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Hip Hop vs. America Pt 1 "Oprah...wasn't fair to hip hop"

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Uploaded on Jan 3, 2008

As seen on BET, the debate over Hip Hop vs. America Feat. Russell Simmons, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, T.I., Nelly, Master P , and hosted by Cousin Jeff and Toure

For all the criticism they receive, BET deserves credit for taking on this topic and broadcasting it as a special prime time event during the first big week of the new television season. The image of BET in the media and in the black community is often reduced to a caricature that fails to acknowledge the subtlety and nuance of BET's programming.

But having said that, I'm not sure that one television series is quite enough to make amends for years of missed opportunities. I've been very critical of the business model initiated by BET's founder Bob Johnson, which amounted to little more than profit over programming. For years, BET was little more than music videos, syndicated TV shows, and late night infomercials. Now, under new leadership, the network has been trying -- sometimes in questionable ways -- to build original programming.

What troubles me about BET today is the absence of timely news and public affairs programming. It's great that "Meet The Faith" airs on Sundays, but the show is taped so far in advance that it's impossible to be timely in response to new news. Even in the Bob Johnson days of the 90s, BET had a nightly news broadcast and a lively and current evening talk show with host Tavis Smiley. If we still had a daily news and talk show on BET, we wouldn't have to wait almost six months to have this discussion on hip hop and America. While everybody else in America was talking about offensive language back in April, that discussion was nowhere to be found on our own black network.

And I have to say that the discussion we had at the town hall meeting in June was important. Rapper Nelly was clearly the most controversial and outspoken of the performers, repeatedly defending hip hop and his own music, including his controversial video "Tip Drill," which as some observers said, has come to identify his career.

Nevertheless, the movers and shakers at BET, Reginald Hudlin and Debra Lee, were both involved in the town hall meeting, and both attended the event in Los Angeles, held the day after the BET Awards. They heard a lot of discussion about BET and about hip hop that day, and I hope they took the messages to heart in a constructive way.
Hip Hop Is America

The real problem here is not just BET or hip hop. The real problem is broader than any one TV network or one cultural phenomenon.

Hip hop didn't invent sexism, violence, homophobia or materialism. If you listen to the language used by President Bush, you'll realize that all those things are as much a part of America as baseball and apple pie. Who is more sexist, violent, homophobic and materialistic than the President of the United States? He's the guy who wants to take away a woman's right to choose and a gay couple's right to marry. He's the guy who wants to arm the nation with hand guns and started two wars in his first term alone. He's the guy who promotes unchecked capitalism at the expense of worker's rights. And he's the guy with the power to do something about those things.

Still, that shouldn't let hip hop off the hook. Hip hop may not have started any of those things, but it has amplified, and in many cases, glorified the images of violence, materialism, sexism and homophobia. Some people pick on hip hop just because they don't like it. But many of us pick on hip hop because we want it to do better. We remember when the music of hip hop was connected to the streets, powerful and political and entertaining at the same time. And we worry that much of today's hip hop and rap has descended into something meaningless, produced by people of color but largely consumed by young white guys in the suburbs.

And no matter how much we talk about hip hop, the white and black executives in the music industry don't look like they're ready to change its formula anytime soon. Nor for that matter is the consumer changing. Unless and until consumer outrage spurs action, the industry won't be doing much about it.




cont...

video courtesy of BET Networks
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