Hip Hop Profanity, Misogyny and Violence: Blame the Manufacturer

By Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report
Printed on May 7, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/story/51543/

On a Spring day at McDonald's fast food restaurants all across Black
America, counter clerks welcome female customers with the greeting,
"What you want, bitch?" Female employees flip burgers in see-through
outfits and make lewd sexual remarks to pre-teen boys while bussing
tables. McDonald's managers position themselves near the exits, arms
folded, Glocks protruding from their waistbands, nodding to departing
customers, "Have a good day, motherf**kers. Y'all my niggas."

Naturally, the surrounding communities would be upset. A portion of
their anger would be directed at the young men and women whose conduct
was so destructive of the morals and image of African Americans.
Preachers would rail against the willingness of Black youth to debase
themselves in such a manner, and politicians would rush to introduce
laws making it a crime for public accommodations employees to use
profanity or engage in lewd or threatening behavior. However, there can
be no doubt that the full wrath of the community and the state would
descend like an angry god's vengeance on the real villain: the
McDonald's Corporation, the purveyor of the fast food experience
product.

Hip Hop music is also a product, produced by giant corporations for mass
distribution to a carefully targeted and cultivated demographic market.
Corporate executives map out multi-year campaigns to increase their
share of the targeted market, hiring and firing subordinates -- the men
and women of Artists and Recordings (A&R) departments -- whose job is to
find the raw material for the product (artists), and shape it into the
package upper management has decreed is most marketable (the artist's
public persona, image, style and behavior). It is a corporate process at
every stage of artist "development," one that was in place long before
the artist was "discovered" or signed to the corporate label. What the
public sees, hears and consumes is the end result of a process that is
integral to the business model crafted by top corporate executives. The
artist, the song, the presentation -- all of it is a corporate product.

Yet, unlike the swift and certain public condemnation that would crash
down upon our hypothetical McDonald's-from-Da Hood, the bulk of Black
community anger at hip hop products is directed at foul-behaving
artists, rather than the corporate Dr. Frankensteins that created and
profit from them. As the great French author and revolutionary Franz
Fanon would have understood perfectly, colonized and racially oppressed
peoples internalize -- take ownership -- of the social pathologies
fostered by the oppressor. Thus, the anti-social aspects of commercial
hip hop are perceived as a "Black" problem, to be overcome through
internal devices (preaching and other forms of collective
self-flagellation), rather than viewed as an assault by hostile, outside
forces secondarily abetted by opportunists within the group.

In order for our nightmare McDonald's analogy to more closely fit the
music industry reality, all the fast food chains would have to provide
the same type of profane, low-life, hyper-sexualized, life-devaluing
service/product: "Bitch-Burgers" from Burger King, served with
"Chronic-Flavored Fries," "Ho Wings" from KFC, dipped in too-hot "187
Murder Sauce." If you wanted fast food, you'd have to patronize one or
the other of these thug-themed chains. So, too, with hip hop music.

A handful of entertainment corporations exercise total control of the
market, in incestuous (and illegal) conspiratorial concert with
corporate-dominated radio. Successful so-called "independent" labels are
most often mere subcontractors to the majors, dependent on them for
record distribution and business survival. They are no more independent
than the owner of a McDonald's franchise, whose product must conform to
the standards set by global headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.

As "conscious" rapper Paris wrote, there is no viable alternative to the
corporate nexus for hip hop artists seeking to reach a mass audience.
"WHAT underground?" said Paris. "Do you know how much good material is
marginalized because it doesn't fit white cooperate America's ideals of
acceptability? Independents can't get radio or video play anymore, at
least not through commercial outlets, and most listeners don't
acknowledge material that they don't see or hear regularly on the radio
or on T.V."

The major record labels actively suppress positive hip hop by
withholding promotional support of both the above- and below-the-table
variety. Hip hop journalist and activist Davey D reported that Erykah
Badu and The Roots' Grammy-winning hit "You Got Me" was initially
rejected by the corporate nexus due to its "overtly positive"
message..."so palms were greased with the promise that key stations
countrywide would get hot ‘summer jam' concert acts in exchange for
airplay. According to Questlove [of The Roots], more than $1 million in
cash and resources were eventually laid out for the success of that
single song."

Black America's hip hop problem cannot be laid at the feet of a few
hundredHHthugTupac wayward performers -- and should certainly not be
assigned to some inherent pathology in Black culture. African Americans
do not control the packaging and dissemination of their culture:
corporations and their Black comprador allies and annexes do. The mass
Gangsta Rap phenomenon is a boardroom invention. I know.

From 1987 to early 1994, I co-owned and hosted "Rap It Up," the first
nationally syndicated radio hip hop music program. During the first half
of this period, the Rap genre accomplished its national "breakout" from
New York and LA, spreading to all points in between. By 1990, the major
labels were preparing to swallow the independent labels that had birthed
commercial hip hop, which had evolved into a wondrous mix of party,
political and "street"-aggressive subsets. One of the corporate labels
(I can't remember which) conducted a study that shocked the industry:
The most "active" consumers of Hip Hop, they discovered, were "tweens,"
the demographic slice between the ages of 11 and 13.

The numbers were unprecedented. Even in the early years of Black radio,
R&B music's most "active" consumers were at least two or three years
older than "tweens." It didn't take a roomful of PhDs in human
development science to grasp the ramifications of the data. Early and
pre-adolescents of both genders are sexual-socially undeveloped --
uncertain and afraid of the other gender. Tweens revel in honing their
newfound skills in profanity; they love to curse. Males, especially, act
out their anxieties about females through aggression and derision. This
is the cohort for which the major labels would package their hip hop
products. Commercial Gangsta Rap was born -- a sub-genre that would lock
a whole generation in perpetual arrested social development.

First, the artists would have to be brought into the corporate program.
The term "street" became a euphemism for a monsoon of profanity,
gratuitous violence, female and male hyper-promiscuity, the most vulgar
materialism, and the total suppression of social consciousness. A slew
of child acts was recruited to appeal more directly to the core
demographic.

Women rappers were coerced to conform to the new order. A young female
artist broke down at my kitchen table one afternoon, after we had
finished a promotional interview. "They're trying to make me into a
whore," she said, sobbing. "They say I'm not ‘street' enough." Her
skills on the mic were fine. "They" were the A&R people from her
corporate label.

Stories like this abounded during the transition from independent to
major label control of hip hop. The thug- and -"ho"ification of the
genre is now all but complete.

Blame the manufacturer.

Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be reached at
Glen.Ford (at) BlackAgendaReport.com.