by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Some think that because I critique modern commercialized hip-hop (which is not the same as real hip-hop), that I don’t understand it. They also might assume that I don’t listen to it or wish to censor artists who might be defined as “ratchet.” Actually, the opposite is true: I only listen to hip-hop and almost no other forms of musical expression, because the other stuff usually bores me. Half of my favorite artists are under the age of 28. I don’t identify with people who think that all good music was made 20 years ago, I don’t think that Tupac and Biggie are eons greater than every artist alive today (TI, Lil Wayne, Immortal Technique, Ice Cube and Kendrick Lamar are just as good) and I can honestly appreciate the talent in a lot of “ratchet” music.
I couldn’t critique hip-hop if I didn’t also understand and appreciate it. I only stand as a black man who wishes to speak to his brothers about taking a second to consider the power of their words and the role we play in leading our communities. If black men lead black children off the edge of a cliff, then most of our kids are going to jump. So, while most hip-hop falls under the domain of free speech, there is that last 10% of the music that serves as nothing more than a repetitive set of mantras fed to them by white-owned record labels designed to convince black people to become direct parties to their own annihilation.
THAT is where I draw the line.
Someone forwarded me an article written by a guy named David D, who wrote one of those “aha! I got you Dr. Watkins!” articles on a site that I’d never heard of before. David was gloating over the rapper Juicy J (who’s latest album is called “Stay trippy,” referring to the “purple drank” that’s causing 30-something year old rappers to have heart attacks, strokes and seizures) and the manner by which he delivered his “Twerk scholarship” without actually requiring the woman to twerk. I’d expressed concerns about Melissa Harris-Perry supporting a young black college student who stated that she was twerking for Juicy J and Jesus (yes, she actually said that) in order to win $50,000.
According to David, the fact that Juicy J gave his so-called “Twerk Scholarship” to a single mother who wasn’t actually twerking proves that I am all wrong about corporate hip-hop and just the nasty old man next door trying to shut down the bumping house party.
I wasn’t sure what to think of David’s commentary after seeing David’s avatar, which is a picture of white wrestler, followed by the words “David D. will Ric Flair chop you into oblivion if you insult his comic book collection. He will also write about Hip-Hop from time to time.”
The good lord knows I don’t want to be “Rick Flair chopped,” so I won’t say much about his comic book collection. I’m also sure David wasn’t happy to see me play a role in killing Lil Wayne’s endorsement deal with Mountain Dew earlier this year. But I dare speculate that my criticism (among others) might have been what led Juicy J to suddenly make the decision to NOT give the scholarship to the woman with the biggest booty. This has been his pattern since the 1990s, so this is a nice change of pace.
In all his blogger-wrath, David explained why I am a “psuedo-intellectual” and that I’d “lost an entire generation” by speaking out against hip-hop artists like Juicy J who’ve promoted two decades of psychological poison onto the African American community. I wasn’t offended, since my kids say that kind of stuff to me all the time. He also seemed to feel that Juicy J’s one act of semi-redemption somehow erased tons of self-destructive garbage he has been using to pollute the minds of black children all across America.
In case you’re not aware of Juicy J, here is a sample of the lyrics from his song, “B*tch by my side” (please read the lyrics and we’ll continue our class after that):
I got a main bitch, I got a new hoe
Love my AK and I bought a 44
She so seductive when she takes them clothes off
Nigga get wrong then that bitch is going off
It’s her birthday so I bought that bitch a bean
She my inspiration so I let her sing
Had a let her go ’cause she wasn’t working right
Had to pull my side bitch ’cause she was working right
Why you mad at me she the one taking yo life
Taking your money, taking your jewelry
But these niggas on ice
She fine she mine
Ask what size she wear, she’ll tell u 9
This bitch on my side all she like to do is licks
This bitch on my side she a take a nigga bricks
This bitch on my side, on my side err night
Anybody get wrong she gon get they ass right
I should start my thoughts by showing respect to the rappers I love: Immortal Technique, Killer Mike, Jasiri X, Outkast and Kendrick Lamar. I am not one to say that every lyric has to be clean in order for you to be a solid artist. But the line has to be drawn when an artist consistently promotes actions and choices that lead black men to keep filling up to the penitentiaries. But some negroes fall for this, since it is part of a systematic plan embedded into their psyches at an early age. I can empathize with that kind of misguided thinking.
I’m also not just talking about Juicy J, but instead speaking about every rapper who is delusional (or “trippy”) enough to think that this kind of chaos is normal. The undeniable truth is that this corporate-sponsored cultural deformity that has come to plague black America CANNOT be defended. The best you can say is that you don’t care about the effects of the music, like an alcoholic doesn’t care about his body or a hooker doesn’t care that she might get AIDS. Not caring that you might get AIDS doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get it.
The idea that this is “just meaningless music” is as misinformed as believing that McDonald’s commercials don’t help the company sell more hamburgers. The fact is that we are inspired by what we hear in music and it affects our choices. By condoning messages that present black men as ignorant buffoons who want to kill each other, disrespect women and stay high/drunk/”trippy” all the time, we are allowing young black boys to absorb this imagery and incorporate it into their own lives.
Those of us who love black people and love hip-hop are at war to reclaim the space that is rightfully ours. Hip-hop was once used as a force to empower young minds and to fight the prison industrial complex, stand up against racism and to raise the collective IQ of an entire community.
That power was deliberately transformed into one of the greatest forms of weaponized psychological genocide of the last 30 years. Notice that I used the word “deliberate.” Anytime black people get educated and empowered, there are people in Washington who perceive this to be a threat to national security. That’s why Martin Luther King and Malcolm X didn’t make it out of the 1960s.
In my critique, I’m not talking about thoughtful artists, especially young ones, who are fighting to make hip-hop black, powerful and authentic. I also give tremendous credit to the rappers like TI, who appears (in his music) to be going through a period of thoughtful reflection about his role as a father and influencer in his community. But the ones we must confront are the corporate coons and clowns who think that any brain-dead minstrel show is justified because they’ve got a big gold chain wrapped around their neck. These men are an insult to black America and to the relevance of hip-hop music.
So, the bottom line is this: I love David D and others who think like him. But anyone who is happy with the mass promotion of ignorance, violence and destruction within black America has to be challenged if we are to break out of what has become one of the darkest eras in modern black history. Corporate hip-hop on the radio didn’t cause the ills in the black community, but it has served to glamorize and celebrate the very worst of what we can become as human beings.
Real rappers and those who love black people must be determined to eliminate the nonsense and it starts with being honest about the ignorant fools among us.