Hip Hop & Life

lilkim.jpgFor years there has been an ongoing debate about how much of an impact hip hop music has on the lives of today’s young people. It has been blamed for a myriad of problems that affect black kids. The misogyny, violence and promiscuity (amongst other things) depicted in popular music videos have been said to continue down the foodchain into communities, negatively influencing those who are already at the bottom.

However, artists and record label execs  have refused to take responsibility for the effect their music might have on the young, saying that it’s up to parents to censure what their kids see and hear, and denying any correlation between listening to certain types of music and subsequent behaviours.

But in the light of new evidence, can hip hop makers continue to deny that their music has a negative impact upon young people? Can they continue to be blase and nonchalant about what they are releasing into the world, when it is clearly having damaging effects? A report published in October entitled “Images of Sexual Stereotypes in Rap Videos and the Health of African-American Female Adolescents” has shown that “African-American female adolescents who spend more time watching rap music videos are more likely to participate in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and sex with multiple partners, to test positive for marijuana, and to have a negative body image”. Please take some time to let that sink in.

When well-respected robust studies (this one came from the Emory University) are showing such links, there is patently a major problem that cannot be ignored. Black music role models can no longer disassociate themselves from the negative impact that their music is having on impressionable young black people. It is rather frightening to see scientific evidence that this is the case, although it is unsuprising considering the unparalleled media exposure that young people are subjected to these days.

I have always believed that leadership comes with responsibility. If you are a role model – which you are as soon as you are able to put your voice out in the public sphere – you must be aware of how your words and actions are perceived by those who look up to you. This goes not only for rappers but for corporations like Viacom and BET who have such a stronghold on what our young people see and hear.

It’s high time the mainstream music and entertainment industry start caring about the next generation. High time the industry starts caring about those who are being shaped and moulded by their environment, which includes not only their peers at school, but the people they listen to on their ipods. The media has to become much more conscious, much more responsible. There is something highly unethical and deeply unsettling about the idea that companies are not bothered by the knowledge that their products are leading to others’ demise.

What’s so wrong with showing healthy, happy relationships between black men and women? Why do rap videos need to show naked women dancing with dog chains around their necks? Who exactly benefits from that? What’s so cool about it? In the long run, not even those getting paid millions to make the music and videos gain from it, since it only makes society a worse place.

Some will say that hip hop is being unfairly demonised and made a scapegoat. Whilst I agree that parents need to monitor their kids, the truth is that to some people music is a parent! To many, music is a friend, a guide and a mentor. And it’s time the hip hop industry starts taking that responsibility very seriously.


Live Earth… A Load of Hot Air!

earth.jpgThe Live Earth concerts kick off today…9 concerts around the world, on 7 continents, in 24 hours. Live Earth is apparently going to raise awareness of climate change.

Excuse me for being a bit cynical, but the idea of flying hundreds of pop stars around the world, in gas-guzzling jets, to play in huge power-sucking, carbon-emitting venues is hardly environmentally friendly. Plus these are stars who already have massive carbon footprints due to their international travel and concerts. In fact, they are probably some of the biggest pollutors of the earth.

Over the next 24 hours entertainers like Madonna – who have monumental carbon footprints in comparison to the average person – are going to preach being green to the rest of the world? The same people who are in adverts which promote SUV’s, who boast about the number of high powered cars they have, and who will take a jet just to go to the end of the road….Mmm – the world ‘hypocrites’ comes to mind.

Apparently, the various performers will fly (and this is a low estimate) 222,623.63 miles between them for these concerts. That is 9 times the earth’s circumference! The total carbon footprint including travel, energy consumption from the venues, TV viewers and waste at the concerts is likely to be well over 100,000 tonnes. Compare that to the 10 tonnes per year that is generated by the average British household. Aren’t these concerts meant to be about saving the planet??

But don’t forget that Al Gore says this event is ‘carbon neutral’. Carbon neutral?! Even I’m savvy enough to know that there is no such thing as ‘carbon neutral’ and that carbon ‘offsetting’ (where you plant trees or give out energy-saving lightbulbs to balance or ‘offset’ the carbon produced by this type of activity) is a hugely controversial and much-debated area in environmental circles,  because is thought to be totally useless and ineffective.

I also find it very odd that the idea of any pop star singing their own songs can somehow make people go and start recycling or cycle instead of using a car, when this is something they already know about anyway.

Let’s face it – this is just a big fat publicity stunt for Al Gore. Like Live Aid and Live 8 have been for Bob Geldof.

Live Earth! What a bunch of hot air!!

No Smoking Allowed!

smoking.jpgWhy are people fighting against the smoking ban?

Why are they fighting for the right to kill themselves – and others?

Why can they not see that a smoking ban is ultimately for their own good?

How did we ever become so brainwashed that so many millions believe  – despite what they know – that inhaling thousands of cancer-causing chemicals is a form of enjoyment? (one that doesn’t even make you high!)

Does anyone know?! Cos I can’t quite figure it out myself!

Brixton Blues

brixtontube1.jpgSo once again my Friday evening activities have taken me to the bright lights of inner city London. Brixton specifically. I spend a lot of time in Brixton and have done so over the years. Sometimes I love the place and sometimes I absolutely hate it. You get those days – usually in the daylight hours – when it makes me smile to hear the reggae music pumping out from a stall on the market, see the barbers hanging outside their shops, clippers in hand talking to passersby, and the Brixtonians, with a handy can of Red Stripe, just chilling in St Matthew’s Square.

However, at night time, I am often led to believe that Brixton was what inspired Dante to write the Inferno. Night, you see, is when the crack addicts come out and when the seedy, shady side of inner city life in modern day Britain rears its ugly head.

Tonight as I walked down the High Street trying politely to avoid the homeless people asking me for change and the man, clearly high on something or other, crawling on the pavement, I thought “someone has failed here big time”. Someone – more likely a number of people and institutions – has failed in the UK’s inner city areas in a very major way. I wonder how Tony Blair would feel walking down Brixton High Road this evening or any evening for that matter. I wonder how he would feel to see the deprivation and the rampant proliferation of drugs and crime in that community. Ashamed I hope, and so he should.

I’ve always wondered how it is that London’s large inner city communities, many of which are so highly visible and publicised in the media precisely because of their issues, are able to continue in such a state for decades. I’ve spent a lot of time in Brixton over the past 9 or so years mainly socially but also professionally (I once worked for the Lambeth Crime Prevention Trust where I was confronted with the area’s problems on a day to day basis). On one hand, I have seen its gentrification, observed the dramatic rise in the area’s house prices and noticed the general increased desirability to live in the area. Yet on the other hand, there has been little or no abatement of the drug dealers who blatantly push their wares to all and sundry outside shops and even at the bus stops, the crack addicts lying dribbling in the doorways of buildings or smoking pipes at the train station, or the other people wondering around the area who clearly have serious mental health problems.

Who is being called to task on this? Who is responsible for Brixton and what is going on there and in other such areas? There is a police station literally on Brixton High Street yet I can count on one hand the numbers of police officers I see in the area on a regular basis!! People openly deal drugs on the street yet they are not arrested. Why not?

Is it that those in power simply don’t care?  Maybe – like Mr Blair’s view on so-called Black on Black crime – it’s something that is confined to a specific problem within a specific community. After all, this is not an issue that really affects the average middle class British suburb but generally poor, deprived areas with high concentrations of immigrants, and usually immigrants of African and Caribbean descent.

Food for thought eh. I want some answers and am going to go in search of some… I’ll let you know once I’ve found them… Watch this space.

Oh Brother!

bar.jpgI had a very interesting experience on Friday night in a bar in Brixton, South London, in which I was surprised, impressed, disappointed and enlightened within the space of 15 minutes by my conversations with some brothers.

The first one, I’ll call him Mr X, started his game by telling me he had high standards for his women. For a start, they had to earn over £25,000 per year. (Wow, he’s really aiming high…) I asked him, tongue in cheek, how much he earned and he told me – proudly – £32,000. Plus a bit more from his side job. I asked him what his side job was. “Hustling”, he told me. I asked him what “hustling” entailed. He told me “Fraud, innit”, as if I ought to have known… He then tried to make a long story short by telling me that it basically involved him transferring money into and out of different accounts until it reached his. He did it because, despite his £32K a year salary, he was “poor”. He was the “black robin hood” stealing from the rich to give to the poor (i.e. himself). He didn’t want to end up in prison though, because he’d already been there twice before. *sigh*.

What to make of that conversation?! I could have started a mental rant along the lines of “the problem with brothers is…” but I didn’t. I felt saddened and disappointed – for him more than anything – particularly because it’s not the first conversation of that type that I’ve had (do I look like the kind of woman who is impressed by criminal activity?!).

However, I was pleasantly suprised and impressed when I got into the next conversation with another brother, Mr Y. We talked about the “hustling” mentality, but this time the brother gave me a well-thought out, intelligent and thought-provoking analysis which encompassed, amongst other things exploitation of people in general, the World Bank, business and consumerism. It turns out Mr Y is the general manager of a large and successful internet company. What to make of that?!

At the end of the night, having exchanged phone numbers with Mr Y of course (I’d like a few more of those conversations thank you very much), I reflected on both interactions… I came to the conclusion that we hear so many negative stories about Black men, some of them perpetuated by Black men themselves, that it’s so easy to think those stories must be right. There are a lot of people – Black women included – who are very down on Black men these days for that very reason. 

However, my evening just reinforced to me that there are good and bad apples in every cart. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss and embrace those negative stories, even if we meet those who may appear to confirm them. At the end of the day, sometimes we forget, that people are just people!