We are all familiar with the age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? It is the Every-person version of the scientific debate of beginning of things. We all know how the story goes. If you say the egg came first, then you are asked, “What/who laid the egg?” If you say the chicken came first, you are asked, “Where did the chicken come from? Did it come from nothing, just suddenly pop up in the barnyard?”
When we look at the Hip Hop music industry over the past decade or so, we face a similar dilemma. It involves the question: which came first, the misogynistic treatment of women in rap videos and the glorification of the ‘thug’ life or the existence of these realities in the urban communities where rap was born and grew up?
Well-known author and television writer, Cheo Coker wrote in “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight”, “The only thing I’m saying is that the problem is bigger than rap music. If cards need to be plucked, it’s not only the rappers who say things some people deem offensive, but also the white financial structure that manufactures and distributes their records. The same structure weaned an entire American generation on sex and violence, so it’s little wonder that rappers find such a huge audience hungry for themes involving sex and violence. Rap is a direct reflection of society, will change no sooner than the populace that influences it changes it’s attitude.”
There are many critics of rap music and hip hop culture who would say that the opposite is true. James McWhorter wrote in the Summer 2003 edition of The City Journal, “The rise of nihilistic rap has mirrored the breakdown of community norms among inner-city youth over the last couple of decades. It was just as gangsta rap hit its stride that neighborhood elders began really to notice that they’d lost control of young black men, who were frequently drifting into lives of gang violence and drug dealing. Well into the seventies, the ghetto was a shabby part of town, where, despite unemployment and rising illegitimacy, a healthy number of people were doing their best to “keep their heads above water,” as the theme song of the old black sitcom Good Times put it. By the eighties, the ghetto had become a rule-less war zone, where black people were their own worst enemies. It would be silly, of course, to blame hip-hop for this sad downward spiral, but by glamorizing life in the “war zone,” it has made it harder for many of the kids stuck there to extricate themselves.”
It is a classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation. While there is evidence that record company executives, both black and white, had a lot to do with the devolving of the original spirit of rap music from its roots in social and political commentary to the selling of the gangsta lifestyle and the objectifying of women as sexual playthings, there is also ample evidence of rap also reflecting the decay of urban neighborhoods into zones of gang violence and drug use and despair.
Basically, there is plenty of blame to go around. The question is: will anyone step up to reverse the course? So far, there is little or no evidence that anyone is or will.