ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–Behavior that is rewarded, social scientists have observed, is behavior that will be repeated. Nowhere is this maxim more on display than in the musical genre known as hip hop.
Promiscuous sex, unfettered materialism, gratuitous violence, the glorification of criminal behavior as well as the objectification and subjugation of women are common themes of the world of hip hop. And the worst offender in the category is gangsta rap.
I cannot share the lyrics of some of hip hop’s most popular songs. They are so saturated with foul language, erotic imagery and sexual euphemisms that removing the offending content reduces the so-called songs to nothing more than a collection of pronouns, prepositions and conjunctions.
Gangsta rap artists long have defended their unsavory lyrics as nothing more than social commentary. Hip-hop apologists say the performers sing from their experiences and do not purposefully glorify bad behavior.
I don’t really know how the purveyors of gangsta rap can maintain the aforementioned with a straight face. Many of the most popular performers have had brushes with the law — with a few, such as Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G being murdered. And yet, they are held up as role models worthy of emulation.
A case in point of how hip hop in general, and gangsta rap in particular, applauds bad behavior was this year’s Hip Hop Awards, which was aired on Black Entertainment Television (BET).
Two members of the “Jena Six” were invited to appear on the awards show. Carwin Jones and Bryant Purvis were flown to Los Angeles, along with several family members. While at the awards the pair assisted in presenting the hip hop Video of the Year award.
The “Jena Six” refers to six African-American teenagers accused of severely beating a white teen in their hometown of Jena, La. Originally the six were charged with attempted second-degree murder before the charges were downgraded to second-degree battery.
Even though the criminal justice system was in the process of correcting the injustice, in mid-September a civil rights march took place in Jena. Promoted by Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, upwards of 20,000 people came to the tiny town to protest what they believed was systematic racism.
While it is true that Jones and Purvis only stand accused of taking part in the beating of the white student, and they do deserve their day in court, almost no one disputes that the attack took place. The march held in September was not about the guilt or innocence of the “Jena Six” — it was about a fair system of justice.
Jones and Purvis appeared at the Hip Hop Awards looking like rap super stars. The pair strutted and posed, flashing six fingers denoting their status as part of the “Jena Six.”
“We are by no means condoning a six-on-one beat down,” quipped comedian Katt Williams as he introduced the teens. He then added, “But I’ve been short all my life and I’ve been beat down by more than six people at a time.” The audience laughed in response.
“Having said that,” Williams continued, “the injustice perpetrated against these young men was straight criminal.” He then introduced Jones and Purvis to a standing ovation.
On a BET blog, people sounded off on the Jones and Purvis’ appearance. One person wrote, “So this is what I was protesting for! So that later you could show up at the BET awards and STYLE & PROFILE????” Another wrote, “This is so disrespectful to all the people that came to Jena to protest.”
One post said, “An opportunity was missed here. An opportunity to teach the youth that violence is not the answer is presented and once again ignored.”
Keep in mind that Jones and Purvis were not invited to the awards show because of good grades and exemplary conduct. They were present because they had become known for a criminal attack on a single student.
Yes, the initial charges of attempted murder were over the top. However, that has all been corrected. To continue to hold the “Jena Six” up as martyrs is exploitive, egregious and immoral. But in the warped world of hip hop, it is also normal, rewarded and repeated.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.