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Hip Hop Fridays: Rev. Al's Town Hall Meeting Concerning Violence In Hip Hop and A Few Thoughts by Andy J. Solages

On April 9th I attended the Town Hall Meeting concerning violence in Hip Hop, which was held as part of the National Action Network’s Annual Convention. I was accompanied by my friend, a brother named Ron, and as usual we used the travel time during the car trip into New York to introduce each other to songs and CDs that the other might not have heard or just listen to older material that seemed to need dusting off. Ron drove, since I didn’t feel like it, but I made it worth his while by hitting him off with Poor Righteous Teachers’ excellent, but too often overlooked, New World Order album on CD. Whatever else happened that day, you can’t go wrong starting it off with PRT.

As I mentioned yesterday, during a Theology Thursday that might have disoriented some viewers, Ron played parts of Will Smith’s latest effort Lost And Found for me. We followed Will’s CD, and arrived at the Sheraton Towers, where the meeting was being held, playing selections from Beanie Siegel’s The B.Coming.

What follows is my account of the town hall meeting, with a few of my thoughts mixed in for your review.

Reverend Al. Sharpton laid down some ground rules at the beginning of the meeting that would have made for a much different outcome had they been followed. Reverend Sharpton stated that the National Action Network’s concern was with actual acts of violence and not with song lyrics or content. He also stated that we wanted to challenge record labels rather than become caught up in our differences and that no one should bore us with their personal agendas and issues.

After Reverend Sharpton spoke, some of the panelists shifted the discussion to negative content, its promotion and affect on listeners. A slow boiling exchange between some of the panelists began after David Mays of The Source linked the apparent dominance of negative Hip Hop with “corporate consolidation” and the fact that a single company is dominating the airwaves. Mays was joined by his partner Benzino who noted that there has never been a shooting in the offices of The Source (a reference to the shootings that have taken place at Hot 97) and also followed Mays in speaking of the positive contributions of The Source while condemning the dominant company that is not letting anyone else “eat” (sell records, get airplay).

E-Bro and Angie Martinez of New York’s Hot 97 radio station expressed displeasure with the statements of The Source co-owners, and Ron Gilliard, of the initially unnamed, but clearly targeted “single company,” Interscope, called Benzino’s statement that no one else was eating a lie and cited the success of non-Interscope artists such as OutKast. Writer Kevin Powell noted that everyone who has ever worked in the music industry has blood on their hands, and clearly included himself by accepting responsibility for writing articles in Vibe Magazine that he now feels contributed to a dangerous Hip Hop climate. Powell would return to this theme several times, and E-Bro joined him by repeatedly “falling on his sword” and accepting responsibility for Hot 97’s Tsunami Song, Slapfest, and in part for the song selection.

So the meeting had deviated from the boundaries that Sharpton had tried to establish, but the hope was that it was healthy, as Sharpton’s co-moderator James Mtume noted, and would lead to something useful (of course there were more than a few groans among the people outside of the panel).

I don’t think the event ever assumed the form that Sharpton may have initially envisioned but here are some of the allegations, statements, and ideas that emerged.

With regard to radio coverage of Hip Hop beefs, Angie Martinez confessed that she did not know what to do. If she didn’t talk about a given beef or discuss it with the parties who are involved, she felt that someone else would. When someone brought it up, she said she said she liked the idea of all radio stations committing to minimizing hype around Hip Hop beefs.

As mentioned above, Kevin Powell returned several times to the theme of how all of those who have worked in the music industry, including him, have blood on their hands. He also stated that the world of the industry, where he slid between parties, NYC, LA, and Atlanta wasn’t real life but a fantasy.

The day before the meeting, Benzino was reported to have resigned from The Source. Errol Louis, of the New York Daily News, stepped forward and asked Benzino to clarify his standing with The Source. Benzino stated that he had decided to resign because of the issues his beef with Eminem was causing for his magazine, and because Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine had allegedly threatened to use his influence to get Island Def Jam executive L.A. Reid fired from his position if Reid did not pull all of Island Def Jam’s advertising from The Source. After making this allegation, Benzino said that he had planned to resign, rather than let another Black executive get fired, but his staff and several community leaders convinced him to stay with The Source so that he could better further the cause.

David Mays alleged that Steve Harvey was silenced after he attacked Eminem for disrespecting Michael Jackson. He stated that Benzino was supposed to appear on Harvey’s show, but that his appearance was cancelled.

Barry Mayo, General Manager of Hot 97, stated that if anyone has complaints about the programming and content on Hot 97 they could send him a letter. He didn't say an email. He said that he reads every letter that he receives but that few people take the time to send letters.

Crossover Negro Reese, of Power 105’s “Star and Bucwild Show,” made an unexpected appearance and joined the panel at Reverend Sharpton’s request. Crossover was well received, and began his contribution by asking, “Who here has filled out a Diary? Who here has a Nielsen Box?” Very few hands went up, and Crossover went on to explain that people who look like us (the majority of the room was Black) do not control Hip Hop on the corporate level and that we are not among those whose preferences truly dictate what will be sold in Hip Hop. He stated that little White girls are purchasing the majority of Hip Hop and that while we get to eat, we’re sitting in the pot; we’re not cooking. At least twice Crossover asked, “With all of these older people in the room….where are your kids?” Star must have given him leave to be Black for that day, and Reese did it well (and he hilariously identified himself in his Uncle Tom role saying, “I’m Crossover Negro Reese; I’m against the Ghetto”).

A teacher stood up and addressed the panel by saying in her classroom she, “sees the direct effect of everything you people do.” The “you people” are those involved in the music industry. She mentioned how at one point it took her half an hour to get her students to stop talking about the conflict between 50 Cent and The Game. The teacher also stated that she had a real beef with BET “Uncut,” which she said showed women “bent over” and men with guns, and mentioned Nelly’s “Tip Drill” video. Panelist, Robin Khepra Kearse echoed my own thoughts, and the defense Nelly used, by saying that if the students (or any other children) are watching TV at 3am, when this show come on, there is already something wrong.

So, the only acts of violence, related to Hip Hop, that we actually got to at the event were those that were committed by children and had song content, videos, and Rap beefs in the background.

I don’t believe that the music, in and of itself, causes violence or even vile attitudes necessarily. If someone acts out “because” of music there was already something present that was likely to be expressed in some way no matter what the person listened to. If a child is watching TV at 3am, and starts to view women as nothing more than semen receptacles after viewing “Tip Drill,” there is already something wrong that is being expressed. If a gang named for the Notorious B.I.G. and a gang named for Tupac are fighting in South Africa, there was already something wrong that is being expressed. If someone listens to “Be Better Than Me” off of TI’s Trap Muzik, and becomes determined to reform his life, there was already something present that is being expressed. If someone resolves to never use the word “bitch” to refer to a woman after listening to “Brown Skin Woman” by KRS-One, there was already something present in the situation that is being expressed. The music might point the way towards a sewer line for the waste that is present within a person’s situation or it might point a way towards a channel for clean water that is present within a person’s situation.

On the way back from the meeting, Ron brought out a few tracks from Project Pat’s Mister Don’t Play, which I can’t really listen to, and then played the Geto Boy’s new CD Foundation, which I had been waiting to hear. It struck us as funny that we stepped out of the meeting into a car where Project Pat was playing, but of course since we aren’t impressionable children, it is of no consequence in terms of “Hip Hop causing violence.” Ron might be a fan of Project Pat, but his life and behavior does not appear to be impacted by his music preferences. Even in terms of language, he never refers to himself, or his friends, by the pet slur that we jokingingly call “Naďve Impotent Getting Goals Aborted.” I think every Hip Hop artist I listen to has some content that I disagree with or might even find objectionable if demonstrated in real life. This includes those artists who are labeled as “conscious.” I enjoy UGK, but much of their song content is divorced from my actual world. In a way, my approach to music is the same as my approach to the news articles and opinion pieces that we publish and link to on Black; take what is useful (or maybe enjoyable) in some way and put the rest aside.

There were two panelists who tried to bring the discussion to actual acts of violence and bad behavior, among kids, that might have been influenced by some Hip Hop content, while offering their direction or an idea that might help. This was the closest we got to coloring within the lines Reverend Al Sharpton had drawn for the meeting.

Erica Ford of The Code (what Tupac called “The Code of Thug Life”) described how she has seen children lose their lives to violence that was informed by Hip Hop music. She said that the conflict between 50 Cent and Ja Rule produced arguments that claimed the lives of several young people right before her eyes. Rather than opt for censorship, Erica Ford spoke of putting the competitive spirit among artists to use in correcting some of the real world messes (“Have a contest; which artist can send the most young people from their hood to college? Have a contest; who can build the baddest institution?”). Also, she spoke about how there must be incentive based programs to target children. As an example, she offered Ja Rule’s “The Life” program which offers a trip to a camp in Puerto Rico for those children who improve the most in terms of attendance and their behavior.

Robin Khepra Kearse, formerly of Arista Records, noted how the content in many songs and videos is not suitable for children and suggested that videos, which include inappropriate content, should not be shown during those critical hours (I believe she said 3pm to 7pm) when a large number of parents are said to be away from home and children are said to be more likely to engage in bad behavior.

Overall, I wasn't clear on what the event produced, and I don't think enough time was spent articulating and clarifying the issues and courses of action as Reverend Al Sharpton might have intended (either that or I just didn't catch the clarifications). James Mtume and the Reverend mentioned that they already have some presently undisclosed plans that will be executed in the near future. Perhaps this event served to illuminate some issues in the minds of those who have plans. Also, since a second Town Hall meeting will be held in the near future, I'm inclined to think that during that event Rev. Sharpton will bring everything into sharper focus and more in line with his vision.

Andy J. Solages is Contributing Editor of Black He can be contacted at

Andy J. Solages

Friday, April 15, 2005

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