Hip-Hop Fridays: E-Letter To The New York Daily News And Pete Hamil Re: Buying Into The Rap Myth
While, to no surprise, your column, "Buying Into The Rap Myth" contains some factual errors like the innuendo that Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. were murdered as a result of a business feud and a misplacing in the sequence of Jay-Z's albums, you really make some very important points in your column that deserve consideration. While many in Hip-Hop may not want to admit it, you have very clearly pointed out a few of the contradictions and deleterious aspects in the relationship between inner city life and the Hip-Hop industry.
I thought that the comments made to you by a police officer in the courthouse were telling. His statement to you that he did not know where Jay-Z was but that you should "go down the hall to the left, then make a right. All these dummies are arraigned in there." was revealing. At the end of the day, the criminal justice system that so many Hip-Hop artists rhyme about hating or defeating, on their recordings, does not care who you are. In their eyes, if you are arrested for a crime you are simply another dumb Black male.
I share your amazement that Hip-Hop artists who see the examples of those who come before them, and of their peers, are still being caught making the same mistakes. As soon as I heard the report that Jay-Z was arrested as a result of the work of the infamous plain-clothes New York Police Department's Street Crime Unit I knew that Jay-Z had not only been watched that night but that he has been and is still being watched by not only the street crime unit but also, most likely, the organization that often compares notes most frequently with them - the FBI.
Jay - Z is not alone, numerous rappers are being watched by local law enforcement officers and the FBI in an effort to connect the dots in an imaginary conspiracy that would tie numerous drug dealers, and gun distributors to record labels and artists on racketeering charges.
I wrote extensively about the effort of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to shut down Houston's Rap-A-Lot Records in such a manner. Their efforts were not successful.
The government would like to use the RICO statute to shut down the Hip-Hop music industry or significant players inside of the industry. This has been going on for years but has recently intensified as several prominent artists and/or members of their entourages have been arrested on a variety of criminal charges.
But the profiling does not stop with the Hip-Hop industry - almost every Black male in the inner city, especially at night, is "profiled" as a potential criminal.
I remember my own encounter with the Street Crime Fighting Unit one night in Harlem as I was driving to a recording studio in mid-town Manhattan. I had made the terrible mistake of stopping at a red light and shaking the hand of a Brother that I knew and happened to see on a street corner. We shook hands and exchanged a greeting of peace to one another and when the light turned green, I made a right turn on my way to supervise a recording session for some of my artists. No sooner than after I had made two turns, were my eyes almost blinded by a car's headlights and the world's most famous combination of red and blue flashing lights, as I was pulled over, removed from my car, with both me and my car searched. The plain-clothes street crime officers told me they were looking for drugs.
What was their cause?
They saw me shaking hands with a gentleman at the traffic light two blocks over, and thought that our "handshake" was really a drug transaction.
Of course they saw nothing of the sort and found nothing on my person or in my car and after being delayed for almost 20 minutes I was on my way to the studio… but followed. It would be one of the numerous traffic stops, followings, and attempts at arrest that I would experience as a manager or friend to Hip-Hop artists and of course, as a young Black male.
This is an occurrence that happens every night in American cities - particularly in New York City and Los Angeles.
I share your opinion that any Hip-Hop artist who is arrested at 3 AM on gun possession charges after leaving a nightclub really has some soul-searching to do and some serious questions to ask themselves. As intelligent as several as these artists are, and I know many of them personally, the desire to not be seen as out of touch with the streets, coupled with an obstinate and arrogant attitude which causes them to ignore the lessons of history and those who have come before them, is going to cause many successful Hip-Hop artists to not only lose their personal freedom by going to prison, but I believe is eventually going to cause many of them to lose their lives.
As your column demonstrates, a superstar Hip-Hop artist is nothing more than another young Black male - an endangered species and society's public enemy number one. It is a shame that a false sense of bravado and foolish loyalty to the worst parts of Black inner city life, glamorized in music, cause them to exhibit behavior that makes them their own worst enemy.
While I know you wrote your column on Jay -Z from a different motive than I write my columns on Hip-Hop artists, I appreciate your contribution and bluntness.
It should serve as a wake-up call to anyone of us who have dedicated our lives to helping Jay-Z and other young Black men avoid "Central Booking".
Friday, April 20, 2001