MAXWELL:  Too nasty for their kids, not for yours

10/29/1995 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg


The foul-mouth hip-hop artists Notorious B.I.G., Kool G Rap and Hurricane of the Beastie Boys have a lot in common with the squeaky-clean Sen. Bob Dole and former Secretary of Education William Bennett.

They share the similar family values.

That’s right. Even these three rap artists and most others _ including many hard-core gangsta rappers whose lyrics rationalize cop killing and cruelty against black women _ believe that the family is a special institution worth protecting.

What most people, especially whites, do not know is that most rappers lead double lives, one for public consumption, the other kept quiet and off the screen. Unfortunately, unlike Dole and Bennett, most rappers have not merged their duel personas. They have not created one pattern of positive behavior that defines them both in public and in private.

In public, as expressed in their lyrics, videos, stage and media behavior, rap artists portray themselves as bragging, slovenly attired, drug-dealing, nihilistic thugs and criminals. This is the side that sells records, that makes millions of dollars a year, the side laced with profanity, vulgarity, misogyny and epithets. This is where young impressionable fans find a violent, amoral place to escape and where they find unsavory role models to emulate.

“If there weren’t guns and drugs, there would be nothing to rap about,” Notorious B.I.G.’s wife, Faith Evans, told the New York Times recently.

But these rappers have another life, one that is hidden inside their million-dollar mansions. “I am not hip-hop 24 hours a day, and I don’t play my music in the house,” Notorious B.I.G. told the Times. “When I am home, I lay around, snuggle up and play games with my (2-year-old) daughter.”

Joseph Simmons, a k a Reverend Run of Run-DMC fame, has erected a similar protective wall around his family. Like Notorious B.I.G., Simmons wants his children to study diligently, make good grades in school, stay out of trouble and respect adults. Simmons, therefore, is a strict disciplinarian. His children, Vanessa, 12, Angela, 7, and Daniel, 5, are permitted to listen to clean rap only _ no profanity, no misogynistic rantings, no anger. “I can’t have them listening to the craziest gangsta rap,” he said. “It’s crazy to me.”

Hurricane, the Beastie Boys’ disc jockey, is not perpetually angry, either. He and his wife, Dawn, are very protective of their four children, the oldest of whom is 10. They must stay in school and choose “the right friends,” Hurricane said, admitting that he and his wife spank the children and take away their video games when the rules are broken.

Hurricane told the Times that he and his wife teach their children about the content of rap videos and tapes, distinguishing between make-believe and real life. “I let them know that a camera is there, and they can’t just listen to a song and go bust someone in the head,” Hurricane said.

Other hard-core rappers, such as KRS-One and MC Shan, do not restrict what their children watch. Rather, they watch the videos and listen to the music with their children, putting the words and actions into a perspective that they as parents see as proper.

The bottom line is that no rappers want their own children to follow in the paths of Snoop Doggy Dogg, who has a court date on a charge of taking part in a drive-by shooting, and Tupac Shakur, who is serving a prison sentence for sex crimes. In other words, rappers who have children know that they are peddling explosive and sometimes deadly wares to other people’s children.

Such conduct is unforgivable.

In her book, Different and Wonderful: Raising Black Children in a Race Conscious Society, clinical psychologist Darlene Powell Hopson argues that rappers who are parents encourage negative behavior when they rationalize their smutty lyrics and violent video images by denying the antisocial messages in their work.

“They shouldn’t really focus on certain types of lyrics and expect (them) not to affect kids,” Hopson told the Times. “As parents, we just can’t talk the talk; we have to walk the walk. Rappers should attempt to show some degree of social consciousness in their music. It’s hypocritical in music to have certain attitudes perpetuated. While their own kids know what they see is not real, how do others distinguish between the two?”

After C. Delores Tucker, the chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women, joined Bennett and Dole in trying to force Time Warner out of the gangsta rap business, a lot of African-Americans, mostly women, joined the debate. Two weeks ago, Time Warner bowed to pressure from various fronts and dropped Interscope Records, the label that publishes, among other things, gangsta rap.

The New York Times reports that several rappers, such as Guru, a k a Keith Elam, are joining forces to actively confront the nasty side of rap’s schizoid character. These artists have produced, among others, the song, Watch What You Say, denouncing gangsta rappers as juveniles marketing filthy, violent lyrics that have no useful purpose.

Guru’s objective, as he told the Times, is simple: “I want to take aim at all of these people that can’t get a point across without cursing.” This effort will succeed only if gangsta rappers who are parents begin to respect other people’s children just as they do their own. If their music is not good enough for their children, it is not good enough for the children of others.

C. Delores Tucker and others are right. Gangster rappers must take responsibility for the negative effects their product has on young people and, by extension, on black communities at large. These purveyors of social and cultural decadence must be held accountable.

Bill Maxwell is an editorial writer and columnist for the Times.