The Motown generation tried to pick up the hip-hop beat yesterday on, of all places, Capitol Hill.
Continuing his effort to inject youth into the nation's oldest civil rights group, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., NAACP executive director, held a forum on rap music. The beat was only figurative, though; no rap was actually heard.
Dr. Chavis said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will "fight for the right of rappers to rap about the hard realities of life in a society permeated by racial oppression and exploitation."
Rappers have come under increasing criticism for lyrics that in some cases glorify violence and degrade women, but the civil rights leader said Americans should not be quick to condemn the "hip-hop generation."
"I would like to see rappers rap about positive things, but as a 46-year-old, I have no right to censor raps that would make me uncomfortable as a father," he said at a Capitol Hill news conference before the forum.
He suggested that families listen to rap and discuss it rather than turn it off.
In his 10 months at the helm of the NAACP, Dr. Chavis has made a habit of embracing African-Americans who appeal to young blacks and often make whites uncomfortable: gang leaders, the Nation of Islam and now rappers.
The civil rights group was accused of sexism last month by the National Political Congress of Black Women for refusing to withdraw an NAACP Image Awards nomination for Tupac Shakur, a rapper charged last fall with sexual assault in New York and with shooting two police officers in Atlanta. He was nominated for his acting role in the movie "Poetic Justice" but did not win.
Dr. Chavis said the forum, which was attended by a mostly young audience of 250 people, was not designed to curry favor with hip-hoppers but to represent what he called the growing number of young people in the NAACP membership.
Nikki D, a New Jersey rapper, appreciated the gesture.
"It was time for the older generation to support the young generation," she said. "It was getting that every rap was bad rap."
Most of those who spoke at the forum defended rappers' right to be as nasty as they want to be. They said rap just reflects the reality that young blacks endure.
"If we are serious about changing so-called negative lyrics, we need to be serious about changing the conditions that created that mentality," said Ambrose Lane, a Washington hip-hop deejay known as X-Man.
But Latonia Smith, a Baltimorean who works on Capitol Hill, said she was tired of rappers referring to black women with vulgarities. Several beneficiaries of rap's move into the commercial mainstream said the music has opened doors for black entrepreneurs.
For his part, Dr. Chavis even dipped into hip-hop vocabulary, saying it's not right to "dis" rap without fully understanding it.
"Did you say 'dis'?" someone asked.
"Yes, I'm trying," Dr. Chavis said with a little smile.