Rap disrespect of black icons raises concerns

Vibe editor: Today's young people 'getting further and further away from the civil rights movement'
Associated Press
Mar 3, 2014


Malcolm X and rap music have always fit together like a needle in the groove, connected by struggle, strength and defiance. But three recent episodes involving the use or misuse of Malcolm and other black icons have raised the question: Has rap lost touch with black history?

Chart-topping rapstress Nicki Minaj provoked widespread outrage with an Instagram post featuring one of black history's most poignant images: Malcolm X peering out the window of his home, rifle in hand, trying to defend his wife and children from firebombs while under surveillance by federal agents. Superimposed on the photo: the title of Minaj's new song, which denigrates certain black men and repeats the N-word 42 times.

That came after Minaj's mentor Lil Wayne recorded a verse last year using the civil rights martyr Emmett Till in a sexual metaphor, and the hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons posted a Harriet Tubman "sex tape" video on his comedy channel.

What is happening to mainstream rap music, which was launched by Simmons and is now ruled by the likes of Minaj and Wayne?

"I don't want to say today's rappers are not educated about black history, but they don't seem as aware as rap generations before them," said Jermaine Hall, editor-in-chief of Vibe, the hip-hop magazine and website.

While previous generations had to struggle with the racism and neglect of the 1970s or the crack epidemic of the 1980s, Hall said, today's young people have not faced the same type of racial struggle — "They're sort of getting further and further away from the civil rights movement."

"In the '80s, whether it was KRS-One, Public Enemy, or the Native Tongues, that entire movement, it was very in tune with black history," Hall said. "They knew everything about Malcolm, about Martin, about Rosa Parks. Now, the new rappers just aren't as in tune."

Indeed, Minaj issued a statement expressing disbelief at the uproar and apologizing to Malcolm's family "if the meaning of the photo was misconstrued." Wayne wrote to the Till family to "acknowledge your hurt, as well as the letter you sent to me via your attorneys." Simmons was the only one to say, "I am sincerely sorry."

The apologies did not change much for Pierre Bennu, a filmmaker and artist who said Malcolm X's life was dedicated to advocating for the humanity of black people, while Minaj's song was simply dehumanizing.

When he saw Minaj's manipulation, Bennu said, "I felt punched in the gut."

The episode inspired him to post a mash-up video (http://bit.ly/1fpoFYB) laying Minaj's song over the infamous 1941 Walter Lantz cartoon "Scrub Me Mama With A Boogie Beat," which depicts a town of lazy black people hypnotized by a seductive washerwoman.

Various mainstream rap artists seem reluctant to defend Minaj and Wayne; The Associated Press sought out five, but none returned calls for comment.

Jasiri X, a rapper whose music focuses on black empowerment and current events, said many of today's mainstream rappers use images of revolutionary black icons to promote an anti-establishment image.

"All the while, they're being funded and pushed by major corporations," he said.

"I see Nicki and other artists, whether Kanye or Jay-Z, adopting these revolutionary images or using a clip or saying their name, but never practice the principles which these revolutionaries gave their lives for," Jasiri said.

It was not always so.

Hip-hop began in the early 1970s as an alternative to gang activity. Before the music was recorded, founding fathers like DJ Afrika Bambaataa — whose slogan was "peace, love, unity and having fun" — would play Malcolm X's voice over instrumental break beats.

"Not only did it sound funky but it helped raise our consciousness," hip-hop historian Davey D wrote on his website.

Davey attended many early rap concerts at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm was assassinated. As the music gained steam, X was constantly honored on wax. KRS-One duplicated Malcolm's gun-in-the-window pose on the cover of his 1988 classic album, "By Any Means Necessary." In 1991, Tupac rhymed on "Words of Wisdom": "No Malcolm X in my history text, why is that? / Cause he tried to educate and liberate all blacks."

Malcolm's voice and image appeared on so many records and videos, "many would remark that he was an emcee," Davey wrote.

Tubman also is a longtime rap staple, mentioned by everyone from Ice Cube ("She helped me run like Harriet Tubman") to Pharoahe Monch ("A railroad to underground like Harriet Tubman"). Till, too, has been mentioned in songs such as Kanye's breakthrough 2003 single "Through The Wire."

But today's rappers reflect our money-obsessed society, said Bakari Kitwana, whose Rap Sessions organization just moderated a series of community dialogues between the civil rights and hip-hop generations.

"We see a lot of things going on with our young people, and we don't feel like we are teaching them values that can compete with the way the value of money is ingrained in our culture," Kitwana said. "Everything is just focused on money. If you can get money, whatever else you're doing doesn't matter."

"It's reached a crisis point," he said. "I came up in the '70s and '80s, and greed has always been present, but I don't think I've ever seen it like it is now."

He was echoed by Paradise Gray, who performed in the 1980s with the Afrocentric rap group X Clan.

"Mainstream rap music has lost its reverence for anything besides money," Gray said.

Today's rappers threaten to kill people who disrespect them, "but they sit back and let you disrespect our legacy, our culture, our history," he said.

"What," Gray asked, "will the disrespect of your humanity and your blackness cost you?"




Really? Lol.....rap died with Biggie and Tupac. PAC had a message, Little Wayne, Drake, all these little punks just talk about money and girls. Not about real life.


Clueless! SMDH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stop It

Careful with the shakin' your damn head so violently, deertacker. Wouldn't want anything to turn to mush and fall out your ears. You could cause brain separation.


Go away StoopIt!


Whatever tracker. I bet I can sing along to more 90's rap than you can. Even though you like to think I'm a racist white boy, I have many black friends and black family members, I listen to nothing but rap/hip-hop, and aside from sick beats and good bass lines, the new generation has nothing to offer in the way of lyrics. Ice-t, Public Enemy, Run DMC, Tupac, etc, these guys had motivation and purpose....and respect. This ain't politics on this article so piss off, you can't blame Bush for subpar rap!


I believe you are a racist white women and looked up these names. How can you be as racist but will down anybody black it doesn't matter if they are doing good I think you are fake. And to come with that black friends bs and family members they must be $h!+ to since that's what you think of blacks.


phuck you santown. You are the racist. I hate lazy good for nothing leaches on society. I've said it before, I'll say it again THEY COME IN ALL COLORS! You may only know black ones so you assume that's what I mean. I know PLENTY of white worthless trash. Eat it homeboy!


No you are not my type. Miss momma must be that time of month. You bash blacks all day make fun of a black kid that was killed I'm suppose to take you serious man up and grow some while you grow the he!! Up. You can say you know white trash but just by your post everyday you are one of the worst. You from Bellevue no homeboy of mines if you were you would of been handled a long time ago. I don't hang with racist


I bet you can too because I almost never listen to rap music but I know it is not dead! The rappers you mentioned are either dead or they no longer rap. I don't care how cool you think you are or how funny you think you are, you ARE NOT! I don't think Ice T was too respected when he rapped about killing cops. Don't even get me started about Public Enemy! Bush who? Who is speaking about politics? SMFH!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Ice-T rapped about killing cops because that was when cops were racist as you are. Rodney King ring a bell? Police Brutality ring a bell? It's not non-existent now, nor will it ever be. But that was what was relevant politically in his days of rapping. He is the real O.G. (My mom caught me with his "Original Gangsta" cassette when I was 9, she was pissed!)


What year did the cops stop being racist? You're a joke dude. You think you've got the lingo down, a few brothas in your family and you listen to rap so you are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO cool. LMFAO! POSER!


Repetitive babbling isn't music.

Peninsula Pundit

The work of Snoop Lion, Biggie,Coolio and other early rappers at least had some semblance of musicality.
If you derive your racial pride and identity from what is being presented as 'entertainment' these days, you're bound to be very disappointed.

Peninsula Pundit

Check out that video.
Walt did a lot more than 'Woody Woodpecker,' it appears.


Public Enemy did more for the advancement of black people than every rapper since 2000 combined. Your statement is very accurate Sir.


Is this comment clueless too tracker? Should they not have fought the power?


YOU are clueless!!!!!!!!!


Key comment - funded by mega corps...more disconnecting from heritage.


I can't say they have gotten away from the civil rights issue. The problem is they are pop rappers now. Back with public enemy, nwa, PAC rap was looked at as a fad still. They did it for the love its all about the money now. But you can still find rappers who still fight the cause but they are underground rappers.


Well thanks for bashing me as a racist, and my black friends, then posting a comment that is almost identical to what I posted. Do you read what I type? Or just see Babymomma and instantly start with the racist talk?

The Big Dog's back

So you have black friends ehhh stoop momma.


That makes him SOOOOO cool. I have white friends. Am I cool now?


Its funny dertracker how momma is always on let be a racist I think its funny but doesn't want people to call him/her one don't be one and you won't be called one its not hard. You want people to respect you but you come day after day and bash blacks. You even used a YouTube post to call blacks the n word but we are suppose to take you serious.


I'm not bashing your black friends I'm saying someone who hates blacks and says they have black friends is a lier. That's one of the oldest sayings by racist my best friend is black or I have a black friend sounds familiar. You must be the guy that posts on the scanner page who took a picture with a black rapper but bashes blacks all day.


I wouldn't expect Nikki minaj to understand Malcolm anyway she is from Trinidad.


Exactly! It's just music. Some has real meaning and some doesn't. The rappers today are not about civil rights. They are about the money just like they have always been. I'm okay with it. Get paid while you can because longevity is illusive in the music industry.

Dr. Information

"get paid while you can". Wow, did you really just say that. What about the other hard working Americans who are CEO's, lawyers and doctors who you constantly rip on who are making the same type of money, or even less. I get it, you are black and anything black related is ok. The rest is shameful, right?

To all the CEO's and bankers and anyone else making bank.....make it while you can because you don't live forever.


This story about black rap artists music shouldn't be in a mainstream paper for people to take shots at. What it means for blacks is not the same meaning for others. Shame on you Sandusky Register. Take the time to point out the shortcomings of rock, pop and country too. Like how they condoning suicide, disrepecting parents or overdosing.


So we can hear about the Beatles and rolling stones but because rap wasnt started by a white person it shouldn't be in the paper.

Dr. Information

today's rap = crap. All about drugs, money and hoes.


"Everything thing is just focused on money" Kitwana said. Sad but true. Most Americans are only about the coin regardless of ethnicity.