Reasons are obvious for rap violence

March 12, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

The song "Another One Bites the Dust" should become the anthem of the hip-hop world.

On Sunday morning, rapper Biggie Smalls/Notorious B.I.G./Christopher Wallace died in a hail of bullets in Los Angeles. He was the victim of a drive-by shooting, getting it much the same way his archrival Tupac Shakur got it in Las Vegas six months earlier.

All day Sunday and most of Monday, disc jockeys and callers to hip-hop radio stations in Baltimore and Washington bemoaned Wallace's fate. Once again there were pleas to "stop the violence." Once again there was talk of another black man being killed and the query, "When will we wake up?" Once again, there was the question of "Why is this happening?"

It's time black folk stopped pretending we don't know.

The answers are obvious. The first answer is, in essence, another question: What do you expect when hoodlums and thugs have such an influence in the hip-hop industry?

Lest we forget, Shakur had his problems with the law, as did that one-time crack dealer Wallace. As you read this, Marion "Suge" Knight, president of Death Row Records -- one of the premier rap labels -- is cooling his heels in jail on an assault charge. (Word in the hip-hop world is that assault is the very least of Knight's sins.)

There are, clearly, elements in the rap world who view criminal conduct as a badge of honor. Some concert promoters have refused to book rap acts after some rap concerts degenerated into violence. Rapper LL Cool J, one of hip-hop's leading lights who knows the value of being a law-abiding citizen, said that it's the rappers themselves who need to clean up their acts.

"If you want to make money on concerts, you have to do what's conducive to making money," LL said of some of his fellow artists. "That is, act civilized."

For some of these characters, "acting civilized" would indeed be a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. You can take the thug out of the slum and call him a rapper, but you're still left with the problem of taking the slum out of the thug.

And it's time to reiterate why so many young black men, rappers and nonrappers, are heeding the clarion call to thuggery. It's neither racism nor poverty. It is a lingering macho culture among black men that has several negative offshoots, not the least of them being the notion that committing a crime is a manly act. How else would we account for black men being disproportionately arrested for robbery and murder?

Consider Shakur's macho posturing on his "Makaveli" album. Consider Wallace's references to his former criminal lifestyle on his first album. Consider the rivalry between the two and the conflict between East Coast and West Coast rappers.

Now consider this: How come female rappers don't engage in this nonsense? Why is it that the likes of Lil' Kim, Salt-N-Pepa, Da Brat, MC Lyte and other female rappers don't have the legal problems -- or, for that matter, attitude problems -- of some of their male counterparts?

It's because all too many black men are carrying around that baggage of black macho pride. Some of them take that baggage into the hip-hop world. We won't acknowledge the problem, of course. It's neither politically correct nor popular to acknowledge such among black folk, engaged as we are in our 30-year orgy of ofay-bashing (ofay is a derogatory term for whites). The fact that those exhorting us in the ofay-bashing were sexist swine should have sent a message to us, but it didn't.

On some radio shows, some folks even managed to get in a bit of ofay-bashing in Wallace's death. Those blacks dedicated to conspiracy theories see white devils behind the murders of both Shakur and Wallace.

The conspiracy theorists might have a point. There may be devils afoot, though not necessarily white. The sins of some black male rappers aside, some folks will think it's awfully suspicious that Shakur, the leading moneymaker for Death Row Records, and Wallace, the leading moneymaker for the Bad Boy label, are slain within six months of each other. Who benefits from their deaths? Certainly not Death Row and Bad Boy.

Some gangsta rappers like to call themselves "O.G.s" -- Original Gangsters. Bernie McCain, the morning talk show host on WOLB, said he worked in radio during the early years of rock 'n' roll when acts of thuggery were par for the course in the music business. If there is a "conspiracy" in the deaths of Shakur and Wallace, it might well be the work of those very real gangsters who have been part of the music business for years.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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