Last weekend, I was driving my 6-year-old son, Max, home from a playdate. He loves music, so I had the radio tuned to our local urban station. We were both bopping our heads to the beat, then he started to rap: “Bands a make her dance. These chicks clappin’ and they ain’t using hands.” Before I could change the channel (and trust me, I was fumbling with the knob!), he asked me, “Mommy, how can bands make a lady dance? And how can you clap with no hands?”
Ugh. I stuttered something about rubberbands and clapping with your knees, then quickly found some Michael Jackson on my iPod to distract him. I had never been overly concerned about what he listened to, but I suddenly became aware that he was beginning to process lyrics and would soon truly understand their meaning. It was with this realization that I heard about the lyrics to the song “Karate Chop,” Lil Wayne’s new collabo with Future. In it, Weezy says he gonna “pop a pill” then “beat that p-ssy like Emmett Till.”
Obviously, after this line was leaked, the public outcry was immediate. To dismissively compare Emmett Till (a 14-year-old boy, brutally beaten and murdered in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a White woman) to a female organ after possibly violent sex, is both unforgivably disrespectful to our civil rights struggles and misogynistic. After protestations by civil rights leaders and Till’s own family, the line was removed from the final version of the song. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if it had somehow made it to the airwaves so that my son and millions of other African-American kids could hear the toxic lyrics.
I’ve always loved hip-hop, and anyone who hangs out with me knows to expect loud beats in my car and home; however, I do worry about its power over our youth. With Black reality TV stars fighting and fussing every night, our girls don’t have enough cultural encouragement to recognize their worth. Our boys are fed a hypnotic barrage of video images and lyrics that having a gun rather than an education is cool and that treating women like commodities is the way to be a man. In the past, my longstanding devotion to hip-hop has led me to look past some of its egregious wrongs. But with a son to raise and a new generation to inspire in the pages of a magazine founded 67 years ago to take a stand for our people, I’m officially tired of defending artists who seem to be willfully ignorant with regard to the damaging messages they spew for our kids to absorb.
Of course, I can’t ban my musical child from turning on the radio, so for the time being, he will be listening to the Top 40s station and my iPod, which is full of great artists such as Robert Glasper, Jill Scott, Frank Ocean, Lianne La Havas and The Roots. I just don’t trust the local urban station not to pollute my child with woman-hating, money-wasting, violence-justifying and just plain ignorant messages. Which is a damn shame.