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FIRST-PERSON: Hip-Hop: a vote for the heave-ho

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Most of the general public appreciates the importance of good music as an important tenet of a thriving and healthy culture. For at least two decades, the public has been either repelled by, or simply remained indifferent to, music and entertainment of the Hip-Hop culture. Except for a few challenges to it that were resisted by cries of constitutional liberties, the Hip-Hop industry has literally rolled on and flourished under its own momentum.

Now that community, under the leadership of its music mogul Russell Simmons, is making yet another social leap by preparing to mobilize Hip Hoppers around mainstream political issues.

On Saturday, Jan. 31, thousands gathered in Houston, Texas, for the third annual Hip-Hop Summit. The theme for this year’s gathering was: “Taking Back Responsibility: Youth Economic & Political Empowerment.”

In attendance were Hip-Hop artists such as Master P. Busta Rhymes, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and others high in the Hip-Hop and R&B ruling ranks. Founded in 2001 as the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), the organization has marshaled an aggressive social agenda through its music and unique brand of entertainment.

To any astute reader, the written mission statement of the group appears admirable. According to their website, HSAN is “Dedicated to harnessing the cultural relevance of Hip-Hop music to serve as a catalyst for education advocacy and other societal concerns fundamental to the well-being of at-risk youth throughout the United States.”

But close scrutiny of the creativity, actions and performances of Hip-Hop artists and the words of their manifesto are incontrovertible contradictions of each other.

Left to their own, without other cultural alternatives, Hip-Hop music and performances have the strength to render the best of world culture insolvent. The lyrical content of most of the work of Hip-Hop artists is hardly suitable for listening, nor is it conducive to the betterment of at-risk youth on any level of their learning, social development or their moral and emotional well-being.

Salacious at best, pornographic and prurient at worst, the grinding, bumping, groping rebelliousness of Hip-Hop music is worthy of the attention of all members of society who want to maintain, preserve and return to public consumption wholesome aspects of music and entertainment that is of trustworthy quality for all.

The antics of Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl halftime on Jan. 26 are a prime example of how untrustworthy Hip-Hop entertainment is. On blatant display were the promoted misogyny of Hip-Hop culture, sexism, partial nudity, crude and suggestive language, and its ideals of conspicuous consumption. For the same degrading entertainment, anyone who prefers it can go to a local strip club.

The latest foray of the Hip-Hop moguls now is voter registration. On the political face of this matter, voter registration is great. Voting is the one tool in America that all citizens can leverage equally.

Russell Simmons, in a recent CNN interview, said he hopes to register 2 million voters before the 2004 presidential election. Could there possibly be a Hip-Hop Political Action Committee on the horizon?

Heaven forbid, but the larger political and cultural implication is clear.
Terriel R. Byrd is assistant professor of religion at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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  • Terriel R. Byrd