Oprah Takes On Racism, Sexism, Hip-hop

Hip-hop spokesman Russell Simmons, who co-founded Def Jam, a rap music label that Jay-Z is now president ofStill reeling from the Don Imus incident like most of America, Oprah today presented an excellent second of three shows related to Imus's controversial racial and sexist slur and firing. Last week, the Rutgers women's basketball team appeared on Oprah; tomorrow, Oprah's guests will include two of hip-hop's head statesmen: Def Jam founder Russell Simmons and Grammy Award-winning rapper Common.

As dynamic as the next show in the series promises to be, today's show featured a robust panel of African Americans with great thoughts as well. Guests included New York Daily News columnist and gangsta rap critic Stanley Crouch, Rev. Al Sharpton, the Spelman College women who protested Nelly's "Tip Drill" video, Bruce Gordon (former head of the NAACP), and brilliant neo soul artist India.Arie. India's new black girl anthem, "I Am Not My Hair," was shown lots of love, as its message so perfectly fit as a dignified response to those who think like or side with Don Imus. Check out India's soulful video...

On Oprah, India.Arie was quick to explain that she hadn't wanted the guy in the above video, singing sensation Akon, as her duet partner on "I Am Not My Hair." She was talked into it by her record label, she said. She eventually recorded the song as a solo, the version that most of us know. After seeing the above video, I see why she was displeased with the outcome and made such a deal about it on Oprah!

In any case, discussion on Oprah centerted on what the firing of Don Imus means, why what he said disturbed so many, hip-hop's role in this environment, and who will be targeted next.

Oprah, unaided, voiced a resounding statement, one perhaps intended to absolve her from not having tackled the problem via her influential show in the past. "For years I wouldn't have this [hip-hop misogeny] conversation because I didn't want to be in the fight alone," Oprah said. And she, indeed, has been under fire for her past criticism of hip-hop music. The most recent example being rapper Ludacris was terribly offended when he was the only cast member in the movie "Traffic" who wasn't invited to a group appearance on the show.

Rev. Sharpton made the final comment on the show, and it was a powerful one. He asked rhetorically: "How can civilization come from women, and then find it easy to denigrate the ones we came from?"

Tomorrow's Oprah show will likely delve into the psychology of this unsavory side of hip-hop, thanks to Oprah regular, Dr. Robin Smith. I hope that something said touches Russell Simmons, informs him of a different, euqally important advocacy role he might play in music. The father of two beautiful daughters, Russell has a personal reason and the juice to help improve the loose language in music that'll impact his own girls and those everywhere in the future.

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Anonymous said...

Well, unfortunately, Rusell Simmons, and the other male members of the hip-hop panel on Oprah today tried every which way to skate around actually admitting that they were at fault for promoting the language used towards women in their artists' songs. They tried to say that because of the economic upbringing of the african american man from boyhood upward, and the poverty that existed in the ghettos, that people should understand that the singers - Russell called them "poets"???? - are just conveying their environment. EXCUSE ME??? I'm sorry, but no way, no how does growing up poor give you an excuse or pass to call women ho's and bitches. I don't even get these men's reasoning on that at all! Thank God the Stanely Crouch, and the women of Spelman College weren't taking that excuse either, and they spoke up in disagreement of this panel. The VIP of Warner Music Group (I'm boycotting all Warner hip hop artists because of this too)had the nerve to tell Crouch he was insulted at Crouch calling the panel clowns. Oh, but he didn't seem to think women should be insulted at his Warner artists calling women the names they use???? Rusell, Kevin from Warner, Common, and the rest of the panel need to get a grip on what is going on, and BE REAL MEN and admit you are wrong in what you are doing and saying about black women in the hip-hop music!!!
The men on this panel were cowards.

Anonymous said...

The panel was shameful. (And Oprah didn't call them on it.) I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt at first--to understand that they were bound to be a tad defensive, given how the Imus scandel has highlighted the problem of the language often used in hip hop acts that are signed and promoted (and the corresponding images in their videos). However, when instead of admitting that they have been even partially culpable--and recognizing that the flip-side of this is that they can be an instrumental part of a solution--they resorted to agressive, dishonest spin that will protect their already bulging wallets, I lost all sympathy. Even small changes in their behavior (and corresponding choices in the boardroom) would have a profound affect on our youth and culture. As such, they bear real responsibility, whether they want it or not. I wonder how much--if any--of the nonsense they spouted today they actually believe, and how much was simply a calculated ploy to keep the money rolling in. Mr. Simmons seems to forget that there are many of us who have grown up in the projects of which he speaks--and we know full well that there are also many hard-working, intelligent, decent people who live there who raise their children to be respectful despite the very culture he and Mr. Lilly propogate. I know of many individuals who have grown up in the "culture of poverty" who could write poigniant "poetry" about their experience without being crass and demeaning. Mr. Simmons et al are obviously not interested in supporting their artistic expression. They weren't cowards--they knew exactly what they were doing. Shame on them.

kweenkong said...

As much as I'd hoped to defend hip-hop on some level, I have to agree with both 'Anonymous' comments. I know it's the job of Russell and Kevin to defend their industry, but they're failing in their 'job' as humans contributing to the betterment of a people.


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