I was glad to be out of prison for the day. Instead of performing my usual demanding duties as a prison psychologist, I was teaching at the academy. Specifically, I was teaching adolescent psychology to law enforcement officers at the Criminal Justice Academy in Salemburg. These classes have always been enjoyable, characterized by mutual respect with a dose of commiseration. When I speak, the students take notes and nod in agreement, and I do the same when they speak. So I was looking forward to a day "in the world" without any hostile confrontations.
Indeed, on this day I was scoring points with my audience. "Although the entertainment business reflexively denies they influence behavior, if they didn't, there would be no such thing as advertising," I said. "Of course, advertising is so influential that a 30-second spot on the Super Bowl sells for $2 million," I added.
The students watched intently as I displayed the cover of the current (May 2002) issue of Black Enterprise magazine with its headline, "Hip-Hop Economy Explodes!" and subhead, "Roc-A-Fella's Damon Dash and Jay-Z Tap The Culture's Global Impact."
I continued, "Of course, when it is in their interest, the entertainment business readily acknowledges how they influence behavior. For example, the cover story in this magazine points out that after the 1994 release of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice," there was a 10 percent increase in sales of Tanquery Gin. I told the officers that the article boasted that other brands of liquor are "mentioned in rap songs," beginning with "Henny" (Hennessy Cognac), an ad for which adorned the back cover of the issue. I then read the lyrics from a popular rap song, "Holla, Holla," by Ja Rule, wherein the artist identifies himself as, "Ja baby, one of the many, many niggas who sip Henny."
I questioned the value of the influence that Black Enterprise was trumpeting: that by demeaning themselves, rappers can sell more alcohol to their audience.
Before I could critique "death metal," violent video games, violent movies, and other forms of "entertainment" that exploit and corrupt our youth, an officer interrupted me with, "I don' t think you have any right to criticize hip hop." He then offered the most indefensible of defenses for the genre: "It's just entertainment! It's a lot of talented brothers making entertainment. It's just fun to listen to the beats," declared the Hip-Hop Cop.
For the last two days, I have been unable to shake the image of Hip-Hop Cop being entertained by the words and images of rap.
When I arrived home from class, I looked at my wife, an angel with brown skin, and thought of the depiction of African-American women in current hip-hop. (All of the "artists" quoted herein have had at least one hit on the charts in the last year.) Beanie Sigel proclaims in "Man's World," "This is a man's world, bitch; all you whores bow down," and commands a woman in "Watch Your Bitches" to "speed on, 'fore you get peed on."
Eminem promised to do even worse in "Shit On You." R. Kelly (currently under indictment for making a videotape that allegedly includes his urinating in the face of a teenage girl) praises a woman in "Like a Real Freak" for "making me want to spend my cash on you, 'cause can't nobody freak me like you do." Ja Rule praises his "Down Ass Bitch" (in the rap of the same title) because she'll kill for him and die for him, and she reciprocates by promising that if he gets shot, she'll be his "organ donor." African-American women are depicted as "bitches" who are not just whores worthy of the most repugnant treatment, but repositories of spare organs. That's entertainment?
I looked at our daughter, and anger surged through me as I thought of how boys her age are being taught to treat black girls. I heard L.L. Cool J in "Imagine That" telling a "sista" that he was going to "disrespect you, and still make you mine." I felt rage knowing that her age didn't exempt her from hip-hop hatred. Beanie Sigel in "Tales of a Hustler" rants, "I'll snatch your family up, start from tall nephews to small nieces--bitches!" That's entertainment?
That night I received a call from a man who had seen his grandson hallucinating after smoking marijuana laced with "angel dust." "He looked at me like I was the devil," the despondent grandfather moaned. And I heard the words of Yah Lover (of D12, a compilation of Eminem's accomplices) threatening, "I'll rip a crew, with dust and liquor, too." That's entertainment?
I thought of the words of D12 again the next day, when I returned to my regular duties, as a psychologist in a prison. A young man who had been sexually abused by his father became so upset when asked about his childhood that he tried to run out of the room--even though he was handcuffed and shackled. I don't think this victim of childhood sexual abuse would be amused by this listing of the favorite activities of Bizarre (from "No Rubber"): "I hang with white trash, and love to skip class, get high off coke and hash, and fuck a little kid in his ass." That's entertainment?
Fat Joe rapped that "My Lifestyle" is "very scary." Indeed, I recalled these lyrics when I spoke with a former thug who had become agoraphobic as a result of his own lifestyle. This 19-year-old cowered in his house for four months, too terrified to step onto the front porch. That's entertainment?
Another young man spoke of the physical pain of suffering a gunshot wound and the emotional pain of being abandoned by his father. Of course, inflicting gunshot wounds and abandoning one's children are celebrated in raps too numerous to mention. But this young man found hope through his religious beliefs.
Even if his beliefs are not your beliefs, you'd probably be offended by the words of The Notorious B.I.G. (who was known as #0422234 while serving a sentence in a North Carolina prison for drug trafficking): "Hail Mary. Fuck her. I never knew her. I'd probably screw her. And dump her body in the sewer." That's entertainment?
One pitiable inmate arrived at my office hyperventilating. He found prison was much worse than the virtual summer camp depicted by Petey Pablo (who was known as Moses Barrett III, or #0021490, when he was serving a sentence in North Carolina prisons for armed robbery) in his hit "Raise Up." In the accompanying publicity, Petey Pablo claimed that he eased his way through prison by putting on rap concerts for hundreds of inmates--a claim that causes current inmates to laugh incredulously. The loneliness is not abated by the promise of Faith Evans in "Do Your Time" that, "I'm gonna do your time with you," nor by the instructions offered by Lil' Kim in "How Many Licks" to "my niggaz in jail" regarding how they should masturbate while looking at her picture. That' s entertainment?
When I finally had time to check my e-mail, I found a message from Tim Miles, President of the Orange County Disability Awareness Council (I am a board member). Many council members, as well as those we help, have suffered from head injuries or paralyzing injuries--as have many of my inmate patients. So I could not help but think of the threat of Fat Joe in "My Lifestyle" to "leave you with brain damage," and of the numerous references to causing paralysis: DMX from "Scenario 2000," "I'll put yo' fucking man in a wheelchair, he'll never walk again"; Master P. from "Bangin'," who challenges his adversaries to, "Throw your motherfucking set in the air, if you don't care, to ride a wheelchair"; Ja Rule from "It's Murda," who boasts, "I'm paralyzing clowns, up and down from the waist," and in "Never Again" wishes, "May all my hos thug on, and keep these punk niggas paralyzed from the waist down." That's entertainment?
Back in the classroom, in response to the Hip-Hip Cop, I had offered the following points: Anyone who is entertained by the misanthropic words and images of popular hip hop must do a moral, spiritual, and psychological self-examination because they have lost their way in all of these realms.
We all must make moral choices regarding what we support with our entertainment dollars. I might enjoy the guitar riffs in skinhead or death metal, but it would be wrong for me to support it and help spread their version of racism. Likewise, while Hip-Hop Cop enjoys the beats in rap, it is wrong for him to support their version of racism (which extends to the entire human race).
Those who purchase rap are financially supporting criminal enterprises. The list of convicted criminals in hip hop is far too long to recount here, but one local tragedy stands out. In 1995, 14-year-old Carl McLaurin was kidnapped from Durham, taken to Jordan Lake, and shot numerous times in the back. The victim's brother identified the murderers after seeing them dancing in a Notorious B.I.G. video.
Rap money is dirty--it comes at the expense of the public's perception of black people and the self-image of black people. Black people are portrayed as having every bad attribute, and every bad attribute is portrayed as black. DMX purports to tell his audience "Who We Be": "the drugs ... the thugs ... the hugs ... the slugs"; "The friends, the foes, the Benz, the hos"; "The hustlin', the dealin', the robbin', the stealin'." Apparently, "We" are not just vile, "we" are helpless and hapless: "The options--get shot, go to jail, or get your ass kicked." DMX wants to make sure his audience gets his point: "Man, listen--these motherfuckers don't know who we are." In "Young Black Male," Tupac Shakur defined the group thusly: "We ain't nuttin' but some low down dirty niggaz."
The depiction of black girls and women in rap is especially atrocious. Black women are usually characterized as "hos" or worse (even though, as a group, they are the most sexually conservative in our society). Along with the depiction of black females as "bitches," their depiction as promiscuous is a dangerous combination. By the hip-hop ethic, black women deserve anything that a man decides to inflict upon them.
Although it is done mostly in "black face," rap is not a "black thing." Between 60 and 75 percent of rap is purchased by white teenage boys. As surely as the "hippie" generation of their fathers got haircuts, traded in their torn jeans for three-piece suits, and climbed the corporate ladder, the white boys of this hip-hop generation will discard their oversized pants, take the rings out of their noses, have their tattoos surgically removed, and begin their own careers. As they climb the ladder of success, they will remember what they "learned" about blacks through rap, and use these lessons in deciding whom not to hire or promote, whom to lay off, whom to move their manufacturing plants away from, etc.
This hip-hop impression of African-Americans is worldwide. In a recent appearance at UNC-Chapel Hill, acclaimed actress Alfre Woodard told of a thug "wannabe" who approached her son during a vacation in France. The French teenager, apparently reacting to her son's brown skin, assumed he would speak some universal thug language. Ms. Woodard did a hilarious imitation of the French teen throwing down his hands and trying to say, "Yo! Yo! Whassup? Whassup?" Ms. Woodard's son was only 8 years old. (Maybe the French kid thought he was one of the Lil' brand of rappers: Lil' Bow Wow, Lil' Romeo, Lil' Wayne.) This phenomenon is not new. Years ago, Bill Cosby said that, as a result of their depiction in the entertainment media, "African Americans are despised around the world."
Hip hop desensitizes people to violence against black people. This makes those predisposed to commit violence against black people more violent, and those who are apathetic about violence against black people more apathetic. In some cases, the techniques used could not be any more effective if they were designed by experts in desensitization. For example, the cover of, and advertisements for, the DMX compact disc, Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, features a photo of a shirtless DMX with blood dripping from his arms and torso. When a psychologist is trying to desensitize a patient to a feared stimulus, that stimulus is put in a familiar, non-threatening environment. The distortion of the biblical verse, "flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone" provides a seemingly familiar context for the presentation of the bloody image; the substitution of "blood" for "bone" provides a seeming rationale for the presence of all the blood, which protects the viewer from "moralistic" criticisms. Finally, the image of red blood on brown skin is experienced over and over in the context of entertainment. The Nazi regime used a similar tactic to help young members of the Hitler Youth overcome their initial hesitation to torture and kill Jewish men, women and children.
Sorry to have to tell you this, Hip-Hop Cop, but a cop isn't welcome in the world of hip-hop. Tupac Shakur, in "I Don' t Give a Fuck," called cops "a gang of motherfuckers in blue slacks ... who's the biggest gang of niggas in the city." Tupac didn't exempt those entertained by his music when he said a cop is "a beat-walkin' nigga with a badge."
Although silenced, Hip-Hop Cop was not convinced. He bristled, huffed and puffed, and glared at me for the remaining three hours of the session. So here, in a language you claim to understand, is my last attempt to edify you, Hip-Hop Cop:
Ay, yo! Hip-Hop Cop!
Self-destruction got to stop.
You a black man-in-blue,
So I assumed you knew;
Thought you wouldn't be entertained
To see our young men bleeding and pained;
Thought you wouldn't be amused,
Hearing our women and kids abused.
But I was wrong.
Your mind's not strong.
Once they gave you a badge and gun
You wanted to get in on the fun
You couldn't wait to play, 'cause you
thought it's a game
Well I got this to say, to Hip-Hop Cop: Fo'