red lights


A CMJ special report:
Hip-hop under fire

CMJ Music Marathon 2006
Various venues
New York, NY
October 31 - Nov. 4, 2006
Chuck D
Chuck D

Story by Ben Garvey
Photos By Andy Argyrakis

The world of hip-hop is a culture often characterized by sex, violence, drugs and the empowerment of the underprivileged urban class. In a CMJ panel composed of hip-hop industry professionals, discussion started when hip-hop legend Chuck D addressed the issue of how violence affects today's state of this top selling music genre. "So many artists are making a killing vs. making a living," he said. "Hip-hop has standards. It's about the hereafter and who will make a living ten years later."

Chuck D, born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, brings perspective to the table as an enduring artist that started commercially releasing music with Public Enemy in 1987. His politically subversive lyrics have helped mold hip-hop into its current form. Public Enemy fused rap, dj, rock 'n' roll and heavy metal to influence the hip-hop generation across the globe to stand up to fight the powers that be. Their music was even cited as a driving force to unify youth in the War in the Balkans during the nineties.

Slated on the same panel sitting next to Chuck D was Derrick Parker, founder of the New York Police's RIU, Rap Intelligent Unit. The RIU was established after numerous death threats were received at Notorious B.I.G.'s funeral in New York following his murder in L.A. His book the Notorious C.O.P. outlines how he developed his career as the "hip-hop cop." Though Parker is well respected among hip-hop artists for being a cop that respects hip-hop culture, this intersection between law enforcement and rappers points out how hip-hop creates a mediated spectacle that often results in violence and how the legal system does nothing to solve these problems. "Law enforcement is another aspect, they don't know how to deal with the hip-hop community and how to get the right answers to the right problems," said Parker. As a result, hip-hop artists on both the major and independent level still find themselves caught in street violence, crime and trafficking of drugs.

Another important issue that brought hip-hop under fire was the way woman are portrayed in the music. Angela Yee, radio host on Eminem's Sirius Satellite Radio Station, discussed how southern hip-hop, a.k.a. the dirty south, generates a lot of money from CD sales at strip clubs. "Hip-hop and the pornography industry are closely related," said Yee. "The fact is strippers dance to a lot of rap music, and rappers spend a lot of time and money in strip clubs. These days, you can't have a video without a girl with a big bootie."

While this panel discussion took a critical look at the culture, many of the artists that performed at CMJ fell into the stereotypical characterizations. Brooklyn rapper, M1 uses lyrical content that is violent and subversive. He is a revolutionary Marxist that takes a street approach to the social economy by advocating robbery and violence. Cx Kidtronik's performance of his underground hit "Big Girl, Skinny Girl" was an over the top anthem of the "big bootie" mentality in hip-hop. Virginia Beach rap duo, Clipse, was one of the performers at the closing party for the conference. They were at the convention promoting their new single, "Wamp Wamp." This song and video uses lyrics and images that objectify women through explicit language and sexual imagery. The have had difficulty with their label Jive Records, waiting four years since their debut release that sold over a million copies. They have had disagreements with their label about how to best promote the music.

There was another side to hip-hop that was portrayed at this year's conference. This side was made of independent artists like Peanut Butter Wolf and Madlib on Stones Throw Records. Their music uses the pure elements of hip-hop such as rap and dj to deliver a fresh perspective on the music and culture. Another highlight was Game Rebellion who delivered an explosive performance fusing guitar riffs, an MPC drum machine and lyrical ammo that is strong enough to knock down anyone that doubts that hip-hop is now at the crossroads of rock'n'roll. The pinnacle of this new sound was a performance when P.O.S teamed up with Minnesota hardcore band Building Better Bombs to deliver hard edged punk-hop to the audience.

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