.
And the level of scrutiny that Hip Hop and the music it produces has risen to an all time high. Every single word, line, lyric or stanza can be broken down, interpreted and obsessed over at length at the drop of a hat. So, wouldn’t it make sense for some of the biggest emcees in the game to be a little more cautious about what they say in a song?
Which brings us to an even more pressing inquiry: what about responsibility in the lyrics? We can make no secret of the fact that the history of Hip Hop is riddled with copious amounts of what many consider vulgarity and profaneness. Nor is it much of a shock that throughout its history, Hip Hop has been unfairly demonized, victimized and scrutinized for its very existence. Both are time-tested truths, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
But good or bad, lyricism and wordplay have almost always been some of the main pillars of Hip Hop. And what both Rick Ross and Lil Wayne have done, with their lyrics on both “Karate Chop” and “U.O.E.N.O.”, is to have started a rightfully heated dialogue on what is and is not acceptable in Hip Hop, as well as when emcees need to be challenged, held accountable and made to take real responsibility for their words.
No, Rick Ross did not say the word “rape” on “U.O.E.N.O.”, but the implication is unequivocally present. And maybe Lil Wayne meant to do no harm whatsoever to the legacy and memory of Emmett Till on “Karate Chop”, but he did essentially reduce the horrifically violent yet historic ending of a young boy’s life to having sex with a woman. No, many times rappers may not actually mean what they say on a song in the literal sense, but does that mean they should get a pass, or at the very least, slapped on the hand and sent on their way to make and sell more records?
And those questions only lead to more pressing, and sometimes more troubling questions: how do we as fans of Hip Hop view our women? What do we tell them when the hoopla around Ross and Wayne’s lyrics dies down? What do we pass on, if anything, to our young men and women about the messages in these songs?
No easy questions, and no easy answers. But hey, according to the Lil Wayne, Drake and Future hit, many of these emcees, including Wayne and Ross, could give less than a f—k about any of these haters, as long as their b-tches love them…right?
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