I am a poet, and I took exception to Russell Simmons donning the breastplate of artistry, while standing on his righteous indignation over censoring said artistry to defend and legitimize the output of various rap performers. (I refuse to give many of them the dignity of being called poets much less artists.) His naming those who write and perform rap music as poets without making distinctions regarding the type of rap music they perform was circumspect, best case scenario, or worse case scenario, duplicitous.
As far as I'm concerned all rap is not created equal and Hip Hop is not the commodity mass produced and blasted on radio and television stations. Hip Hop depicts a culture of consciousness one that observes, analyzes and reflects the world in which it exists. It seeks to educate and uplift, to offer criticism and critique, to mobilize its listeners to pursue positive change, both inwardly and outwardly. Sometimes, Hip Hop is just plain fun. Hip Hop lives mostly off the screen of mainstream entertainment, creating the occasional blip--Common....Mos Def...Eryka Badu....Jill Scott.
In my opinion, much of the rap music produced, sold and shoved via the spoon of mass marketing down the throats of those who once loved it, is an over exuberant exercise in mediocrity. Rap has become a festival of depravity in which the most base and debasing elements of human existence are glamorized and presented as life pursuits. I won't focus on the misogyny of rap, because it is guilty of many other abuses as well. From its perspective, the world is full of black people who are moving targets which receive every type of abuse, mental, physical and sexual, especially from their own.
As with any human endeavor, there are degrees of workmanship. Poverty is no excuse, nor is suffering, a mantle of martyrdom which gives its bearer the right to inflict suffering upon others. Malcom X was poor and abused--told to pursue carpentry, thief, ex-con. Paul Laurence Dunbar started poor.
I understand that people must mature and grow and change. I understand that money is a need, not a want in America. Rap performers want to be paid, and capitalism is all about supply and demand. They're providing a product. It's business. I also understand that power concedes nothing without demand.
Those who know better, must do better. Art reflects culture, but it can also shape it. Remember the Black Arts Movement? Black is Beautiful. Say It Loud! I'm Black and I'm Proud!
Russell Simmons has created many progressive opportunities for African Americans. I acknowledge that the Hip Hop Action Network is educating many, but it is also teaching them to ignore that which is unjust in their community. I must also acknowledge that the same individuals who spew poison about themselves and their community cannot credibly offer an educational or uplifting message.When it comes to the future content of mass marketed rap music and the distribution of Hip Hop, he and his counterparts must do better.