Hip-Hop Fridays: The Indecency Double-Standard by Ashanti M. Alvarez
Corporate censorship of perceived indecency has reached a new and offensive level in my opinion: the silencing of one of Hip-Hop’s most promising, innovative, and inspiring rappers.
The offender is Viacom via MTV and BET, and the rapper is Kanye West, who critics and fans have embraced for delivering a hip-hop album that is refreshing, thought-provoking, witty, and funny without celebration of guns, violence, and misogyny.
Kanye West’s second single, “All Falls Down,” explores the self-conscious obsession with materialism among many young Black kids and adults and the hip-hop generation in general. West brings up the discussion - which is so necessary - without talking down or being disparaging. One of the lines in “All Falls Down” is “Drug dealer buy Jordans/crackhead buy crack/and the white man get paid off of all that.”
MTV and BET excise the words “white man” from the song and West’s video. Meanwhile, they allow Lil Jon to chant “skeet skeet skeet skeet m#%&rf#%&*s.” Skeet is slang for ejaculate (n.,v.).
“All Falls Down” was airing regularly when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry appeared on MTV’s “Choose or Lose” in a bid for the youth vote and just to look cool. He was asked what kind of music he likes now. Maybe he was pandering or being sincere, or both, but Kerry said “ I’m fascinated by rap and hip-hop…There’s a lot of anger, a lot of social energy in it.” And I think you’d better listen pretty carefully.”
Well, John Kerry, we can’t!
I wrote a previous column in defense of Howard Stern when Clear Channel Radio, for no apparent reason, took him off their six stations. Viacom, through Infiniti Broadcasting, owns most of the stations that carry Howard Stern, as well as the flagship rock station in New York. When I wrote it back then, the column was a defense of Stern and his 1st amendment rights - not Viacom. Now more than ever, it’s necessary to point out that there is no difference between Clear Channel, Viacom, Disney, or any of the huge media companies.
Because for them, it’s okay for us to have our women in leashes, to spray beer on them, to bust off caps in the air while dancing and wearing huge gold grins. It’s okay for us to talk about dealing drugs, like the Clipse, but to imply that a piece of the profits may go to White dealers, no, can’t do that period. It’s okay for us to write entire songs dedicated to our fetishistic love for sneakers, sending Nike sales sky high – but to point out that White CEOs are the ones profiting off that material lust? Stay in your place. That’s what Viacom is saying to me.
It’s a shame that MTV and BET will play video after video of Black women in virtually no clothes “shaking it like a salt shaker,” face all cut out of the picture, but they can’t air those two little words “white man.” They’ll play a video of Nelly sliding a credit card through some chick’s behind. MTV let Madonna and Britney Spears kiss in front of several million teenagers, but they’re silencing Kanye West. Is the line controversial? Yes. Indecent? You tell me.
Kanye West’s rhymes are so different than anything on MTV right now. It’s like a mix of Talib Kweli and Jay-Z, whom West’ brags about getting on a record together. Lyrically, those two are probably better than West, but topically, West strikes a great balance between all the many hip-hop heads out there. His album speaks to those standing on the corner all winter, those sitting up in the classroom, the ones slouched in the SUV next to Mom, the ones wearing backpacks and headphones and listening to dead prez.
That’s what they're afraid of. A wide range of people have related to Kanye West because he is speaking the truth, as he sees it. He speaks it on “Never Let Me Down” when he says: “Now niggas can’t make it to ballots to choose leadership/But we can make it to Jacob’s and to the dealership/That’s why I hear new music and I just don’t be feelin it/Racism still alive, they just be concealin it.”
And “they” includes MTV, BET, and Viacom.
Ashanti M. Alvarez is a journalist based in New Jersey and can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, April 16, 2004