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Hip-Hop Fridays: Don't Misunderstand Redman's Comments

We received some interesting e-mails and observed some interesting back-and-forth on television, radio and in private discussions regarding comments attributed to Redman by the Associated Press (AP), supposedly after Minister Farrakhan spoke at last week's Hip-Hop Summit. Assuming that Redman actually said what he did, we don't understand what the big deal is regarding his statement and really think that he and Minister Farrakhan are in virtual agreement over the profitability of so-called conscious rap.

Here is how the AP reported what Redman said:

Farrakhan got effusive applause after his speech, but at least one multiplatinum rapper said changing the language and content in some rap would be difficult.

"We all know what he's talking about, it's hard to do it, but he's right about it," Redman said. "The way I look at it, preach and rap don't make no money. Negativity lives in rap, that's what it's built on, that's what money circulates and generates from. Negativity, that's all we see."

Some people, especially those who weren't present at the summit and therefore unable to see the Minister's address and the response it engendered, interpreted Redman's comments as some sort of rejection of Minister Farrakhan's advice. Others, in the mainstream media deliberately raised Redman's comments in an effort to demonstrate disagreement between Redman and the Minister and to portray rappers as reckless and irresponsible.

We think that there is nothing in Redman's comments that justifies either opinion.

What Redman was doing was being honest about the relationship between Hip-Hop's lyrical content and the music business. He was speaking of the reality that in the current Hip-Hop era, the "ice and thongs and guns and drugs" wing of Hip-Hop music receives the open door and red carpet treatment from A&Rs, record executives, radio, music video stations and retail outlets.

He was being honest about that fact.

However, the current reality that he points to has not always been the case in Hip-Hop. In the late 80s and very early 90s, we would say from 1988 to 1992, the music business made millions off of conscious rap with groups like Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan, Brand Nubians, Queen Latifah, Gang Starr and others generating millions in record sales.

However that era came to an end around 1993, which is actually the very year that Redman blew up as an artist.

Redman knows that the era that preceded him was one where "preach" rap made millions.

But not today.

The interesting thing about the mini-controversy/confusion over Redman's comments is that Minister Farrakhan, in his address, told the artists that he was "not asking for a radical change" but that he was asking artists to "speak to the issues that enlighten".

The Minister and Redman are also in agreement over why there is negativity in rap lyrics. Last week we wrote about this in our coverage of the Minister's address when we wrote:

The Minister then began his defense of Hip-Hop artists who have come under fire for their lyrical content saying, "Society wants lyrics cleaned up but it (society) doesn't want to clean itself up." The Minister said that the most negative aspects of Hip Hop lyrics only reflect the mind and heart of community leadership and aspects of a gangster U.S. government. He added that Hip Hop lyrics were bringing out in public, the private aspects of people's reality. He said, Gangster lyrics are only showing aspects of "a government that is gangster." The Minister said that when rappers talk about killing people, they are no different than those in government who have assassinated leaders of other countries. He also said that when artists speak of drug abuse, they are speaking of a behavior, in the open, that has taken place even in the White House.

What society wants to do with Hip Hop and young people is "break the mirror, rather than look in it and clean itself up." The Minister concluded that part of his defense by stating: "If society cleaned itself up, rappers would have to talk about something else."

However, the Minister did indicate that rappers do have a responsibility to feed their followers better lyrical content in light of the fact that many rappers have moved away from much of the negative environment that influenced their lyrics in the beginning of their careers. We wrote last week:

The Minister then skillfully used the 34th chapter of the book of Ezekiel to encourage the rappers, intellectuals and civil rights leaders present to consider themselves as shepherds and the consequences that they will face if they do not feed their flocks after they themselves have been fed by the flocks. The Minister said, that among other things, these verses were referring to people being fed the word of God. The Minister encouraged the artists, in particular, to use their words to grow the people up into the mind of God and into the fulfillment of their gifts.

The Minister then told the artists that they were obligated to do this and had in fact been fed and supported by their fans and followers. He told them that they have cars, private jets, jewelry and they have been able to move out of the projects where they grew up because the "little people gave it to you. You are their leaders…what are you going to do to show your appreciation?"

But the Minister knows that if Hip-Hop artists change their lyrics overnight, before the business models, marketing strategies and radio play lists can adjust, and to a degree, even before societal conditions changed, they would lose the majority of their fans and followers.

That is why he told the Hip-Hop artists that they would have to read the newspaper regularly in order to educate themselves and evolve their lyrical content as their minds grasped the subject matter of the world.

Redman may have interpreted this as "preach" and rap. Perhaps he could have chosen a better word. The Minister certainly did not ask the rappers to do what he instructs his Ministers to do. He did not ask the rappers to begin by quoting the Bible and Holy Qur'an in their raps, although some of them are adept at doing so. He told them to begin by speaking on "current events". It is a baby step, that if done properly, can automatically raise the consciousness of rappers and their millions of followers.

And he even indicated that he wanted them to keep using the beats that they do. The Minister said that it was the Hip-Hop beats that were "literally driving the word in" the minds of the listener. The Minister obviously respects the power and attraction of the music that lies under the words. The music isn't the main problem, it is the lyrical content. The Minister in effect, was saying - keep Dr. Dre, D.J. Premier, Swizz Beats, Erick Sermon and Rockwilder but insert current events and social consciousness into your music.

Redman, however, intelligently took the discussion into another dimension by looking at the immediate consequences of moving immediately into a "positive" form of rap from a "negative" form of rap.

He knows that the industry and the consumers would reject a dramatic change in the lyrical content of the most popular rappers. He and Minister Farrakhan are in total agreement on that point.

That is also why Minister Farrakhan also encouraged A&R representatives at record labels to become more responsible in handling and grooming artists. And that is why he is openly encouraging Haqq Islam, Russell Simmons, Jermaine Dupri, Puffy (P-Diddy), Master P and Kedar Massenberg to "pull each other's coat" and to "become a family". He knows that it won't be until the executives and record labels that sign artists, put out the records and construct marketing strategies accept responsibility themselves, that ultimate change in the music will occur. And for years, the Minister has privately and publicly discussed the importance of Blacks and the Hip-Hop community controlling the distribution of their creative works. He knows that until the business model changes and those at the helm of distribution are removed or change their thinking, the "Truth" will never get on vinyl, CD and cassette.

Minister Farrakhan, as a spiritual leader and Redman, as a Hip-Hop artist/youth leader both know this.

Think deep into Redman's actual words and don't allow the media to create division where there is none.

(Note: Please re-read and study our account of Minister Farrakhan's speech. Part of the reason why we covered the speech exclusively was because we knew the media would attempt to make mischief with his words and the reaction to them. We think we have already been proven correct.

We also knew that those who weren't in attendance for his address would not be able to get the spirit of his remarks or the flavor of the audience.

Please take advantage of the witness/service that we attempted to provide.)

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, June 22, 2001

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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