HIP HOP’S (UNSPOKEN) TEN COMMANDMENTS
By stephanie mwandishi gadlin ©
Famed Kenyan author Mgugi wa Thiongo once remarked: “…Language carries culture and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we perceive ourselves and our place in the world.”
Interesting perspective. If language carries a people’s culture and therefore projects a people’s cultural values to others, explain to me why
are we allowing our young men and women in the recording industry to use offensive, self-deprecating language disguised as song lyrics to discredit an entire people . Surely, the ancestors are not proud.
Enough with the excuses already. I love hip hop as much as the next woman, and my frustration is not another case of “playa hating,” or “blaming rappers for society’s social ills.” That argument is tired and quite silly. Nor am I confused about parental responsibility. Yeah, I know…if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Blah…blah…blah. That is not this discussion. I simply want to know how long will we make excuses for entertainers of any kind who work hand-and-foot with compounded social ills to emasculate a group of people.
Case in point: Dr Dre (Andre Young) was recently referred to as “the original, true-blue gangsta-rap god,” by Talk Magazine (April 2001). Writer Michael Daly offers a quote from Dre’s boss, Interscope Records cofounder Jimmy Iovine: “Not since the Beatles or the Rolling stones has any one individual artist affected society or popular music more than Dr. Dre.” His boss then goes on to say: “…he impacts the entire continent.”
Wow, that’s a lot of responsibility for a record producer. Young, at age 36, has amassed about a $100 million fortune writing and producing hip hop music under the genre of gangster rap-a genre he is often credited with creating. His latest invention, Eminem, is now being promoted as the conduit for white rage. He offers musical missives about killing his wife, deranged fans and doing peculiar things to homosexuals.
No one argues that Young creates the coldest beats known to man. Brother surely has talent. The bass hook in Xxplosive on his The Chronic 2001 album, was so off the hook, R&B songstress Erykah Badu used it to rocket Bag Lady to the top of the charts. While Badu’s tome expressed the plight of a impoverished woman, Dre’s lyrical contribution to that mesmerizing beat included rapper Kurupt‘s poetic utterings:
“West coast shit nigga over dosage – imperial pistols ferocious Fuck a bitch; don’t tease bitch, strip tease bitch Eat a bowl of these bitch, gobble the dick Hoes forgot to eat a dick can shut the fuck up! Gobble and swallow a nut up, shut up and get my cash Backhanded, pimp slapped backwards and left stranded Just pop ya collar, pimp convention hoes for a dollar Six-Deuce in a plush, six-deuce impala Pimpin hoes from Texas to Guatemala Bitch niggaz paid for hoes, just to lay wit hoes Relax one night, and paid to stay wit hoes Captain Save’ Em all day (bitch) well save this dick Bitch nigga, you more of a bitch than a bitch You ain’t into hittin pussy, or hittin the switch You into hittin bitches off of the grip, you punk bitch”
When Talk Magazine asks the super producer the usual question about his lyrical content, inquiring about the proposed views of a late civil rights icon about the quality of his music, Dre responds: “Martin Luther King would love this.” Is that right?
In another celebration of black musical success, wonder-lyricist Sean “Jay Z“Carter often writes and performs head-banging missives that have made him a wealthy and sought after celebrity. Take just one verse from the hit song,”Big Pimpin.”
“You know I – thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em Cause I don’t fuckin need em Take em out the hood, keep em lookin good But I don’t fuckin feed em First time they fuss I’m breezin Talkin bout, “What’s the reasons?” I’m a pimp in every sense of the word, bitch Better trust than believe em In the cut where I keep em til I need a nut, til I need to beat the guts Then it’s, beep beep and I’m pickin em up Let em play with the dick in the truck Many chicks wanna put Jigga fist in cuffs Divorce him and split his bucks Just because you got good head, I’ma break bread so you can be livin it up? Shit I.. parts with nothin, y’all be frontin Me give my heart to a woman? Not for nothin, never happen I’ll be forever mackin Heart cold as assassins, I got no passion I got no patience And I hate waitin.. Hoe get yo’ ass in And let’s RI-I-I-I-I-IDE…”
What kind of women has he been exposed to and just whom is he talking about? A white woman? Asian? Latino? Oh, I forgot, that’s not allowed. In the spirit of unity, let us not forget the sisters.
Lil’ Kim (Kimberly Jones) offers the following thought-provoking observation in “She Don’t Love You,” from her Notorious K.I. M. release: “Is she drop-dead fine? Does she like it from behind? Is she fly? Do she got a style like mine? Does she slurp it, rub it, jerk it, ride it? Tell you how you feel when you inside it You love me, and I know she know Cuz everytime I come around, she be like “let’s go” Girls know not to leave they man around me I get my hands on ’em. He puttin’ rent and a Benz on me…”
Charli Baltimore offers another view in “Pimp the One You Love,” on her Cold as Ice release: “Off the hyped bit, always been the tight bitch Keep these cats in line, pay that rent on time And we’ll talk about extra keys to my spot When it’s extra V’s in my lot, extra G’s in my knots So how I managed to get damaged on ‘chill with one nigga’ shit I was to break me off with some more figures bitch I don’t know, just caught me at the right moment Vulnerable, nigga jumped up on it With mind games, took me out of my frame I ain’t even want his payback, my homey Tony Drapper He pimped for the guts and I was givin’ ’em up Can’t tell me I can’t have any player I want And I burnt myself out tryin’ to turn his ass out…”
I am sure fans of all four aforementioned artists will dismiss my ramblings and random recitation of their song lyrics as being taken out of context. Others might go as far as to tell me that these artists are merely “storytellers,” much like a Eric Jerome Dickey, Terri McMillian or Omar Tyree. And please, don’t get me wrong about diversity in the culture either. I understand all rappers can’t be Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, Common, or a member of Dead Prez. I also know that new artists are more likely to follow the more controversial hip hop icons than buck them. The more shocking, the more vile, the more graphic, the more violent, the more sexist… the more money, the more sales… the more bling, bling….. Right or wrong?
Yet, I refuse to believe that our young people willfully set out to create songs to ridicule and embarrass their heritage, family and community. I refuse to believe that Jay-Z sat down with a pen and paper and wrote those lyrics on his own, and that those are his beliefs. Nor will I ever believe that Lil Kim wants sex without love, commitment and intimacy. I do not believe Dr. Dre hates his wife and children or wants to murder or die in a hail of bullets. I refuse to believe that many of our young brothers and sisters in the entertainment industry have little integrity, self-esteem and love.
The more I think I about it, I am convinced there must be a hip hop constitution that mandates how rappers represent musically. The mandate, in the form of a recording contract, is actually a set of commandments authored by the “music establishment,” otherwise known as the “industry,” to ensure the artist’s marketability in an already saturated genre.
HIP HOP’s (UNSPOKEN) TEN COMMANDMENTS
Commandment I: Thou must dis’ black women.
You are allowed to distinguish between bitches, hoes and “real sisters” only during interviews when asked to clarify your statements. You must talk about beating a woman up at least once on your CD or demo. On at least four (4) but no more than five (5) singles/demos you must talk about having rough and unprotected sex with a woman. You must also refer to your girlfriend or wife as a “bitch” in an endearing way. All music videos must reflect the aforementioned notions.You can talk about doing things to other people’s mothers as acts of creative expression. You may also refer endearingly to an unplanned child as a “bastard,” “shorty,” “lil nigga,” or “lil G.” By honoring this commandment you vow to never rally behind black females or support a strong family bond. You see her only as an object for sex and to reap the repercussions of your rage. You also believe she is only out to get you.
(Supplement for females) Thou must dis’ black men. Female rappers are allowed to distinguish against niggas, bustas, scrubs and punk. You must lyrically emasculate them in every way possible. On at least one (1) CD or demo you must destroy his character by either calling him a homosexual or talking about his lack of money. You are allowed to refer to your boyfriend or husband as your “nigga” in an endearing way. All music videos must reflect aforementioned notions. By honoring this Commandment you vow to never identify with the black male’s struggle against white supremacy. You vow to never support a strong family bond. You also uphold the tenements that all of his problems are of his own doing. You see him as only an object for sex and money. You believe he is only out to get you.
Commandment II: Thou must kill.
You must “lyrically” take the life of at least one other black person in order to secure a hit CD. This law does not promote the physical killing of another person. However, it is not against the law to assassinate another person on record. You must only talk about killing your own kind, however, or other cultures may sue you for inciting racial violence. You must express pleasure in the kill. The kill must be graphic and extensive in detail. The consumer must always be left with the feeling that taking a person’s life (lyrically) was justified. Most of the lyrical murders must be done by guns, however creativity allows for poisoning, stabbings, beatings, stompings, and suffocating. You do not distinguish between male or female kills. By keeping this Commandment you vow to never claim acts of genocide publicly even when you are a victim of violent repression yourself. You also agree to “lyrical” acts of black-on-black violence, as well as prolific incidents of brutality.
Commandment III: Thou must covet.
Thou must talk about lusting after things that do not belong to you. You must have an unusual craving for things that do not belong to you. Your desire must be so strong that you unwittingly uphold the second commandment. This law does not advocate you physically go after the material possessions of someone in your community. By keeping this commandment you vow to never promote a strong work ethic in your music or to speak against greed, lust and impulsive behavior. In fact, you now believe
greed is healthy.
Commandment IV: Thou must have a lot of sex.
You must have no fewer than three (3) songs on your CD or demo that promote sexual intercourse with one or a group of individuals. You cannot express a deep sense of love or marriage. Thou shalt not talk about commitment, bonding, and intimacy. You can only talk about sex in its purest and rawest terms. Do not use “make love,” or “provide pleasure,” or “pro-create.” You must never mention a sexually transmitted disease in the context of these records. You can however discuss the use of contraceptives, but only if you’re referring to sexual intercourse with a hoe. (See first Commandment). If you are under age 16, you may substitute sex with the “flirting,” and “fantasies about being intimate with your teacher, neighbor’s child, or another rapper.” You must be creative in your graphic detail of sexual intercourse so to leave nothing to the imagination. The details can be slightly skewered in order to circumvent radio censors. However, this does not excuse radio edits from removing references to sex. Therefore stay ahead of the game by using clever phrases with dual and triple meanings. By keeping this Commandment, you vow to never promote unconditional or agape love in your community; promote the black family in a positive light; or uplift male/female relationships.
Commandment V: Thou must celebrate the drug culture.
Thou must condone and identify with the proliferation of drugs in the black community. You should create endearing lyrical expressions to identify various narcotics and mind-altering substances. Though you are not to personally distribute or purchase illegal substances, you may allude to it lyrically. (To protect industry investment, we discourage musical confessions to crimes where the statue of limitations have not run out.) You may allude to a war on drugs,but only as justification to carry out the second commandment. You must continually suggest that selling drugs or “slangin'” produces the only legitimate income for impoverished black people. All music videos must either glamorize this lifestyle by showing the “success” of the narcotic trade, or glamorize prison living. You should refer to drug addicted citizens in comical terms that illicit disgust, laughter, fear, pity or retribution. You are never to question U.S. drug policy. You can never promote healthy living and thinking. Nor can you advocate moderation in tobacco and liquor consumption. By keeping this commandment, you vow to never discuss the impact of drug addiction among people of color; its impact on the community’s overall health; its impact on the prison industrial complex; or, its impact on the black family.
Commandment VI: Thou must rarely talk about God and spirituality.
You must lyrically condone atheism and a false belief system that negates the existences of a higher being. You must routinely question the existence of a god by lyrically challenging him/her/it to take your life or to grant you three wishes. You are to refer to yourself as a god who gives and takes life. You may lyrically create your own religion (see tenth commandment) based on a ghetto belief system. Thou shalt not talk about life and death as it relates to spirituality or a sense of purpose. You should never speak of scripture or religious texts. You are prohibited from acknowledging any spiritual beliefs that may have been instilled you by family. However, you may identify with a Jesus by wearing a large, diamond encrusted piece whereby you may brag about its costs. Under no circumstance are you to promote prayer, reflection, meditation, atonement, redemption, sacrifice, mercy or grace. The consumer fan base must identify with your lack of spiritual grounding by believing that the only gods are sex and money. By keeping this commandment you vow to limit your personal spiritual growth and development. You also vow to never been seen publicly in a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other house of worship and reflection.
Commandment VII: Thou must promote capitalism.
On no fewer than four (4) singles or demo records you must talk about money as if it were a living, breathing thing. You must talk about making it, taking it and the love of it. Your lyrics must always place money over love, over women, over religion (see sixth commandment). You must never talking about savings and investing. Thou can, however, say the words “currency exchange,” “welfare check,” “first of the month,” and “food stamps.” You must never talk about pooling of resources. Thou can never equate capitalism with poverty. You must never mention the IMF, WTO or Federal Reserve. In fact never mention banking or the stock market at all. Do not mention technology. Do not discuss taxing. Do not discuss the federal budget. (See Commandment V). You must promote individual wealth over community wealth. You should talk about all of your purchases, specifically naming makers/distributors of expensive jewelry, cars, clothing and liquor. Once you become a successful entertainer you should purchase a very big house and no fewer than three (3) expensive cars. Publicly, you should live within a lavish lifestyle in order to please your consumer fan base that now lives vicariously through your music. Your lifestyle should include, but not be limited to: living in exclusive communities, catering to huge entourages, routinely eating at expensive restaurants, flying to Europe for fashion shows, purchasing designer clothing only, ordering platinum and diamond encrusted jewelry for your body and teeth, purchasing expensive weapons and devices, frequent partying and purchasing big quantities of expensive liquor and tobacco/cigars. Thou should consistently ridicule those who cannot afford the aforementioned items. By keeping this commandment you vow to always promote a consumer culture v. a producer culture.
Commandment VIII: Thou cannot have a sense of history.
Never ever refer to any historical event that may cause the consumer to think about his/her relation to history. Your role is to entertain, not educate. Thou art prohibited from speaking of the following: Trans-Atlantic slave trade; African holocaust: Reconstruction: the civil rights movement; the Black Power Movement; the “real” Harlem Renaissance, and so forth. You can never mention the following people: Martin Luther King Jr., Hannibal, Mansa Musa, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, David Walker, Nat Turner, George Jackson, El-hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X), Jesse Jackson, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Steve Biko, Louis Farrakhan, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, Bobby Seale, Kwame Ture, Ida B. Wells, Assata Shakur….unless you are making fun of their names, causes or crusaders. (I.e., Rah Digga’s Harriet Thugman). Do not mention Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean or Asia, unless to disparage. By keeping this commandment you vow to never promote a sense of awareness, a knowledge of self or the consumer’s global relationship to kindred spirits.
Commandment IX: Thou must not advocate.
Thou art prohibited from advocacy of anything of social redeeming value. Your lyrics must reflect a detachment from the social, political and economic reality of your community. Your lyrics can occasionally ridicule people who march, protest and advocate social causes. The consumer should never assume that thou reads newspapers, magazines or books. In other words it must appear that nothing that happens in the “real” non-entertainment world, has any personal affect on your thinking. Nor should the consumer of your CD or demo walk away with the belief that you care about anything other than the Commandments IV and VII. Never talk about the “industry.” By keeping this commandment understand you must never appear at a non-entertainment-related event, unless of course you are entertaining. You must never donate money, resources or materials to needy organizations, families or causes. When questioned about this you must defend your position by claiming you are an entertainer and that’s all. You can never participate in interviews discussing relevant social issues. Thou art not responsible for the behavior encouraged by your music because thou art not responsible for marketing and sales to minor, unstable individuals, or mentally ill citizens. You understand that you cannot attend rallies, sermons, marches, and picnics, festivals or workshops that have nothing to do with entertainment or the recording industry.
Commandment X: Thou must promote all things ghetto.
You may never define the word ghetto or discuss its creation. You must uphold its principals and create new creeds. You must lyrically create a fictional account of ghetto living that inspires comradeship and a sense of pride among its residents. Your lyrics must create a ghetto dweller that is proud to live in the ghetto and takes offense at others moving into it. You must celebrate ghetto life by reminiscing about days in poverty and your mothers on welfare and about your fathers who were not there. Additionally, your lyrics must offer the mainstream a rare glimpse inside a “socio-economic matrix” while allowing them psychologically off the hook for the ghetto’s creation. You must celebrate ghetto language, ghetto living, ghetto housing, ghetto clothing, ghetto hairstyles, ghetto sexual habits, ghetto education, and ghetto economics and ghetto self-hatred. You must romanticize poverty with tales of sex, drugs, money, creed and fear. The ghetto must become a magical place. By keeping this commandment you vow to create and then instill pride in a false culture of poverty, crime, drugs, illegitimacy, ignorance and apathy. You also vow to attribute the ghetto only to Black people. You also vow to never leave the ghetto matrix psychologically, even when your economic status changes (see seventh commandment) In other words you will remember to “keep it real..”
By keeping the aforementioned commandments we, “the industry,” guarantee the following:
1. Unlimited marketing success and cross-over appeal.
2. A guaranteed income
3. Fame beyond your wildest dreams
4. Unlimited (but recoupable) industry resources
5. Several music awards, citations and honors
6. Protection from community repercussions
This sacred scroll must be handed to every potential and current Black hip hop artist in the nation. While some sign, many others I am sure others have refused, as there is circumstantial evidence that supports that. Occassionally a break through performer will offer lyrics that make us think, act and believe as if we have purpose and are loved in this life. Yet the majority of our youth must be forced to sign, recite and then internalize these commandments in order to guarantee their market success. I imagine if they do not sign the doctrine, they are relegated to doing poetry readings at open mics, working menial jobs, fading into relative obscurity and living in the “ghetto matrix.” This must be the answer, because the truth is surely a lot more painful.
stephanie mwandisi gadlin is a chicago-based writer who focuses on cultural and socio-political issue. in a past life she served as national press secretary to the reverend jesse jackson sr. mailto:StephGadlin@aol.com