Al Sharpton + Hip Hop Music = Political Showdown
The firestorm of controversy that Don Imus and his off-color remarks whipped up, dragged a few unwilling participants into it’s heated whirlwind. As soon as the new wires began running the story of Imus and his choice of words regarding the Rutger’s female basketball team, many of the shock jock’s supporters cried foul. Hip-Hop music was cited as an example of the double standard that exist in the media and society, tainting the story with additional racial division. People began asking some hard questions about the choice of lyrics that many African American artists use in describing women and themselves, while skipping over the main issue of Imus and his statements.
Rev. Al Sharpton was in the spotlight as he publicly called for Imus to be fired and the line was officially drawn in the sand, again. To many of Imus’ fans, the Reverend seemed like an agitator looking for a easy target. His motives were questioned and to the uninformed it may have looked like Sharpton was turning a blind eye to the troubled world of Hip-Hop. If there was any doubt to just how serious Sharpton was about speaking out against demeaning lyrics in rap music, they should all be cleared after the latest developments.
Sharpton has his eye on rappers and has said, in so many words, that he is coming after hip-hop music. In an interview with MTV, Sharpton was quoted as saying “This Saturday at the National Action Network Convention, we will have the conversation about what we do about the violence and the [racist], sexist language in hip-hop.” With that statement, a series of events has begun to unfold that will probably peak this Saturday.
The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network held a close door meeting on April 16th, with many of the top power brokers in Hip-Hop in attendance, including WMG CEO Lyor Cohen, Russell Simmons, Island/Def Jam Group Chairman L.A. Reid, RIAA Chairman Mitch Bainwol and many more. While it is unclear exactly what was discussed in the meeting, questionable lyrics and the current controversy was undoubtedly the main topic of conversation at the round table, as the hip-hop industries head honchos look to be circling the wagons in preparation of the possible oncoming attack.
On April 18th, Sharpton made another surprise move by canceling plans to award L.A. Reid with the James Brown Award at his annual four day National Action Network conference, which started on Wednesday. The event will be attended by Senators John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Howard Dean (DNC), NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams, Paula Zahn, Marian Wright Edelman, Governor Eliot Spitzer, filmmaker Spike Lee, Governor Bill Richardson (NM), Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, ABC’s Martin Bashir and many more. Sharpton has promised to deliver names of corporations that support what he considers to be derogatory music, which he has been quoted as calling
“gutter rap”. If he does reveal a list of potential targets during the convention, Island/Def Jam will most likely be atop of the list as he has spoken against some of the label’s top acts in the past.
To add fuel to the fire, it seems that Simmons is holding his own protest as he has yet to purchase two seats to the conference as he was expected to. The reservations were a reported $10,000 each. Sharpton publicly questioned Simmons motives for not attending as an obvious retaliation to his planned speech. Universal Music Groups reps deny any ill will and have stated they have not asked for a return of Reid’s $15,000 donation.
Meanwhile, both of New York’s primary Hip-Hop radio stations have issue statements saying they will begin to back off from playing offensive music. Power 105 FM had Sharpton as an on-air guest along with program director Helen Little, Kevin Powell, Music Director Nadine Santos and more. Little was quoted in The New York Daily News as saying “What we’re doing is holding labels and artists accountable for what they say and how they say it. We want our listeners to know that whatever they hear here, we thought about it.”
Noted Hip-Hop journalist Davey D wrote a lengthy article on Sharpton and his motives almost 3 years ago. Many of the points he raises about Sharpton are incredibly valid today, as Davey basically says that the Reverend’s outlying message is fundamentally sound but many people question his motives. As we head into election season, the rattling of sabres may have it’s usual purpose. This time around, no one can blame Sharpton alone for starting the fire. This time, the match and can of gasoline was clearly in Don Imus hands. Regardless who started the wildfire, it still burns on. It’s about to get very interesting in the Hip-Hop community. Stay tuned for more developments.