Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An Open Letter to Memphis from your Native Son, L'Daialogue

My Dear Memphis,

Yes, we are still in the wake of what some people would like to (and would happy to) believe is the death of “Hip-hop” music 30 years later, it is safe to say that we are seeing a true attack on the youth’s voice today which happens to come in the form of slurs and outright negative declarations toward people of color. Michael Richards, Don Imus and plenty other potiential people find that it is open season to say these sorts of slurs and outright negative declarations. But as of now, the tides are leaning toward Hip-hop music as the “grand culprit of the world’s problems.” Not Hollywood. Not pornography. But Hip-hop music.

Yes, that “bleeping” music as I have heard many so-call conservative parents describe it to me in expletives. Oops…I guess that was taken out of context, right? Well, I felt that another intelligent perspective should be voiced.

I am a native son of Memphis, Tennessee. I was born and raised there. More specifically, I am an emcee that does this same kind of “Hip-hop” music that some many of our leaders are trying to condemn. But the Hip-hop genre is very small piece of my life in comparison to the environment I came from. I grew up in the same neighborhood as some of the members of Three 6 Mafia. So, the first question would be: Where are they (Three 6 Mafia) getting all of this negative material from?

Well, take a drive from my house in Frayser down Hollywood Street for about ten miles and you will see a totally different side of the Bluff City.

Dilapidated shotgun houses and a lack of businesses consume this particular area just as it does in South Memphis, Orange Mound and the Westwood areas. People never want to speak about the gentrification efforts that are consciously pressing the “have-nots” toward the outskirts of the city while the Eastern portions of the city have seen the most growth in the last few years. This is the type of news that the local media only exploits for its own gain. Hip-hop is only the prism of this city. Not the reflection that is being shown.

Wendi Thomas only represents a perspective of middle-class demographic in Memphis that is yet to be seen by a large percentage of African-American people in that city. She speaks from a comfortable position. I heard that she grew up in Raleigh. Has she seen Raleigh these days? I bet she would not even recognize it. Now, this does not excuse any lack of education and consciousness of these Hip-hop artists she references to but when she calls the actions of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson toward Imus as “hypocritical”, I hope she has enough ammunition to fight this war of words. But, it’s kind of hard to see all of this hope that Ms. Thomas speaks on. Maybe she wants to be that “gadfly” that Socrates alluded to in “The Apology”? But, whatever case, it is a little more difficult than a Hypnotize Minds cd release to pinpoint this problem.

Another question would be an extension of the first: Where are they really getting this material from? Willie Herenton’s extramarital affairs? Dale Martis’ 2nd degree murder charge for a crime that he knowingly admitted to committing? The consistent racist attitude of the Memphis Police Department? The known racist Confederate hero Nathan Bedford Forest having a monument sitting dead-set in a city park that these so-call youths are paying for out of their little Mayor’s Youth Initiative checks? The bickering, empty, non-progression of the Memphis Board of Education? The crazy City Council?

Hip-hop is only 30 plus years old. This silliness in Memphis has been going on since the city’s inception. To blame Three 6 Mafia “bitch, ho” tendencies in their music as something that is even close to this city’s problems is about as silly as Willie Herenton in a boxing match. Hip-hop music is this generation’s voice. Let’s not forget the beloved Elvis Presley’s (rock n roll) and the Al Green’s (soul) of this city. Love it or hate it, Hip-hop represents today just as those genres represented their respective day. Take a walk down Beale Street on the other end and see how much things have changed.

The conditions brought about in their respective environments created Three 6 Mafia. The Cypress Gardens projects in North Memphis created a Project Pat and a Juicy J. Let’s not sit and play like these words from these lyrics came out of thin air. Ms. Thomas, half of the people you and Mr. Cosby and plenty other cultural critics try to criticize said these same “niggas, bitches, hos” ad naseam in their heyday. Also, the “free love movements” and Woodstocks are certainly nothing to bring up when we have these discussions. Ms. Thomas, what about the Shaft soundtrack done by another Memphis son, Issac Hayes? Was that music different because it was in that era? I have seen Shaft and many other movies from that Blackploitation era and what did you think they showed? What era influenced the Memphis classic, “Hustle and Flow”? Ask Issac Hayes, I’m sure he knows and definitely be glad to share the obvious comparisons.

So, where are you parents? That’s the question, Ms. Thomas.

Imagine a world in which the whole rap empire crumbles to the ground and then what? The world is back on track? We are not still at war? Women (especially African-American women) will not be exploited in movies (i.e. Monster’s Ball) and in television? This argument is a slippery slope that waiting to be exposed. I wonder will Oprah in her sweeping judgment of this music do the same for Hollywood. Oops, that’s too taboo for her same corporate friends that green light the “Shaft’s” and “Hustle and Flow’s” of the world.

America wants to control that rebellious music that captivates the minds of the Black and White youths of this country and the world. This seems to be the case especially in Memphis. But, what is Memphis doing for its youths now. I know what it has done for me. It has reassured me that racism is still alive and well in the year 2007, it is still “hard out here for a pimp (and you can replace that with Black male or any minority…whatever fits the description) and nepotism is still alive. No one in this generation has a legitimate voice. Sharpton and Jackson are our so-called designated voices. So, who’s here for this generation? Those “bleeping” rappers everybody’s so hot and bothered about.

In conclusion, you’ve tried and convicted Hip-hop music with no self-exploration yourselves. Look at what Hollywood can do for you. It can take a foreign-born actor and make him the governor of the most populous state in the Union. Actually, let me make a correction. Hollywood can take a foreign-born actor of some of the Hip-hop generation’s bloodiest films (Predator, Conan the Barbarian and Terminator) and then become governor of the most populous state in the Union. So, the hypocrisy of this premise goes deeper than what Ms. Thomas wants you to believe. Just take a turn to the Metro section of the Commercial Appeal and tell me what reinforces more sexual, racial and socio-economic stereotypes. Three 6 Mafia? I think not.

-D.M. Becton

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