In the wake of rapper Rick Ross removing his controversial lyrics referring to date rape from Rocko’s song “U.O.E.N.O.,” a Chicago-based hip-hop artist and minister would like to remind the public that not all hip-hop promotes themes of degradation and violence.
Rev. Julian “J. Kwest” Deshazier, by night a hip-hop artist, said rap has a bad reputation because the most vulgar material gets the most publicity.
“The bottom line is money,” said Deshazier who, by day, is senior pastor of University Church in Hyde Park. “Some rappers will create whatever content they can to move toward that. I don’t think it comments on the character of the artists so much as how willing they are to end their principles to make money.”
In “U.O.E.N.O.,” released Feb. 16, Ross referred to the drug MDMA, also known as Molly, in powder or crystalline form. “Put Molly all in her champagne,” Ross rapped. “She ain’t even know it; I took her home and I enjoyed that; she ain’t even know it.”
Reebok terminated its relationship with spokesman Ross on April 11 after opposition from a number of organizations, including anti-sexism collective UltraViolet, which garnered nearly 100,000 signatures.
Deshazier, 29, said with hip-hop artists compromising their artistic and personal integrity with outrageous content getting the most attention, that kind of content will be more likely to occur.
Rickerby Hinds, associate professor of playwriting at the University of California Riverside, said, “Educational and respectful hip-hop is pushed to the wayside by companies whose bottom line is to be played on the radio.
“Presently, the means are to keep the n-word front and center; to portray black men as gangsters, pimps and killers; and to turn women into prostitutes, baby-mamas or opportunists,” said Hinds, creator of the Califest Hip Hop Theater Festival. “Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Little Weapon’ is an amazingly educational, respectful, profound record that never has, and probably never will receive an airplay. Why?”
Deshazier, who has released albums as a solo artist as well as a member of the rap duo Verbal Kwest, said, “There are a slew of hip-hop artists who don’t compromise their values. But they aren’t publicized as much because the current state of the industry doesn’t have much room for that.”
“Rap is the evolution of street language given form and those messages, often of murder, drug abuse, and misogyny in the inner-city and among minority groups, have not been well received by the wider society,” said Eric Montgomery, who specializes in hip-hop culture and aesthetics.
“There is an uncomfortable feeling when the wider society is confronted with the things, people and places that are often ignored,” Montgomery said. “Rap brought these issues into the bedrooms of small-town and upper-class America.”
Liz Marcus, 23, a resident of Watsonville, Calif., said the topic of women and rap is especially touchy. “On the one hand, women are definitely objectified in many rap songs,” said Marcus, who is a hip-hop enthusiast. “This is not something to stay quiet about or sweep under the rug, but when people write about hip-hop, there are usually undertones of racism, classism and personal bias. Rap has always been an easy target for upper-middle-class white people to point a finger and say, ‘They are so crude, or they are so sexist, materialistic, etc.'”
Montgomery said rap can be respectful by paying homage and being pro-active. Rap gives a voice to the voiceless and there are artists, like Murs and Frank Ocean, who have made space to discuss things such as homosexuality and biracial dating.
“On one hand, by its nature, rap is meant to be disrespectful,” Montgomery said. “It feeds on the angst of a generation that was marginalized and does everything in its nature to rebel. I believe this is why a lot of the rap music that’s produced embraces stereotypes.”
Marcus said that just like any genre, there are “many homophobes, racists, sexists and all around idiots in hip-hop.”
“I think some exceptions to this stereotype are Lupe Fiasco, who is an amazing lyricist and always respects women; Talib Kweli; Atmosphere; Brother Ali, who is a devout Muslim; and feminist Lauryn Hill and Zion I,” Marcus said.
Because the hip-hop market has so much crass music, Montgomery said, that makes it difficult for the public to decipher what’s worth its attention.
It’s important that we support good rap music because much of what we hear on the radio is based on our listening habits.”