Oprah's Hip-Hop Town Hall : Plenty of Fightin' Words

Is hip-hop coming from the same place as the notion of a Fight Club?  Dissatisfied young men need a way to vent their societal anger.  But why beat-down and character assassinate women?

Lucky for me that in Chicago, daily episodes of Oprah rerun on television around midnight. This allowed me to catch last night what may have come close to being the first-ever fist fight on Oprah. The impetus behind the contentious debate was hip-hop, a town hall topic the Queen of Talk included among her three shows in follow-up to the Don Imus " controversy.

Special guests on-stage included Russell Simmons, conscientious rapper Common, Dr. Benjamin Chavis of Simmon's Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, and Kevin Liles, executive vice president at Warner Music. Seated in the audience -- with a visible degree of frustration with the hip-hop proponents on-stage -- were Stanley Crouch of the New York Daily News and Bruce Gordon of CBS, formerly head of the NAACP. And via satellite from Atlanta were about eight impressive young women from Spelman College, who took a stand a few years ago against Nelly for his insulting, extremely sexualized "Tip Drill" video.

Hip-hop panelists for Oprah's Town Hall broadcast included Common, Kevil Liles, Dr. Ben Chavis, and Russell Simmons
Yada-yada: You wanna know about the "near-fight" don't you?! Okay, here goes...

Russell Simmons vs. Oprah
Long-winded Russell Simmons, who seemingly believes he is the King of Golden Words, clashed with Oprah a couple of times. He would pontificate ad nauseum; Oprah would eventually try to break-in and regain control of her show; and Russell would continue talking, rudely ignoring her. He got testy with Oprah at one point and snapped a little, frustrated because he hadn't finished making his point. A point, mind you, that very few in the audience were buying.

Russell's stance was that the notion of censorship is a dangerous one, and that America shouldn't seek to silence hip-hop "poets." Rather, America should focus on solving the problems that prompt some rappers to express themselves in such unseemly ways. It's a valid enough argument, but only to a point.

Somewhere along the line, Russell and other hip-hop shot-callers must have a "come to Jesus" about what exactly they're fighting for. And such a meeting may indeed be taking place today. It was mentioned several times that a high-powered "insiders" meeting with Lyor Cohen, chairman and CEO Warner Music Group was already scheduled, to discuss the future of hip-hop and how to move it in a more positive direction.

It could be a fairly short meeting -- one resulting in an audible difference in a few months. Lyor Cohen has the power to simply tell his executives and top-selling artists this: Look, we're under attack. And my job -- all of our jobs -- is to keep this hip-hop ship from going down. So going forward, Warner and associated labels will not fund albums that include even one song containing the following words: Bitch. Ho. Niggers. Fuck. (And a few other stingers...)

Lyor could then hand out a little Cheat Sheet suggesting substitute words like Trickstas, Honey and Cats. Meeting adjourned, major difference made given that the following rappers report up to Lyor and Kevin: Jay-Z and all of his Def Jam artists, Lil Scrappy, Jacki-O, E-40 and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (and his various artists).

Spelman College Students vs. Hip-hop Moguls
But back to the Oprah show itself... The girls from Spelman College, moderated in Atlanta by Gail King, seemed ready to jump through the camera and wring a few necks during their cut-ins. Clearly frustrated, one even cut-off Gail in order to confront Russell Simmons and Kevin Liles, telling them they were side-stepping the issue. What are your action steps for cleaning up the mess you're in charge of?, they insisted the hip-hop heads answer.

One young lady's serious but humorous quip indicated that no rude guy in a club ever asked to see her student ID before deciding to call her a "ho" for, say, not joining him on the dance floor. This is all too common in clubs, and it needs to stop. This is, indeed, how altercations start. With insecure guys belittling a girl who's disinterested in chatting or dancing with him.

Kevin Liles vs. Stanley Crouch
But I've saved the best on Oprah for last... Warner E.V.P. Kevin Liles seemed seconds away from doing a Jerry Springer: jumping out of his chair and delivering a bruising to someone in the audience. The person Kevin exploded on was Stanley Crouch, the New York Daily News columnist and vocal opponent of gangsta rap.

It started when Crouch made a comment calling some of the rappers represented by people on-stage "clowns." Well, you'd a thunk Crouch had called Kevin Liles a nappy-headed ho! Angry, Kevin went on and on about not appreciating Crouch calling him a clown. (Someone wasn't listening. Crouch didn't call anyone on the show a clown.)

I hoped that Oprah had a few Springer-style security guards near by. Kevin was so hot and insulted it looked as though he might run into the audience and give Crouch a WWE beat-down.

But what was saddest about Kevin's upset was this: He looked like the biggest hypocrite. Everyone watching the show could see that Kevin's barely-controlled outrage was precisely the same insult that women feel when men call us nasty names. Be they Imus on TV or Ludacris on an album that Kevin himself is responsible for getting to the marketplace. His anger was glaringly ironic. He didn't like being called a clown (which no one actually did); he all but rolled up his sleeves to protect his reputation.

Touche, brother. You don't like being called names either and wanna kick some butt over it? Well, perhaps you could start with your own for letting the "clowns" your label represents call others offensive names.

So major kudos are in order for Oprah for delving into this touchy subject -- a subject she has admittedly avoided in the past. Many in the audience agreed that it would be up to women to make a change; the music industry couldn't be counted on to police itself.

We'll keep watch for something concrete to come out of today's meeting with Lyor Cohen. He'll certainly have in the room all the people it takes to make a change.

Common vs. Himself
PS -- Common is such a nice guy. So sensible and intent on doing the right thing. But dispite his personal concerns about the negative language in hip-hop and being the father or a nine-year-old daughter, Common said he'd have to continue riding on the side of hip-hop. He wouldn't want to become an outsider because he can be more effective by staying with the hip-hop community and coaching the offenders through constructive criticism that comes from love, not blame.

Excellent point. Plus, Common took such a stand before, through his cult classic song, "I Used to Love H.E.R.," which laments the state of hip-hop. It basically led to a nasty, well-publicized beef between him and fellow rapper Ice Cube. Who took Common's criticism personally.

So Common knows he has to be careful here. He already is known to spit lyrics that are uplifting of the African American community and earnestly value women. In today's rap world, them's almost fightin' words.

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Jason - GorillaSushi said...

I don't think Hip Hop will police anything that continues to make them millions. I bet there's a sleazy producer somewhere right now saying "hey, amp that N-word stuff up! It's all over the news!"
I love Common.

Paula Neal Mooney said...

I love the way you write, Kween!

And yeah, that show was frustrating.

I wanted to watch the video you have embedded above, but now it says no longer available. Maybe it'll be back soon...

I've got much love for hip-hop artists, and the ones who are spreading hate will soon be defeated.

Be blessed,

Legalgold said...

I guess my comments pretty remain consistent. Everything is HOT like FIRE now but what happens a few months from now?? Will we have a panel power discussion during the downtime when nothing controversial is happening???

Opal said...

I rarely watch television but I would have watched this show. Hmm, perhaps I can catch a rerun? There have been many times when I've wondered what will make people stop being disrespectful to one another. They way that some have attempted to justify why it's acceptable to say to some women truly make me ill.

Anonymous said...

Oprah and stooges are irrelevant. She a hypocrite what she says about hip hop has been said about the Color Purple.


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