Stop Blaming Hip Hop

As far back as I can remember, there has been a war on Hip Hop.  Vivid flashbacks of Reverend Calvin Butts crusading against “negative rap” from the seat of a steamroller come to mind.  Tupac’s disdain for C. Delores Tucker and her vocal criticism of Hip Hop’s violence and misogyny stand out.  Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew fighting for their First Amendment right to be “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” at the Supreme Court is similarly memorable.  Fast forwarding to more recent times, Hip Hop continues to be demonized as “the Gospel of Self-Destruction.” Bill O’Reilly even goes as far as pinning the decline of American religious affiliation on rap music’s control over our nation’s youth. (Yes, really). Despite the last thirty years of Black leaders, preachers, politicians, and pundits hymning and hawing about Hip Hop’s chokehold on Black cultural expression, what has actually been accomplished besides youth resentment and elder alienation? I argue nothing at all.

Hip Hop is afflicted by Preacher’s Kid Syndrome. Since its inception it’s been asked to live beyond reproach; prior generations have pleaded with Hip Hop not to make a mockery of Black culture. “Fix your grammar… don’t talk like that… don’t dress like that… pull your damn pants up… you’re making us all look bad!” Yet people tend to forget that Hip Hop was born in a ghetto and continues to live in the ghetto.  Asking Hip Hop artists to focus solely on social uplift is as impractical as expecting the preacher’s kid not to wild out as soon as they leave home for college.  As the repressed preacher’s kid, Hip Hop is going to party hard, drink, do drugs, and be promiscuous.  To the top of its lungs, it’s going to shout the N-word and all the profanities it’s been told are unacceptable to mainstream society.  And when Daddy calls campus to demand that Hip Hop tone it down, it’s going to start ignoring those calls and turn up even more.  Hip Hop is that college roommate that goes to every party, takes every test high, inexplicably graduates magna cum laude, then gets tapped by Corporate America to generate record profits.  The preacher has to settle for a measly Mercedes while Hip Hop wakes up in a new Bugatti.

In response, Hip Hop is told that it’s selling out the Black race.  Its thuggery and highlighting of fiscal irresponsibility have been blamed for high incarceration rates, and subsequently the decimation of Black upward mobility.  Point blank, leaders tell us Hip Hop is holding the Black community back. Now… are there thugs making Hip Hop music and spreading delusions of grandeur? Yes, of course! Here are a few of my favorite:

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Along with millions of listeners from all walks of life, I enjoy their music.  For Black youth, it’s the soundtrack to eudaemonia, the embodiment of the African American dream.  High school dropouts, undergrads, MBAs, and PhD scholars alike find motivation in the profanity ridden tales of ghetto greatness.  I know because they are my friends.  Hip Hop never prevented us from attaining success; it inspired us to work hard and invest in ourselves so we could one day live in mansions, bathing in jacuzzis full of Dom. As a person that grew up listening to the hardest of hard core Hip Hop, I was never motivated to commit felonies, disrespect women, or blow all my cash chasing unattainable fantasies.  The people I know who did all that stuff struggled with other household problems that would have manifested in trouble regardless of their choice of music.  Saying Hip Hop systemically programs Black youth for nihilism, prison, and economic catastrophe is an insult to our collective intelligence.

But this isn’t about feelings, it’s about reality.  The facts simply do not support the notion of Hip Hop being a cancer to the Black community.  Keith Humphreys of The Washington Post recently dropped an article titled “There’s Been a Big Decline in the Black Incarceration Rate, and Almost Nobody’s Paying Attention.” Considering how detrimental leaders, lawmakers, and the media believe Hip Hop to be as a contributor to Black criminality, how could this be true?  Let’s take a look at the numbers:

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Humphreys notes that “since 2000, the imprisonment rate among African-American women has dropped 47 percent, while the rate among white women has risen by 56 percent.”  In addition, “the rate of imprisonment among African-American men remains very high, but nonetheless it has tumbled 22 percent since 2000.” This all comes at a time when “Spotify has analyzed 20 billion tracks and has come to the conclusion that hip-hop is the most listened to genre in the world” (as reported by Angel Diaz for Complex July 14, 2015).  Could it be that public policy and NOT Hip Hop has had the greatest effect on whether or not Black youth end up in prison?  Certainly appears that way.

But what about money?  All that champagne popping, strip club raining, rim buying, fashion fanaticism, and jewelry dripping are what we’re told is keeping us from competing with other ethnic groups.  Yet, NYU Professor Patrick Sharkey studied “Neighborhoods and The Black-White Mobility Gap”prior to and after the advent of of Hip Hop.  The report concludes:

In the United States, living in a poor neighborhood often means living in an environment that is unhealthy and violent, and may offer relatively poor learning opportunities and economic opportunities. The troubling news from this report is
that inequality in our neighborhoods may be contributing to the persistence of racial differences in economic mobility. The hopeful news is that investments in neighborhoods that reduce the concentration of poverty could have powerful effects on the economic trajectories of children living within the most disadvantaged communities.

So is it Hip Hop holding us back or rather systemic wealth inequality? In the famous words of James Carville “it’s the economy stupid!” Take a look at this chart:

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With Hip Hop not emerging until the mid 70s, the rate of Blacks living in high poverty neighborhoods is virtually identical when comparing pre versus post Hip Hop.  Subscribing to Hip Hop culture can’t be blamed for creating an environment of perpetual poverty in predominately Black neighborhoods. That’s because government sanctioned policies like redlining and Jim Crow show a direct impact. Blacks have historically and currently continue to be locked out of the wealth creation cycle home ownership provides. For instance, Emily Badger of The Washington Post reported in the past year “the Department of Housing and Urban Development settled with the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin over claims that it discriminated from 2008-2010 against black and Hispanic borrowers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.”  Certainly, racist policies like redlining create problems for Black communities Hip Hop can describe, but never spawn.

Furthermore, with education being a major key to upward mobility, it’s obvious what kind of long term impact Jim Crow has had on Black plight.  Deplorable education was the most severe consequence, as Black schools received significantly less funding and attention in comparison to White schools. [Cues Onyx] But, but wait it gets worse!  After Hip Hop swept America’s airwaves, the Prison Industrial Complex arose to punish and profit from the actions of the very same  youths it confined to ghettoes with crappy education. But it’s somehow Hip Hop’s fault for brainwashing kids into being criminals?  As mentioned previously, the Black incarceration rate is currently decreasing at the same time Hip Hop is being recognized as the world’s most popular music.  It’s evident Hip Hop has been unfairly targeted as the source of Black youth dysfunction; the true blame rests squarely on the shoulders of American public policy.  So why are we still being sold the lie that Black youth’s allegiance to Hip Hop is leading to the races’ demise?  [Cues Cam’ron] This ain’t math class but this s**t ain’t adding up!

Numbers don’t lie. To the best of its ability, Marketing Research Incorporated has tracked Hip Hop buying trends by race.  HipHopDX writer Omar Burgess reveals “if you put stock into the MRI data, you’re left juggling the fact that Hip Hop is by and large performed by black people selling product to an audience of mostly white people between the ages of 18 and 34.” Yet, White youth aren’t driven to destroy their communities by joining gangs and squandering their money. So why would Hip Hop lyrics have a disparate impact on Black American youth and not the youth of any other community worldwide?  Obviously our country’s policing of Hip Hop has produced the disparate impact, not the content.  Saying Black minds are somehow more impressionable than White, Asian, and other minds who opt in to Hip Hop culture is as absurd as it is offensive.

Knowing all of this, how dare anyone in America treat Hip Hop as a pariah. Hip Hop is the most uniquely American art form to ever emerge; it’s literally a reflection of hundreds of years of domestic policy. America has squeezed Black Americans into abject poverty, yet begs Black youth not to describe the conditions of their existence, nor glorify the mechanisms of their perceived escape? As fiercely as Americans cling to the Second Amendment, we must also support the First Amendment rights of Hip Hop artists.  No matter how much you hate the lyrics and/or appearance of Young Thug, Tyler The Creator, Nicki Minaj, or Future, they’re owed the right to vocally and visually do what they please.  Kanye West deserves the right to be as bat s**t crazy and vulgar as Ozzy Osbourne – censorship is an un-American quality.

Above and beyond everything else, Hip Hop, with all its perceived shortcomings, is fun; Black youth are owed the right to have fun.  Some guy in a suit or a robe is not allowed to dictate the parameters of Black fun. That’d be like me telling Country music artists to stop singing about revenge, or better yet, asking Heavy Metal artists to tone down the devil worshipping.  So, the next time somebody espouses some unquantifiable theory about Hip Hop degrading Black quality of life, cue Jay-Z and tell them “we don’t believe you, you need more people!”

 

Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Performance Was Dope… But

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I loved Beyoncé’s Super Bowl 50 performance.  Never have I seen a house full of Black folks absolutely lose their minds in adulation of an icon.  While I kept my composure better than the Sisters who collectively lost their wigs when Queen Bey hit the stage, I couldn’t help but to shout “Beyoncé’s going in!” a few times… okay maybe like five times. Clad in Black Power gear, Beyoncé and her dancers made the greatest political statement in Super Bowl Halftime history.  At the end of the performance, everybody in the room high-fived each other.  Half the Sisters immediately made a beeline (no pun intended) for the exit; they came to see Beyoncé, not a bunch of oversized men fighting to kick an oblong shaped ball full of pigskin through a big H. prince-akeem The rest of us stayed, hoping to see Cam Newton dab in the end zone.  For Black America, Super Bowl 50 was more than just a game – it was a fight for our right to be Black, proud, and expressive. Thus, to say most of us were disappointed with the outcome is an understatement.  Nonetheless, we knew Cam would live to fight another day.

Though I sensed there’d be some backlash from the Fox News crowd over Beyoncé’s performance, and Cam walking out of his post game presser, never did I imagine the media circus that would follow.  Newton got skewered for being a sore loser, as if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady haven’t had similar eristic moments.  To top it off, there’s currently a #BoycottBeyonce coalition scheduled to descend on NFL headquarters in New York next week.

For three days I’ve been scratching my head trying to understand why these people are so mad.  The only conclusion I can come to is Black people are not supposed to show public emotion.  Aaron Rodgers’ championship belt celebration: awesome… Cam Newton dabbing: pure thuggery. Peyton Manning exiting the field without shaking his opponent’s hand after Super Bowl XLIV: meh… Cam Newton abruptly ending his post Super Bowl interview: deplorable.  Bono opening his jacket to reveal an American flag at Super Bowl XXXVI: patriotic…  Beyoncé throwing up a Black fist: anti-American.

It bothers me that America seems to prefer Black people in one of two flavors – docile or funny.  Consider this: young, Black males comprise 68.7% of the NFL, yet when is the last time we’ve had a Super Bowl performer that they actually listen to?  Sure, The Black Eyed Peas headlined Super Bowl XLV with their watered down brand of Hip-Pop, and Nelly got to flex his muscles a couple of times over a decade ago, but what about a headlining rap act today? I’m not trying to take anything away from Beyoncé because what she did was courageous and necessary, but why is it far fetched to conceive that her husband, or Kendrick Lamar, or J. Cole should get top billing at the Super Bowl?  Like Tom Petty, Bruno Mars, and Katy Perry, they are also multiplatinum artists who sell out stadiums WORLDWIDE.  Is the NFL afraid they won’t connect with their fanbase?  Are they worried a politically charged message or… or… a Black fist might slip out in front of millions of viewers?

It’s curious the NBA doesn’t share these fears.  Nas, Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Chris Brown, Kanye West, Drake, and Outkast have all commanded the stage there.  I guess the NFL, its sponsors, and the major networks figure the world is cool with watching Black men annihilate each other on the field and that’s about it.  So kudos once again to Beyoncé for voicing the frustrations of Black America on the world’s largest stage; I only wish for Brothers to have the same opportunity moving forward.

.Com Unity

Snapchat-NeighborhoodFive years ago I accomplished one of my lifelong dreams of homeownership. Growing up I had only known what it was like to share walls with people.  Between living in a multi-family unit in Brooklyn, to the nation’s largest cooperative community in the Bronx (Co-op City), apartment living was a fact of life.  Dormitories were my home-away-from-home after leaving New York for boarding school, then college.   After graduating, I dwelled in a series of apartments in Nashville and Houston.  By my late twenties, I was completely over nosy, psychotic neighbors who watched my every move and complained about the faintest noise emanating from my stereo.  In a few instances, it was apparent my skin played a major factor in how I was treated by certain neighbors and leasing offices.  When I opted to avoid the unwarranted harassment that came with renting in predominately White neighborhoods, safety was a concern.  The final straw for me was narrowly escaping death in Southwest Houston, as HPD errantly fired a bullet through my door, past my ear, and into my freezer.

I went through the rigorous process of qualifying for an FHA loan. Months of overdraftless bank statements, stellar credit, and a liter of blood were all that was required. I finally closed on my home the last day of April 2011.  I’ll never forget the feelings of relief and accomplishment that flooded my brain the first night I laid in bed under my own roof, unattached to any nagging neighbor, safe from the threat of physical harm.  I was now the monarch of Meekville, and as such, I was determined to be left alone. I took pleasure in not having to ride an elevator with meddlesome residents or hear lead footed lummoxes trample on my ceiling.  My music would be played loud enough to reverberate through my entire abode without complaint.  All I had to do was pull into my garage and go about my life autonomously.

Of course I would wave from my car to acknowledge my neighbors’ presence, so as not to come across as a pompous prick. But realistically I couldn’t care less about whether we interacted at all.  I didn’t want to know where they worked, their religious and political affiliations, or the names of their children.  I just wanted them to wave back and get the heck out the way so I could get to work.

But, because the Great Architect is obviously a comedian, I found myself in need of a neighbor’s assistance less than thirty days after moving in.  My new landscapers managed to clip my water line causing a geyser to sprout outside the wall of my garage.  Directly across the street was oil & gas pipe fitter and neighborhood handyman, David Reynolds. Add a few pounds, a beard, and a West Texas accent to Tim The Toolman Taylor and you have Mr. Reynolds. Seeing an opportunity to help in distress, Reynolds rushed over and showed me how to shut off the water to my home.  Apartment living hadn’t prepared me for this, but Mr. Reynolds was well versed in anything involving home improvement.  Once we shut the water off, he went back to his garage/after work machine shop and picked up a few useful tools.  He cut a hole into the wall of my garage, fitted a piece of PVC over the severed pipe, and saved me hundreds on emergency plumbing.  I was extremely grateful.

Afterwards I made sure not to just wave from the car, but roll down the window to have a conversation with the Reynolds whenever I passed.  And the conversations are rarely short; Mr. & Mrs. Reynolds love to express their conservative opinions in elaborate detail.  I resolved to make them the only neighbors to whom I would devote more energy than a car wave.  Certainly, I did not have the bandwidth to interact with my other neighbors.  For the greater part of five years this has been the case.

That all changed on Saturday.  The weather was gorgeous enough for my son to enjoy a late January bike ride, so I took him outside to flourish in the warm sun and hopefully run his battery down enough to get some writing done on my book.  As Hunter peddled feverishly up, down, and around Otter Trail’s cul-de-sac, I internalized a super villain smile – the plan was working, muhahaha!  But, while Hunter was enjoying his time outside, he started to get bored on his own.  He wanted another kid to race against.  “Can you call Karys Daddy?” I thought “someone else to wear him out?”  Sounded like an even better idea… Sure!

All of a sudden I heard Mr. Reynolds call me from across the street.  I braced for lengthy conversation.  He pointed out the hole that still remained in my wall from the emergency pipe work he helped me with right after I first moved in.  “Bout time we patched that up, don’t you think?” I nodded my head in agreement.   While he went back to his garage to grab patchwork supplies, my next door neighbor, Mrs. Climaco, a Filipino nurse, came outside with her two boys.  Previously I exchanged numbers with her husband Allan, who would call me any time my dogs Houdinied their way out of my backyard.  Beyond a couple of texts and a few panicked phone calls, I had interacted minimally with the Climacos over the past half decade.  Apparently their boys Mikee (7) and Aiden (6) had nagged the Mrs. all morning for a park visit on Saturday.  However, seeing Hunter burn rubber on his training wheels inspired them to go back inside and grab their bikes.  “Do you mind if they play with Hunter?” Mrs. Climaco asked.  I responded “of course not, let them wear themselves out!”

While Mrs. Climaco tended to the boys, I went back into my garage to receive a do-it-yourself tutorial from Mr. Reynolds on repairing sheetrock with vinyl spackling. Fifteen minutes later, my sister showed up with my niece Karys and the lawn chairs she typically uses for her spring soccer games.  Mrs. Climaco took a seat with us in my driveway and we talked while the kids played.  I must admit, I was a little nervous she would ask if the Eddie Bauer car seat in my garage was the very same car seat I had scavenged from her curb before trash pickup a few years prior, but she didn’t bring it up. Whew… that would have been aaaawwwkward LOL!  Anyway, as we talked, another neighbor, Mike, who lives a couple doors down on the cusp of the cul-de-sac, decided to bring his three daughters outside.  His eldest is only 10 but handles an ATV like a pro.  The middle child prefers her electric Frozen kidmobile, while the youngest loves her Elsa bike on training wheels. In little to no time this was the scene in front of my house:

Keep in mind this is the most I had interacted with my neighbors in… well… ever.  Watching the kids play so gleefully made me miss the excitement of going outside during my childhood. I even got a chance to show off my long forgotten lacrosse skills:

Sorry Aiden!  LOL.  He was ok by the way.  He picked up on lacrosse rather quickly after that.  A few more kids ended up joining in on the fun as the afternoon progressed.  Black kids, White kids, Asian kids, and Hispanic kids all laughing and smiling without a care in the world.  Soon I was giving baseball lessons:

Yes, that’s my son Hunter dancing in his Power Ranger costume while my niece Karys runs the bases. I’ve never been more proud.

As the sun started making its way closer to the horizon, the kids insisted on keeping the party going – at my place.  Mrs. Climaco and her boys entered my house for the first time ever. While I felt happy to have finally broken the ice and shared my home, I was ashamed that it took five years for me to even consider sharing my personal space with the people physically closest to me.

What I realized as I got to know my neighbors, and the kids got to know each other, is that nothing is more important than being engaged in your community.  What are my neighbors to think of Black men when the Black man right next door doesn’t care to open up to them?  How can they be informed about what goes on in the mind of a Black man or a Black child, or what goes on in a Black person’s household?  Should I be surprised when they are unable to humanize Black people, considering they have very few intimate experiences from which to draw conclusions?  If I don’t allow my neighbors to get to know me and my son, can I be mad when their opinions about Black lives are formed through mainstream media?  Would George Zimmerman have pursued Trayvon Martin if he had previously watched the game in Tracy Martin’s home? These questions tormented me through the weekend.

Even in predominately Black communities, consider how much more it makes sense for neighbors to be acquainted.  Would we have as much Black on Black crime if parents of young Black children frequently spent time conversing in the homes of other neighborhood parents?  Would kids act up as much, knowing the eyes and judgments of their entire community are upon them?  Isn’t it safer for me to know the predilections and predispositions of my son’s peers through close observation?  Wouldn’t it be easier to identify and and stem disruptive elements alien to the community’s ethos?

In this dot com era, people are more likely to engage with associates through social media than any other avenue.  People can choose to ignore conflicting viewpoints in favor of tribalistic ideas and value systems.  After all, Black Twitter is rarely a blip on the radar of the platform’s conventional users.  Digital walls create segregated bubbles of thought and conscience, making community interaction more vital than ever in 2016.  For the safety, livelihood, and happiness of our children it is imperative that we get to know our neighbors.

So, to all my neighbors reading this that I have yet to meet, I’d like to say “Hi, I’m Demetrius, the Black guy next door!”

P.S. – Yesterday the Climacos invited me, my son, and my niece into their home.  Hunter and Karys had a blast playing with Aiden and Mikee in their game room.   I sat on the couch talking with Allan, his mother, and his in-laws about how much we don’t miss Northeast snow.