November 11, 2008

Sharpton and Simmons disagree on Obama-mania's effect on Hip Hop

Barack Obama, the first president to come of age in hip-hop era has sparked a debate between the Rev. Al Sharpton and Russell Simmons. The topic: How will the election of Barack Obama effect Hip Hop?

An article in the Chicago Tribune points out Barack Obama’s relationship with the Hip Hop culture. "There are times, even on the artists I've named, the artists that I love, that there is a message that's sometimes degrading to women, uses the 'n' word a little too frequently," Obama told BET after citing Kanye West, Jay-Z and Common among some of his favorite artists. "But also something that I'm really concerned about is [they're] always talking about material things, about how I can get something; more money, more cars."

Rev. Al Shaprton, a frequent critic of Hip Hop believes that the Obama victory will “force” Hip Hop artists to behave better. Sharpton predicts that the Obama administration will force a decline in the more violent and misogynistic elements of the culture. "You can't be using the 'b' word, the 'n' word, the 'h' word when you have Barack Obama redefining overnight the image that black people want to have. Here's the greatest political victory in the history of black America, and the thug rappers can't come near it. They will have to change or become irrelevant."

Simmons says that's hogwash. "Young people will use their language the way they want," he said. "If it's in their heart, they will express it." In the wake of racially charged remarks by talk show host Don Imus last year, Obama said rap wasn't blameless because it too contained derogatory language. Russell Simmons called Obama "a mouse, too, like everyone else," and urged him to take a closer look at the social conditions that made such lyrics commonplace. In the wake of Obama's victory, Simmons struck a more conciliatory tone, calling it a "glorious" affirmation of "the hip-hop generation and its young people." "I was just defending hip-hop," he told the Tribune of his earlier criticism of Obama. "It's good for politicians to say they're against hip-hop. But hip-hop's job is to tell the truth, and the truth can be shocking. "Though many older activists didn't believe Obama could win the presidency, convinced that his race was too big of a barrier, the "hip-hop generation said, 'Why not?'" Simmons said. "Hip-hop's attitude has always been, 'Why not?'"

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