Tag Archives: hip hop and risk taking

Best arguments from the supreme court hip hop brief

I grew up with the notion that hip hop was opposition to mainstream culture.  Regardless of lyrical content, hip hop (and hip hop fans) were deeply mocked and policed for years.  Rappers might have been saying mundane things but if you rhymed over beats, you carried the weight of the genre.

You could get in trouble for playing hip hop lyrics.  Radio stations would proudly broadcast that they played everything “except rap.”  There was a kind of stigma that stuck with hip hop artists and fans.   Hip hop concerts weren’t booked at Madison Square Garden until Jay-Z broke through with the Black Album.

It seems so clearly racist from my current perspective.

We might add in capitalism.  The nineties saw a rush to absorb, market and exploit hip hop culture by advertisers.  The stereotypes and old discourse lingered as hip hop became mainstream culture.

It doesn’t surprise me that the choice of hip hop as a medium stigmatizes the participant.  (It saddens me).

Taylor Bell, a thoughtful high school senior was informed that two PE coaches were commenting and touching female students, Bell wrote a rap song.  Instead of praising this whistle blower, Bell was kicked out of school and had to go to an alternative school for his senior year.

His eventual lawsuit hinges on the ability of a high school student to express their political views outside of school.  This seems like a first amendment no-brainer to me . . . so of course it is before the Supreme Court.

Killer Mike (Michael Render), Erik Nielson, Travis Gosa and Charis E. Kubrin submitted an supporting brief to the court.  Here are my favorite parts:

  1.  It is actually the bad words that disturb administrators, not the report of sexual harassment.

Following a lengthy decision-making process, Bell was suspended and sent to an “alternative school” by the school’s Disciplinary Committee. A Committee member suggested that Bell’s use of profanity in the song was the reason for his suspension: “Censor that stuff. Don’t put all those bad words in it . . . The bad words ain’t making it better.”

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

2.  Hip hop is an alternative to fighting.

Hip hop—a cultural movement comprised of performance arts such as MCing (“rapping”), DJing (“spinning”), breakdancing (“b-boying”), and graffiti (“writing”)—began as a response to these dire conditions. Pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa (once a gang leader himself) used spiritual and political consciousness (“knowledge of self”) to develop hip hop as a tool for ending gang violence by providing an outlet that transformed the inherent competitiveness and territoriality of gang life into something artistic and productive. Dance competitions, rap battles, and other competitive performances replaced actual fighting , and rap in particular eventually became an alternative, legal source of income for blacks and Latinos otherwise cut off from labor market opportunities. Travis L. Gosa, The Fifth Element: Knowledge , in T HE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO H IP -H OP 56, 58-61 (Justin A. Williams ed., 2015).

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

3.  Bell was intending to spread the word via hop hop.

Like Tupac Shakur, Taylor Bell was using his music to effect changes . In the final portion of the video for his song PSK da Truth , Bell says that in rapping about sexual misconduct at his high school, he is trying to raise awareness about similar injustices around the world: “It’s something that’s been going on, you know, worldwide for a long time that I just felt like, you kn ow, I needed to address.”

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

4.  Threatening gun metaphors are widely used in hip hop.

When Bell raps, “fucking with the wrong one gon’ get a pistol down your mouth (Boww!),” he is channeling well-worn phrases used by popular and established artists like Lil Wayne (“Pistol in your mouth, I can not make out what you tryin’ to say”), Gucci Mane (“Put the pistol in ya mouth like dentures”), Waka Flocka Flame (“Niggas know I got a pistol in his mouth”), E-40 (“Put the pistol in his mouth and make it hurt, ooh”), and Scarface (“Put a pistol in his mouth, and blow his fucking brains out”). L IL WAYNE , Bill Gates, on I A M  NOT A HUMAN BEING (Young Money, Cash Money & Universal Motown 2010); GUCCI MANE , Texas Margarita, on BRICK FACTORY : VOLUME I (available for download from http://www.livemixtapes.com 2014); WAKA FLOCKA FLAME , Where It At, on DU FLOCKA RANT : HALF -TIME S HOW (available for download on http://www.livemixtapes.com 2013); SCARFACE , Diary of a Madman, on M R . SCARFACE IS BACK (Rap-A-Lot Records 1991); E-40, It’s On, On Sight, on T HE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE (Jive & Sick Wid It Records 1998).

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

5.  Discourse influences stereotypes about hip hop: experimental studies

A handful of studies have examined the direct impact of these stereotypes. In these studies, people who are given identical sets of lyrics—but who are told these lyrics come from different musical genres—are asked about their perceptions of the lyrics. One study, for example, presented respondents with sexually explicit rap lyrics or sexually explicit non-rap lyrics. Importantly, the researchers discovered that the sexually explicit music was considered more offensive and less artistic when it was rap compared to when it was non-rap. Dixon & Linz, supra , at 234-35.

In a related study, participants read a set of lyrics from folk group Kingston Trio’s 1960 song, Bad Man’s Blunder , and were told that the lyrics were either from a rap or country music song. After reading the lyrics, participants evaluated them and responded to questions about the offensiveness of the song, the threatening nature of the song, the need for regulation of the song, and if the song would incite violence. The responses were significantly more negative when the lyrics were represented as 24 rap, revealing that the same lyrical passage viewed as acceptable in a country song is considered dangerous and offensive when identified as a rap song. Carrie B. Fried, Who’s Afraid of Rap: Differential Reactions to Music Lyrics , 29 J. A PPLIED SOC . PSYCH . 705, 711 (1999).

All of this research reveals that stereotypical assumptions play a far greater role in our decision- making than we may realize. And some of this stereotyping may account for what happened in this case. If we don’t work to acknowledge and, when necessary, combat these stereotypes, the consequences can be serious and life altering— particularly for a young man like Taylor Bell.

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

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I think this brief is a strong set of arguments.  It also makes several key arguments about hip hop and metaphoric violence that need further discussion.  Good opportunity for amplification and discussion.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, hip hop, music, punishment, representation, resistance, rhetoric, sexism

Bun B, hip hop and changing culture

Photo by Jacob Moore. Bun B and Mayor Parker declaring Bun B Day in Houston. August 2011

Bun B is an absolute boss, a fact reasserted in the Texas Monthly article on his influence.  I find it interesting how much cultural change Bun B has been involved in.  UGK were crucial in convincing the world to appreciate southern hip hop.  Bun B is a great example of community minded hip hop leader, as Katy Vine explains:

Bun B’s life these days is so deeply intertwined with Houston’s that he is often referred to as the city’s unofficial mayor. He has been featured in anti-texting public service announcements. He helps publicize drives for the Houston Food Bank. He hosts a twice-weekly segment on the TV station CW39 called Bun’s Beat (recent installments include “Bun B’s Thoughts on the NFL Banning the N-Word” and “Bun B’s Advice for Returning College Students”). He has been a regular guest on networks such as Comcast SportsNet Houston to discuss the Astros and the Rockets. He attends nearly every major concert. He promotes the city’s food and culture actively on his Twitter feed, where he can seem, at times, like a one-man chamber of commerce. “If you want to find out the best sushi spot, barbershop, or club, he would probably be the person with the widest Rolodex,” Houston rapper Chamillionaire told me. “You could ask him something crazy, like where to find left-handed scissors in Houston, and he could probably point you in three different directions.”

via Man About Town: Page 2 of 8 | Texas Monthly.

Let us note that place has been one of the most significant parts of hip hop culture (where are you from?).   What if there are creative hip hop intellectuals in every town in the world, who love where they are from so passionately that they will become positive leaders in their own places?  It’s going to take some forward thinking municipalities to get the benefits of including hip hop intellectuals.

Thanks to thehairpin for the linque.

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Filed under hip hop, kindness, music, representation

Killer Mike exposed

Killer Mike is a grown up hip hop artist, thinking about serious stuff.  He and El-P ran through the Combat Jack show and came off with this nice little exchange. 

1. Notice the fundamentals, Dallas Penn sets this off.  I don’t love his consumerist Polo identity, but there is no discounting how smart and insightful that guy really is.  If you aren’t reading and donating to Dallas Penn’s web site, you aren’t living right.

2. Good interviewers.  Ask the question and get out of the way.  Combat Jack is serious, Dallas Penn is serious.  That means listening when ideas are flowing.

3. How about two grown men getting honest with each other?  El-P telling Killer Mike he is just starting his career.  Killer Mike talking about having to expose parts of his vulnerabilities and fears to work with El.

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Updated a few days later . . . May 9, 2013.  Part 3 is out.

El-P, Killer Mike, Combat Jack, and Dallas Penn.  The third clip is a conversation about race.  Nice discussion.

1. For those educators out there looking for an example of a “race pass” check out Dallas Penn saying to El-P: “I don’t call you a white rapper.”

Absolutely on point, El-P rejects the offer of the card.  “I’m a white guy, I rap. There’s no question about it.” Just because you are cool doesn’t mean that you don’t have privilege.  And leave it to Killer Mike to remind us of that.  When asked about white-identified rap fans Killer Mike responds:

“I’m not saying their experience isn’t worthy, I’m not saying it isn’t valuable. I’m saying it’s not special.  Because every human being experiences love and pain and let down.  Your thing is no more special.  And a lot of times, as Americans, and in this country, we feel like our suffering makes us special. You are special because you are a human being.”  – Killer Mike

3.  This argument is a dumb prompt from Combat Jack.  I think it might be a kind of policing — because of Killer Mike’s reference in segment one to his increasing vulnerability.   I appreciate all the examples of great black emcees who recorded some vulnerable verses that are quickly volunteered by the panelists.

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Filed under art, hip hop, media, music, vulnerability