On Geraldo Rivera’s Beef With Kendrick Lamar, And Why He Says Hip-Hop Is More Damaging Than Racism
On Monday night, Fox News anchor Geraldo Rivera declared that “hip-hop does more damage to African-Americans than racism in recent years.” He made this statement after watching Kendrick Lamar perform his song, “Alright” atop a vandalized police car on last Sunday’s BET Awards. The isolated clip used by Fox News shows Lamar rapping the chorus to his song with the lyrics displayed across the screen:
“We been hurt, been down before
Nigga, when our pride was low
Lookin’ at the world like, ‘Where do we go?’
Nigga, and we hate po-po
Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho
Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow
But we gon’ be alright”
The song is explicit and emotional, speaking directly about racial disparity. Current events show us that we are not safe, and some of us feel displaced. There is some hatred for the cops because of the police brutality. You could argue that “my knees getting weak and my gun might blow” is about the helplessness that makes you want to take matters into your own hands, or maybe the helplessness that might make you want to turn the gun on yourself. The song is timely and the black-and-white video that dropped yesterday is gorgeous, packed with symbolism, and even downright depressing.
But as far as Rivera’s statement, two things: 1) Nothing is more damaging to the Black community than racism. 2) Nothing is more damaging to the Black community than racism.
I had to say it twice because his sentiment should be in the Guinness World Records book for the longest reach in the history of reaches.
Now, that is not to say that rap music is not jam-packed with problematic and damaging messages, but using Lamar to make his point displays Rivera’s ignorance of the culture. Kendrick Lamar is one of the few Top 40 rappers whose purpose is to share a message about the trials and tribulations of our current times. Had Rivera referenced Young Thug or The Game, his statement would have some weight, but alas, he did not. Then again, why would I expect the man who blamed Trayvon Martin’s hoodie for his own death to make a valid point when throwing around tone-deaf cultural accusations?
Let’s be honest: Modern-day commercial rap music is theater, akin to the WWE and Love & Hip Hop. A lot of things are said and done to get ahead, not because the lyricist truly means it. Rick Ross is a glowing example of this. Once a corrections officer, the Florida-bred rapper is constantly criticized for spitting bars about a history of drug dealing and arms carrying. Back in 2008, when it was uncovered that he had worked as a prison guard, Ross denied it, insisting that pictures of him in his uniform had been Photoshopped. He later came clean and admitted that if times got tough enough, he would return to his old job though his recent troubles with the law might make that a bit hard. No matter his past, Ross is a character in a costume and his act has paid off.
But for every Rick Ross portraying a hood caricature, Kendrick Lamar lands on the other end of the spectrum. He did grow up in Compton. He is facing internal struggles about his socio-political environment. He did see a lot of violence growing up. He sometimes has girl problems, too. He’s just different. Very different from his colleagues in rap.
As a Black woman, the violent and misogynistic lyrics in commercial rap definitely make me uneasy but they don’t “damage” my worldview. The first time I really remember being put off by the content of a rap song happened when I was 10 and one of my family members was bumping DJ Quik’s “Sweet Black P***y.” I vividly remember covering my ears in disgust as Quik rapped about his love for, well, you know. Bad words were no friend of mine. As a side effect of hearing this song, I do not prefer to use that word nor hear a woman’s nether regions referred to as such. While I definitely came up with vulgarity-laced hip-hop, there was a balance in my life; my dad constantly exposed us to the oldies from the ‘60s and ‘70s, which allowed me to revel in a time when men were able to sincerely proclaim love for a woman and her beautiful…soul. There are probably a few hours worth of music from the ‘70s devoted to the beauty of a woman’s eyes alone.
Those times are gone. Long gone. Now we have songs about eating booty like groceries. I am forever nostalgic.
The levels of homophobia, violence, exploitation, and misogyny in popular rap are at peak levels. When I get frustrated by any of this, I have to remind myself that the music industry is like theater. It’s a sometimes cartoonish, and troublesome production, much like Ringling Bros. Theater is dramatic and compelling and it requires the views and participation of the audience. What if the audience doesn’t realize it’s watching a show? Do young kids realize that Nicki Minaj is the Hulk Hogan to Onika Maraj’s Terry Bollea? Would it change their views if they understood that Minaj is a character that Onika created to be successful? She is a strikingly talented businesswoman; over the course of 8 years, she has created a multi-million dollar empire that includes a clothing line, signature perfumes, an alcoholic beverage, platinum records, sold-out tours, and three movies. Behind the persona, for the world to see, is a success story. What could be damaging about that?
But a lot of kids take entertainment at face value. Therefore, it falls back on the parents to set the tone and lead their kids by example. The onus is not on Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Tyga and any other rapper you can think of to be role models; it starts at home. While I may have had an uncensored entertainment experience as a child, my parents made a lot of lessons very clear to me: Treat people how you wish to be treated, respect yourself and your elders, help others, and act like you got some sense. It was and has always been, just music. It entertained me. It made me think. But it didn’t damage me.
I don’t think the tone of pop rap is going to change anytime soon, so these uncomfortable messages are going to continue to dominate and be passed around. But, in the background and sometimes in the forefront, we get entertainers like Outkast, Common, Mos Def, J. Cole, Jidenna, and yes, Kendrick Lamar. They give me hope that there is a balance in this rap universe, and that positive, uplifting messages are being shared too.
But whether or not there is a balance, rap music does not force or cause racial disparities. Rap music could never be more powerful than racism. Racism is a hateful never-ending plague. Rap music is not perfect. It feeds the culture, and sometimes perpetuates nasty messages, but it can also heal, raise awareness and bring a marginalized group together in celebration of the vibrant culture that racism deems ultimately inferior.