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Hip-Hop Fridays: E-Letter To The Wall St. Journal And Kimberly A. Strassel Re: Mainstream Gangsta

Your recent opinion editorial, "Mainstream Gangsta" is one of the most misinformed, superficial and crafted pieces that we have read about Hip-Hop in recent years. And we guess that should come as no surprise considering that it was written for the benefit of the Wall St. Journal readership, the vast majority of which, is not an informed Hip-Hop audience. Only such an unprepared audience, with little understanding of Hip-Hop history and culture, could find your piece to be credible, maybe.

Quite honestly, we can't find the point or purpose of your article, other than the possibility that somebody at the Wall St. Journal editorial page was desperate for a piece on Hip Hop in light of Eminem's Grammy controversy and Puffy's trial. Evidently, somebody at the Journal felt the paper had to have a piece on Hip-Hop and your writing fit the bill.

Anybody familiar with the evolution of Hip-Hop would not be able to agree with much of the content of your piece.

First, your article contains a significant amount of revisionist history.

You write:

"Rap music has always flirted with widespread success, but it wasn't until recently that it hit it big. The 1980s chart successes of Run-DMC or LL Cool J were limited to a few catchy tunes, and most of those were notable for their blend of pop and rap. And when the modern rap fad first emerged in the 1990s, it also had a limited audience. But the niche quickly became notorious. This new brand of rapping was different: It came from the ghetto, it was violent, full of vulgarity, degrading to women."

Ms. Strassel, what do you mean by the "modern" rap fad? When exactly did it begin? You seem to identify the characteristics of this new Hip-Hop as some line of demarcation. You say, "This new brand of rapping was different: It came from the ghetto, it was violent, full of vulgarity, degrading to women."

Ms. Strassel, when was Hip-Hop not from the ghetto? You expect us to believe that Hip-Hop came from the ghetto in the 1990s? Try the 1970s. Evidently, your Hip-Hop timepiece starts about twenty years too late.

And excuse us, but did you not notice the fact that Ice-T, NWA, Ice Cube, Schooly D., and Just - Ice were making music that depicted violence and which was "full of vulgarity, degrading to women" as you put it. This is nothing to be proud of, but please, get your facts straight.

Many of these groups, along with other "non-violent" groups, I'll let you go back and find out which ones, enjoyed plenty of chart success.

Your ignorance of Hip-Hop history is absolutely revealed by your inability to factor in the chart-topping success of groups like Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepa, EPMD, Eric B & Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, all of which began in the 1980s.

Like most uninformed listeners who are trying to "pimp" Hip-Hop's popularity in order to appeal to a White suburban audience, you reduce Hip-Hop's success to a few notable examples, of the MTV variety, in your case, Run DMC and LL Cool J.

And Ms. Strassel, since Hip-Hop is touching 30 years of existence, isn't it time for you to accept that it can not possibly be a fad?

As if that wasn't enough, you improve on your own ignorance by writing,

"If the messages weren't tough enough, the listening world soon got proof that its musicians lived by their creed. In 1996 and 1997, gangland-style killings claimed the lives of two rappers, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. Washington lobby and parental groups went nuts, demanding the censure of lyrics. Record companies, fearing a backlash, canceled artists and postponed concerts. In the minds of much of the public, rap wasn't just irascible, but inherently dangerous."

What in the world are you talking about? And where are you getting your information?

First of all, numerous rappers have fallen victim to the violence that exists in the inner city. And in all honesty, if you really knew anything about Hip-Hop you would have made reference to the tremendous loss felt by the "listening audience" when Scott La Rock of Boogie Down Productions was murdered in 1987, at the height of the success of his group Boogie Down Productions' classic album Criminal Minded.

In the opinion of many, Criminal Minded is the greatest album in the history of Hip-Hop. Were you aware of that?

And your reference to the murders of Biggie and Tupac, which you poetically refer to as "gang-land style killings", glosses over the fact that both artists had been under surveillance by local and federal law-enforcement officers. In the case of Biggie's murder, law enforcement officers were following the car that Biggie was in at the time that he was actually murdered.

When was the last time you knew of a "gangland-style killing" witnessed by law enforcement officers?

Yet, today, we have no arrests for the murder of either artist. I guess you either were unaware of this fact or found that it did not fit your quest to portray these killings in a certain light.

And again, your recollection of events is off again. The movement against Hip-Hop lyrics preceded the murders of Biggie and Tupac by several years. C. Delores Tucker and others did their work well before the tragic loss of both rappers.

And your opinion that as a result of these murders and the war on Hip-Hop lyrics, concerts were canceled is ridiculous. The Hip-Hop concert business had been under attack beginning in the 1980s after the Fresh Fest concerts that played in major arenas in the latter 1980s - featuring bills filled with groups that somehow miss your Hip-Hop radar screen.

The real war against Hip-Hop concerts has nothing to do with lyrics and the murder of Biggie and Tupac but takes place through the exorbitant insurance rates charged to the promoters of rap concerts, rates that far exceed that of rock and heavy metal concerts.

Ms. Strassel, how you attempt to tie all of this into Puffy's trial is beyond us and any knowledgeable or casual Hip-Hop fan, as Puffy never styled himself as a gangster-rapper. Everyone in Hip-Hop knows that Puffy is not, was not, and never was a gangster and no one ever purchased his music because they believed that vicariously, they could catch a glimpse of a gangster's life.

Ms. Strassel, we will let you in on a little secret in the Hip-Hop world that may have escaped your attention: gangsters don't dance like Puffy.

The "super trial' is a creation of White America's mainstream media. If you are not satisfied with the depiction of Puffy's trial blame it on media executives, editors and reporters and not on the Hip-Hop community and industry. Certainly only these corporate media conglomerates have the power to spin this trial into the cultural and racial dimensions that you are looking for.

The Hip-Hop industry makes music not movies like the one you are looking for.

Ms. Strassel, we can't knock your hustle. We understand that unfortunately, you may be the Wall St. Journal editorial board's resident Hip-Hop expert and that such a privileged position may require you, from time to time, to write articles on the art form and culture. But please, do so from a more informed perspective.

If you can't perform the due diligence on Hip-Hop that you perform on other subjects you write about please do us all a favor and leave the subject alone.

Hopefully you will come to see that the impact that Hip-Hop has had on America deserves more than a cleverly crafted article designed to satisfy a publication's need to cover a subject that all too often slips its attention.

Next time you approach this subject, brush up on your Hip-Hop history. Far from just allowing you to produce a better article, your understanding of what is really going on in the world of race and culture may one day depend upon it.


Cedric Muhammad

Friday, February 23, 2001

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