Rapper gives children a mainstream message

June 05, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

"How's everybody?" rap star LL Cool J asked the dozens of youngsters scattered throughout the auditorium of Arena Playhouse. "Everybody feeling good?"

"Yeah!" the kids answer enthusiastically to both questions.

LL Cool J (I'm in a dilemma here as to what he should be called on second reference -- LL? Cool? J? Cool J?) stands on the stage dressed in classic hip-hop gear: sunglasses, black athletic cap, black jacket, white athletic shoes and black pants with the obligatory left pants leg rolled up.

He represents a musical genre that is not quite mainstream and has been maligned, pilloried, bashed as the one remaining threat to Western civilization as we know it. Not only have conservatives railed against rap, but so too has the generation that should know better -- the one that grew up on rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues.

But this representative of the musical fringe is on stage to deliver a mainstream message: stop the violence, stay in school, stay off drugs and wait until after your teen years to have children. It is a message that comes better from LL Cool J than from Bob Dole, Bill Bennett or C. Delores Tucker, who would have had these young members of the Arena Players Youth Theater asleep within 30 seconds.

"How many know the value of an education?" the rapper asked. Every hand shot up. "The first step to knowledge," LL intoned, "is realizing you need to know something." Anyone doubting how serious LL Cool J is about this education thing should have listened to his idea for improving public education. He suggested to a gathering of reporters that society would be better served by paying teachers more.

"I think he has a very positive message," said 7th District Congressman Elijah Cummings, who spoke to the children before the rapper made his appearance. "Several reporters asked me, 'Why do you have a rapper coming here to talk? That's not consistent with stop the violence.' "

Cummings, a new-breed liberal Democrat who sees the obvious truth that government ITALcan't ITAL solve every problem, has done his homework on the rap music scene. He at least knows more than rap's critics, whose cumulative knowledge about the music could fit into a thimble with oodles of room to spare. All rap is violent and misogynistic, critics claim, especially that horrible gangsta rap. Then they show their ignorance by dredging up 2 Live Crew, which a.) is no longer in existence, b.) hadn't had a hit in at least two years when it disbanded and c.) was never a gangsta rap group, assuming it was a rap group at all. Rap aficionados don't think they were.

But Cummings said there were three reasons LL Cool J spoke to the group.

"No. 1, LL Cool J is a positive rapper," Cummings explained. "No. 2, the kids listen to him. And No. 3, the fact that he takes time out shows that he cares. You remember what he said at the beginning. 'I am you and you are me.' "

The rapper said even more.

"I came here because I love you and I care about you," he told the children. Anybody really expect Bob Dole at any point in his campaign to go before a group of black inner-city kids and utter those words? Anybody think they'll believe him even if he does?

But LL Cool J gives congenital demagogues like Dole the benefit of the doubt. He believes rap's critics are sincere but that their priorities are misplaced.

"You have to attack the problems in the environment that lead to the music," LL said of gangsta rap. These guys, after all, are only rapping about what's around them. Change that, LL challenged society's leaders, and the music will change with it.

Isn't he a trusting soul, believing that politicians have noble motives on this issue and are really interested in eliminating the cruel environment from which rappers spring? The truth is, government can't change those conditions, even if it wanted to. Any changes will have to be from the grass-roots level up.

LL Cool J indicated he might already know this. He admonished his fellow rappers who have acted boorishly and ignorantly in the past by getting in trouble with the law that they had best change their ways or lose concert dates.

"If guys want to get paid and get money, they're going to have to conduct themselves in a way that is conducive to making money, that is, act civilized," spake LL. To that, rap's critics and supporters should together give a hearty "Amen."

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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