Monday, April 23, 2007

Stop Snitchin'?

Earlier this month, Don Imus embarrassed himself by referring to the relatively high achieving Rutgers women's basketball team as a bunch of "nappy-headed hos". Eight days later, he was fired.

Snoop Dogg, when asked to compare his own use of similar lyrics with Mr. Imus', explained,

It's a completely different scenario. [Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We're talking about hos that's in the 'hood that ain't doing s***, that's trying to get a n**** for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them mutha*****s say we in the same league as him.
Mr. Broadus thus argues it is ok to refer to actual hos as hos in the service of artistic expression.

In working with young boys from the inner city, though, I know all too well the impact that gangster rap and hip hop music has on them. When women are treated as objects and materialism glorified in every famous singer you see, its influence cannot be ignored.

Then, yesterday on CBS' 60 Minutes, the rapper Cam'ron said there is no way he would cooperate with police. He says,

Because with the type of business I'm in, it would definitely hurt my business. And the way that I was raised, I just don't do that. I was raised differently, not to tell. It's about business but it's still also a code of ethics. ...There's nothing really to talk about with the police, I mean, for what? ...If I knew the serial killer was living next door to me? No, I wouldn't call and tell anybody on him. But I'd probably move… But I'm not gonna call and be like, you know, 'The serial killer's in 4E.'
Cam'ron notes that it is important he maintain his 'street cred'. And street cred is not maintained by helping the po-po.

60 Minutes describes how over the last decade the fascination with being anti-police has grown and now represents the mainstream of thought in inner city America. "Stop snitchin'" has become a catchy hip-hop slogan that embodies and encourages this attitude. T-shirts with this slogan are bestsellers. Carmelo Anthony participated with drug dealers in making a DVD passing this message on. More than ever, the level of cooperation between inner city residents and police is at a low. And it's a self perpetuating cycle. As residents become less cooperative, police become more defensive, and sometimes harsher. As police become harsher and more physical, residents become less cooperative. And it goes on...

There is no doubt that the 'cool' factor in being above and outside the law bred in rap of the '90s has contributed to this slide. But since when is it more credible to hide the identity of a serial killer next door than cooperate with the police?

There is thus no doubt in my mind that rappers need to be held to a higher standard. Their influence seems obvious. In a recent summit, rap executives have begun to call for the removal of certain volatile elements within their productions. At the same time, though, artists have chafed at this 'censorship'. Some of them claim, as Snoop did, that they are only reflecting and singing about true life.

The question is, does art imitate life or does life begin to imitate art?

5 comments:

Greg said...

The question is, does art imitate life or does life begin to imitate art?

For my money, I think it's a mysterious blend of the two.

Chairman said...

Doesn't matter, as long as you have street cred. Like me. I'm gangsta to the core.

Much of this depends on your view of the power of the system versus the power of the individual. At some level, there must be a choice, because even in attempting to achieve the same outcome, very different measures would be prescribed.

My take - I believe in the power of the individual, and simply do not see positive movement when you target policy to the lowest common denominator.

Literary license has always included some implied level of "suspension of disbelief." If you apply the same sort of ethic (that you want to apply to rap) to anything else, all of a sudden, we lose most country music, most rock music, and most anything with words in it. This sort of thing just simply assumes that individuals have no ability to think and no choice over their behavior. It's the sort of thought that results in book burnings that are for people's own good.

There are plenty of books, movies, songs, etc. that romanticize things in an unhealthy way, glorify things that should not be glorified, and such. But to ask the artists to change what they're creating? That's silly. When you start telling people what to write, what to sing, what to show, then you end up with an inferior product that does nothing to engage people, and doesn't open people's imaginations. A much more interesting challenge would be to challenge others to make art that is equally compelling, but tells stories of redemption and success.

Essentially, my stance is that if you assume a fallen world, then you do no good by reducing the amount of bad, but are only useful by increasing the good.

The challenge is for those who purport to do good works, to actually do good works, and not sit around and be self-satisfied at what it is that they have done.

Westy said...

Hmmm. I guess I would argue that censhorship of 'creative freedom' is different than outlawing profanities.
My grandpa always used to say that if you can't find a better way to express yourself than with profanities, you're not a very intelligent person.

Westy said...

Jon Stewart offers additional commentary on this issue here.

Scroll down to the video entitled "Stop Snitchin'" for his take.

Aaron Roy said...

Westy,
This concept of snitching is actually the aftermath of a brutal history of police brutality, false imprisonment, and unjust court systems. The "stop snitching" thing is just a reaction to the hopelessness that comes from knowing that the folks who are to serve the public have for years done a disservice to your community. I am bothered by folks who refuse to see the cause of this yet want to make comments that seem to suggest fault only to the residents in the African American community. Having grown up in the southern "ghetto" I have countless memories of the law being unlawful. I want even bother sharing! Anyway as a Christian man who has a passion for justice I want to see those who commit crimes punished adequately but at the same time I know and understand the history behind the silence. Let Justice Reign!

By the way I found your blog while reading comments off of Arloa's blog.

Peace,
Aaron