As a professional club DJ, dating back to the infamous Studio 54 period, I have seen a number of groups come and go over the years. Many of the groups, like Tavares, KC and the Sunshine Band, The Village People, and The Rolling Stones, are still selling out concerts to this day. Do you know why? It’s because the music they made was fun, harmless and it made you feel good. Sadly, the last 20 years has seen a negative shift in music, and some disturbing events have occurred as a result.
Hip-hop music became popular in the mid-to-late 70’s because of DJ’s like Afrika Bambata, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. It was because of the enormous popularity of Run DMC that rap had crossed over on the music charts and radio stations all over the world. Do you know why? It’s because the music was fun, harmless and it made you feel good, but the 90’s would change all of that with the introduction of gangster rap. DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith), UTFO, Curtis Blow and Biz Markie were no longer accepted in the rap game when the national anthem for hip-hop became Onyx’s “Throw Ya Guns in the Air”. The glorification of the thug, and all it encompassed, became the standard by which all rappers were judged, and many African-American communities, and eventually the suburbs, began to pay a heavy price.
Anyone who thinks there isn’t a direct link between gangster rap, thug behavior and the problems that exist in inner city neighborhoods across this nation needs to be slapped! You can take the position that many problems are the result of bad parenting, single-headed households or a lack of respect by the youth of today, but what people should take into account is the fact that we now live in a visual era and kids are affected by visual images more than anything else. I mean, let’s be real here. If a kid sees some big rap star on MTV, with expensive cars, gorgeous and half-naked women, expensive jewelry and living the thug lifestyle, they are going to want to be just like them. Why shouldn’t they? If it appears that anyone can make a billion dollars in the rap industry, as so often projected, they are going to take a shot at it. Moreover, if their attempts to get a record deal never materialize, they may decide to take it to the next level and become a “true player for real” by getting into the drug game in order to live the “Big Willie Style” that is so often projected in music videos. What they don’t realize is that today’s rap star may very well be tomorrow’s welfare recipient or prison inmate. It has happened to a number of hip-hop artists, who were highly regarded at one time.
Too many kids are growing up without a decent education because they are dropping out to pursue a record deal, live a thug lifestyle, or choosing to become drug kingpins in order to “get paid.” Communities, generations and legacies suffer because of the negative visualizations, ignorant hip-hop stars and record company executives, producers, and urban contemporary mediums like BET and New York’s HOT 97 promote all the negative crap. Don’t say you support positive images of African-Americans, when you play songs like “Me and My Bitch,” and videos that glorify thugs, drugs and humping on rugs. I have a real problem with six and seven-year-olds walking down the street calling each other nigger and cursing worse than a sailor on weekend leave. They do this because of the images they see and the music they have easy access to. “Keeping it real” should not come at the expense of our communities or our children.
There are exceptions of course. A good number of kids do value, the importance of a good education. Multiple Grammy award-winner Lauren Hill of “The Fugees” was an “A” student during her high school tenure. Roxanne Shante, a rap artist from the 80’s, went on to become a doctor, and RaeKwon, of the Wu-Tang Clan, is a master chef! However, the stats on kids who drop out, sell drugs or end up in prison is grossly disproportionate to the number of success stories out there. Just look at the overall makeup of the prison population.
It would make a huge difference if many of the young artists, like 50 Cent or The Game, came out and stated that the industry is all about image and glamour. If the artists stressed the importance of education, while working toward their diplomas or degrees, kids would be less likely to leave school. Thus, allowing them to escape the “at-risk” label that has been attached to them by many of the so-called educators and evaluators. The record company executives aren’t interested in educating kids. They’re interested in sales and profit. Moral responsibility and community be damned, as far as they’re concerned.
The industry is also guilty of robbing the cradle. More and more emphasis is being placed on younger performers. Several years ago, I heard a group from Britain was being exported to the U.S., and the members were between seven and eight years of age! Are you kidding me? These kids can barely pee straight! Is there no end? Before you know it, some label will have two infants, wearing Pampers laced with company logos, on stage with microphones in their hands! I can hear the announcer saying, “Let’s give it up forÃ¢Â?Â¦DJ Beech Nut and MC Similac!”
I can understand wanting to illustrate that anyone can have success in this country, at any age, but the problem is that you run the risk of having every kid in America pissing off education in effort to pursue entertainment gigs. Not that these careers are necessarily bad or anything, but for each success story there are 100 failures. That is not a good ratio. Moreover, having these dangerous and degrading images thrust into kid’s faces, twenty-four hours a day, make them want to become that image. In the process, they lose all perspective of who they are, what they really need and want, and what they believe in. Some kids are educated enough to separate the two worlds, thus allowing themselves to pursue a positive path. Unfortunately, far too many minority kids are not making the distinction, and they are falling into traps and filling our jails to capacity.
I have worked with young talent as a producer. I had strict guidelines for my artists, and these same guidelines should be adopted by the industry. No artist should be signed until they have obtained a high school diploma, GED or some type of technical training degree, and they should be at least 18-years-old. There is an overflow of artists that are too young, too ignorant and too damn greedy to make clear, conscious and sound decisions regarding their careers. The people who manage them could care less because all they are interested in is their client making money, and as soon as sales start to drop, the label drops them! Translation, if you don’t have an education, or trade to back you up, you’re screwed!
I am not trying to piss on anyone’s dream out there. I encourage you to pursue a career in the music industry if that is what you truly want to do. However, I suggest that you make sure you have education credentials to equip yourself for whatever you may face in the business. The music industry is sending a dangerous message to young people. I believe it will only get worse. As long as certain groups of young people are the focus of sales, it won’t get any better. As a deejay, I only play old school hip-hop, disco, underground dance and house music. I refuse to spin anything that degrades my race or anyone in society.