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Demanding More From our Artists

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I’ve been catching a lot of flack for a piece that I wrote for ESSENCE that challenged Lil' Kim's sex-equals-money-equals-power feminist theory (Oct. 2000). And I’m not in any way surprised. According to some, I’m a self-righteous hater with a politically correct name and hairdo who’s jealous of Kim’s body, lyrical skill and bank account. Hey, I can’t be mad at that. Everyone has a right to express an opinion just as I expressed mine. But what concerns me is that for many, my message was completely lost.

Let me say this up front: I love hip hop. I love and respect it for what it is and represents: a music and culture born of a generation at war with the world around it. The essence of this art is its fearless ability to give poetic voice to the frustrations and struggles that threaten to consume us. We’ve witnessed our rebellious art form, once shunned, ignored and discredited by many in our society, grab America by its pockets and fill our own bank accounts. I can’t be mad at that either.

But what I don’t understand is this: Just when did the hip-hop community become so afraid to hear the truth? Why can’t we handle criticism when at its core hip hop serves as a critical commentary of what’s wrong in this nation? And why is it that those of us who remember what hip hop really represents get labeled player-haters for calling rap heads out?

What Black folk do to Black folk

I have to give much respect to Spike Lee for his vision and courage to call out Black Hollywood in his movie Bamboozled. You may not agree with Spike’s in-your-face tactics, but you can’t say that the issues he touched on weren’t real. That movie was about us, about what Black folk do to Black folk. Yes the images -- the Stepin Fetchits and the Sambos -- were originally created by Whites and used to make us appear inferior and sub-human, but the blame and the responsibility for our denigration no longer rests on their shoulders alone.

Many Black actors have gladly adopted modern-day versions of these same images in the name of getting paid. As artists, it’s their right to choose those roles. But it is also Spike’s right as an artist to choose to call them on it.

The same is true for hip-hop artists. I respect the right of entertainers to express themselves in any manner they choose. But they have to respect the right of those of us who call them out for any negative images they may make and perpetuate.

As with the characters in Bamboozled, we may blame society for creating the environment that breeds the pimps, drug dealers, whores and abject lust for vulgar materialism, but we are also the ones who happily slide into those roles just to achieve the platinum-plated American pipe dream. So don’t hate on me for speaking my truth. I’m just following my soul’s code, just as I’m sure these artists are following theirs. ‘Cuz like Spike was trying to get across in Bamboozled, niggas, in the true sense of the word, really ain’t a beautiful thing.

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