A Few Things to Ponder-A Crack in the Façade
A Few Things to Ponder-A Crack in the Façade-Hip Hop is Changing
By Davey D
I’ve been saying this for weeks Hip Hop is ready for a change and change is definitely on the horizon. What am I talking about? Well despite having to endure endless hours of commercials on both radio and TV, a series of calculated beefs and off color remarks designed to spark controversy and a media blitz that saw Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson appear everywhere from David Letterman to ‘The View’, ‘Get Rich and Die Trying’ in the end it didn’t fair well at the box office this weekend.
You could see it coming a mile away. When I was in Atlanta on the Spelman campus the other week, no one and I mean no one was talking about this movie in any way, shape or form. This was in spite of hearing all those commercials on the local radio stations. When I spoke at there I asked the audience if they had heard about the movie and all hands were raised. I then asked who intended to see it, all the hands went down. The other week in Oakland while talking with some high school age kids, I came across extreme disinterest and outright resentment. People were saying things like ‘Fiddy is over exposed’. ‘Fiddy starts too much beef’. ‘Fiddy is wack… I ain’t checking for him no more’.
Now keep in mind, the disinterest had nothing to do with his acting skillz or lack of them. It had nothing to do with weather or not the movie was shot well or not. Lord knows over the years folks have showed up in droves to peep under-produced movies with dismal acting. I just got the sense that people were tired of seeing and hearing the same ole- same ole. Whether one articulates it or not, ghetto stereotypes being mass marketed to the mainstream while using people from the hood as its validation and backdrop has played itself out.
It was interesting to watch the 50 Cent/ Interscope media juggernaut work overtime applying what I’m sure executive thought was the ‘magic formula’. First, we had the creation of controversy. 50 Cent did just about everything you could think of to bring attention to himself and by default, his movie. He went so far as to dis Kanye West not once but twice. He noted that Kanye was conscious because of 50 Cent. Then he lambasted him for speaking out against President Bush. 50’s remarks suggested that he was taking up for Mr. Bush and how he handled Hurricane Katrina
If that wasn’t enough , we had the controversial billboards of 50 holding a gun which I think were deliberately placed in certain communities with the intention of enraging local activists who would call for boycotts and thus bring more attention to the movie. I say this because in places like South Central LA organizations like Project Islamic Hope have been consistent about protesting offensive material in the past. Snoop Dogg’s ‘Girls Gone Wild’, Ice Cube’s ‘Player’s Club’, and Bill Bellany’s ‘How to Be a Player’ have all been protested by PIH leader Nagee Ali and his group for resurrecting nasty stereotypes via marketing campaigns targeting the hood. There’s no way that executives at Paramount pictures who backed ‘Get Rich or Die Trying’, did not know that an artist like 50 Cent holding a gun in a billboard would not spark a protest which received national attention. The fight to get rid of 50’s billboards did just that –it sparked anational debate which 50 tried to ride in his favor. Just looking at how 50 has thrived on controversy in the past, it seemed like what ever objections anyone had would be neatly fitted into the overall marketing scheme of the movie. This time it didn’t work. Many of the billboards were pulled and while 50 tried to say such activities would only help his film, the vibe on the streets in many communities was good riddance’.
50 tried to ride out the other controversies that added more fuel to the marketing fire. First, we had the killing of a 30 year man in Pittsburgh, PA during the showing of the film. This prompted Loews Theater in that area to pull the movie. In Providence, R.I. a huge melee broke out prompting theater owners in that are to pull the flick. In the past such events would’ve generated more interest and got the masses clamoring to see what all the commotion was about. Think back to the fatal gang shootings at showings of the movie ‘Colors’ back in the early 90s as a prime example.This time around it didn’t work.
‘Get Rich or Die Trying’ only netted 12 million dollars this weekend. That has got to be a major disappointment when you take into account all the money that was sunk into marketing and the movie opened up on a Wednesday as opposed to Friday as is the case with most movies. So that means ‘Get Rich or Die Trying’ netted 12 million dollars over a 5 day period. That is pretty dismal when you compare that to the 34 million taken in by movie’s like ‘Chicken Little’ which didn’t have a huge multi-level media blitz and opened up on Friday. It has to be disappointing when you take into account that 50 has two hot songs, “Hustler’s Ambition’ and ‘Window Shopper’ being played damn near every hour on the hour off the new soundtrack for the movie.
So what does all this mean? Is this a strike against 50 Cent or the controversial laden pimp, player, gangsta genre of music he has come to best epitomize? For many of us within Hip Hop, it suggests that folks are tired of the same ole stereotypes being packaged, marketed and shipped to our communities all around the world. Maore and more people are stepping up and saying ‘enough is enough’.
We should note that this crack in the façade didn’t start with ‘Get Rich or Die Trying’. We saw similar outcomes with the movie ‘Hustle and Flow’. Yes, it was good movie. Actor Terrance Howard and rapper Ludacris held it down on screen, but at the end of the day, folks from the hood weren’t checking for the flick in spite of the big media blitz. The general consensus was ‘How many pimp stories do we have to see?’.
Initially it seemed like ‘Hustle and Flow’ was a ghetto movie being marketed to folks in the suburbs. The hood and the rap talent was used as validation that what was on screen was real. I recall seeing all these mainstream critics fawning over the movie and giving it high praise. I recall hearing comments like ‘This is how life is in the hood’. However, folks in many of the hoods I came across were less then impressed. Not only did they find the story totally unrealistic, it was just plain ole tired. It was ‘been there done that’ what’s next?
What’s next is something with more substance. People are looking for heartfelt passion and a willingness to totally engage the audience. People are looking for artists to break out the marketing mode where they treat their audience as statistics to be conquered and instead see them as human beings that they seek to entertain. I think Phonte from the group Little Brother, put it best when he said Hip Hop is looking for more ‘grown up’ conversations. He recently explained that at 26 he was no longer interested in rapping about street life fantasies. He and his group want to explore things that touch the soul.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Kanye West as he and John Brion worked on his album ‘Late Registration’. We also heard this desire to ‘go there’ and connect to the audience by underground favorite Slug from Minneapolis based Atmosphere.
We are now starting to see this change not just by the artist, but by the audience itself. For example, last week in LA, Supernatural sold out his album release party at the Key Club on Sunset. Long considered an artist who fits the backpack vein, not only did Supernatural have to turn away people, the make up of the crowd was one that you would expect to see at a Snoop Dogg show. Instead of the usual dominance of Asian and white kids, you saw over half the crowd from the hood. It was point that did not go unnoticed by artists like Charli 2na of Jurassic 5 who addressed the issue on stage. He expressed how dope it was to not only to see Supernatural sell out a show, but to also finally see the hood come around to this style of music. An opening act for Supernatural set things off and underscored the vibe of the night by enthusiastically asking the crowd if they were ready to hear some ‘conscious hip hop’. The deafening roar from the audience said to everybody a new day had come.
Another case in point was the at Spelman college. MC Lyte, Yo-Yo, Salt and Da Brat put on an evening discussion about negative images in Hip Hop. The Cosby auditorium was completely packed and campus officials had to open up an overflow auditorium which was also packed. For more then three hours we heard heartfelt testimony from audience members and the aforementioned artists saying that change is needed. Hip Hop had been hijacked by corporation who think they have a formula for dispensing it.
Many of those executives are in for a rude surprise. The discussion ended with the women of Spelman demanding to know who the executives were for big Radio chains like Radio One and BET. Their intention was to spark a letter writing campaign and protest that the US has yet to see. The women were more then upset when they learned that some of the outlets that they are most offended by are actually run by women including BET’s Uncut Program. People were puzzled as to why women in charge would turn around and allow so many negative images and stereotypes come through on their watch.
While the women of Spelman are speaking out, up north in the nation’s capitol is Howard University. This is probably one of the most well known Black colleges in the country and was home to P-Diddy. This is where he got his start promoting parties while he was a student. Students there have grown tired of all the 50 Cent style music and have banded together to launch a media network. The announcement was made last week.
Yes, change is coming. Lets just hope those of us in Hip Hop who wish to see things improve do not sit idly by and allow others to do all the work. Lets all take steps both in our personal and professional lives to insist upon material that speaks to our hearts and souls and not somebody’s pocketbook.