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Published:September 4th, 2007 14:37 EST
Is Hip Hop really Public Enemy number one?

Is Hip Hop really Public Enemy number one?

By LaShelle Turner

Al Sharpton and hip-hop artist David Banner have been in a war of words regarding the civil rights activist`s call to ban what he considers obscene or vulgar words from the music genre. Like most hip-hop artists, Banner has come back with his own choice words about Mr. Sharpton and others who are seemingly trying to take away his bread and butter. 

Reverend Sharpton is not the first black leader to speak out and criticize the music about its disregard for decency and respect, particularly towards women. Oprah did the same earlier this year and was blasted publicly by 50 Cent, Ludicrous, Ice Cube and virtually every rapper for not having hip-hop artists on her show. It is Oprah`s show and she has the right to say she doesn`t agree with the way women are portrayed in hip-hop. Why would she broadcast what she considers offensive material? 

She, like so many other African-American leaders, has issues with the negative images of hip-hop. Why is this so hard to believe? Is there some unspoken rule saying blacks cannot criticize other blacks without being labeled a traitor or not "black" enough?

Mr. Banner and other hip-hop artists argue that Sharpton and others should focus on `real` issues in the black community. In this aspect, he is right; the murder and crime rate among young African-American males has increased in communities all across this country. Young black men have a higher incarceration rate than their white peers. If you look at statistics, the future does not look bright for young black men. 

True, this issue of increased crime in the black community should be brought to the forefront. The plight of inner cities needs more media attention. It is a much bigger and more pressing issue than most realize, but so is the state of hip-hop.  

The issue centers on what hip-hop means to its culture. Rap has transcended from just being a form of entertainment to a way of life. Watch MTV. Pick up a copy of Source, XXL, Vibe or any other magazine catering to the genre and its fans. Quite a few young men in the black community live and breathe the rap culture.  

The rise of hip-hop is a symbol of their version of the American dream. Hip-hop has helped black men from impoverished backgrounds become multi-millionaires.  They represent a modern rag to riches story Americans love.  

According to the Forbes` list of top moneymakers in hip-hop, the genre does not need to change. It is doing what music corporations created it to do-- make money. 50 Cent, Jay Z, Sean Combs and others are making millions of dollars. Like it or not, they are role models for legions of young African-American men.  They have replaced the lure of football and basketball as the way to millions and fame.  

Though hip-hop has created many new black entrepreneurs, the genre also feeds on long held stereotypes about the black community. Negative images depicting blacks as thugs, pimps, and hos. Black women are portrayed as oversexed gold-diggers and black men as viril (and viral) hustlers. These are not positive images, but these images are nothing new. Just look back at the black exploitation movies of the 1970s. 

So, why so much anger toward hip-hop?  

Hip-hop is the only version of modern day African-American male life the mainstream media is letting America and the rest of the world see. A version of urban life which many young African-Americans are embracing. There are very few images of powerful Black men educators, politicians and businessmen. Check out the Forbes` billionaires list and try to find a black male billionaire. Society seems to tell black men they can only excel in two areas, sports and entertainment, and many of them are feeding into this mentality.

Why are hip-hop artists fighting back? 

Hip-hop artists may be worried they are being single handedly blamed for the denigration of black society. Every aspect of their way of life is under attack. Cities across the country are trying to ban "hip hop` or "thug` type clothing. Fines or possible jail time will be given to offenders wearing baggy pants and over-sized T-shirts. It goes without saying that most of these offenders will be young black men who have made these articles of clothing their daily uniform and an open expression of their way of life. This will also hit the pockets of hip-hop artists who have clothing lines who cater to them.  

The one good thing to come out of this war of and on words is it brings to focus the culture clash between young black men and their elders. Maybe both sides should argue why so many young men in their communities feel so disconnected from mainstream society.