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CULTURAL NEWS
Taking Back the Music
08 March 2005

CBN.com - The music is loud, the images raw. And the lyrics about violence, drugs and especially women, are as raunchy as they come. It is hip hop music, also known as rap. It is something of a phenomenon in the music industry. But hip hop is not just music. It is part of the culture of many young, urban, black, inner-city residents.

Hip Hop got its start in the early 1970s, when teens in the South Bronx mixed rhythms and melodies with poetry that chronicled life in the hood.

Back then, the music was innocent and fun. But today's hip hop bears little resemblance to those innocent early years. Its lyrics are now filled with references to violence, pimps, drugs -- and when it comes to lyrics about black women, they are nearly always degrading and verbally abusive.

Women are shown scantily clad, dancing around fully clothed men simulating sex acts. And in many cases, referred to as whores and other demeaning names we cannot put in print.

The following lyrics from a song by hip hop artist Ludacrais is just one of many examples: "Just got to the telly and I slid through the door, onto the elevator to the penthouse floor. What happened next, only time can tell, cause I got up to my room and I was mad as h_____. Who let these h____'s in my room? Who let these h____'s in my room?"

Other songs include artists referring to themselves as pimps, peddling women as prostitutes, and strippers, and women being roughed up and often called the names of animals.

These demeaning images and degrading lyrics about women have become the norm in hip hop. But after years of these increasingly violent lyrics, some black women are finally saying enough is enough.

Students from Spelman College in Atlanta were outraged when they found out that popular hip hop artist Nelly was scheduled to visit their campus for a charity benefit.

Spelman student Ebonne Ruffins said, "It's time to say no, we can't continue to stand for these images. It's just continually getting worse."

The women say that Nelly's lyrics about women are highly offensive. We watched some excerpts from Nelly's "Tip Drill" video with them. It was a video that shows women wearing bikinis, thongs and spike heels, dancing and posing in sexually provocative ways, while surrounded by men making fun of them.

Spelman student Jennifer Lesleigh Moore said, "I didn't know what to expect. I didn't think that videos could stoop to that kind of level. Are you serious?"

And Spelman student Jessica Young remarked, "These women were like animals, like, I feed my dog, I take it out, my dog is there for me. Those women were just there for those men, just for whatever they wanted to do, however they wanted to touch them, however they wanted to speak to them. Just like, you know, an animal is at the mercy of its human dominator, those women were basically at the mercy of the camera and the disgusting men in the video."

Spelman gave Nelly the chance to defend the video, but he refused. When he found out about the protest, he canceled his appearance at the school.

For years, black media was silent on how degrading hip hop had become. But in January, the leading black magazine for women, Essence, blasted the industry for debasing black women.

Michaela Angela Davis, the editor of Essence, said, "We're calling it an intervention -- as if our brother's got a drug problem and we say, we love you and we want to see a change, 'cause it's hurting all of us."

Essence launched a year-long campaign called "Take Back the Music," aimed at getting artists to think about the impact their music has on black America.

Davis is in charge of the campaign. She said, "This is just the right thing to do. I mean, aside from whatever your feelings are, whatever people's morals are, whatever their socio-economic background; it's just the right thing to do."

Essence says young girls who think they are only good for what they see in hip hop culture should know.

"We know that's not who you are,” David said. “You're not a stripper. We know that you're not limited. We know that you have the potential to be anything and anybody you want. Oprah Winfrey was on the corner."

But Davis says she is not talking about censorship. She said, "We're not telling the artists what to think, we're just asking them to think."

But amazingly, not all black women believe that hip hop's image of them is bad.

Toya said, "I like it. I like it because I can relate to it. I can understand what they're saying in rap music and stuff."

And Yolanda commented, “You got to do that kind of stuff to sell music. I'm saying that's what people like to see, as far as the girls with the little stuff on. They like to see that so that's what they have in their videos."

Robert Woodson is founder and president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. He says it is attitudes like that that are part of the problem.

Woodson said, "There's a kind of political correctness that is rampant in the black community. It says if anything creates income, no matter how immoral or how debased or no matter how harmful, somehow it's ok, it's justified because after all, it's making money. Or we say people want to see it, people want to hear it. So why not give them what they want to hear? Why not give them what they want to see?"

As someone who works to revive failing black neighborhoods, Woodson applauds Essence's “Take Back the Music” campaign because hip hop's immoral images, he says, are partly to blame for the breakdown of the black family.

He said, “Only one-third of black children are being raised in households with a man and a woman. This is all within 40 years -- this decline -- dramatic decline. I think contributing to that decline is the kind of abuse you see from the Hip-Hop industry, that are not only sanctioning, but making huge profits from the exploitation of black women."

Woodson says, too, that hip hop's constant sell of premarital sex has led to the spread of AIDS, the leading cause of death for black women aged 24-45. Every day, more than 20 African-American women are infected with HIV.

"It’s a lot of girls in this community who aspire, you can go to some of the schools in this area and there are girls who aspire to be strippers,” said Woodson, “because of the glamour they see on the videos. Teacher asks them what they want to be when they grow up, and they say a stripper..."

Philip Mosby is an inner-city pastor in Atlanta. He says the answer is not only to guide black youth about the negative images they see on TV, but to give them a sense that God thinks much better of them than who they are in those videos.

"Speaking to these young girls and these young boys and tell them this is not glamorous,” Mosby said. “This is not the biblical image that God wants us to live."

Although there is no sign that hip hop has any plans to clean up its raunchy image, it is safe to say that the industry has been put on notice. Some black women are taking a stand, a stand that could mean more positive images, not just for black women, but for the black community as a whole.

Woodson said, "I think that the American public is on overload when it comes to sexually explicit movies, sexually explicit songs. And I just think it is reaching the saturation point, and I think there is going to be a rebellion against it. And I'm praying and hoping that it will be, and perhaps Essence and other groups within the black community can start that trend."

Ebonne added, "It's about spreading the message that it is wrong and that we can do better, and we are better than this."

By Charlene Israel - CWNews

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