Reverend Al Sharpton: Checkers to Chess

Much

of the Hip-Hop community feels like the recent wave of condemnation are

aggressive maneuvers to starve a younger generation out of creative

existence. Rev. Al Sharpton doesn’t want to dictate expression, but he

does want to obliterate certain terms from our collective. Some agree,

and many sharply disagree. A small group of rappers like Snoop Dogg

have already petitioned against the efforts of Sharpton, considering

them antiquated relics. Either way, Sharpton feels that he’s got the

power and the will to stop the negative elements of rap that he deems

undesirable. His plan will test the fortitude of companies and expects

that the affects will trickle into results through the artists.

Sharpton isn’t a new critic to Hip-Hop, however the 52-year-old once

saw promise in the sounds of the young. An excerpt of his book, Al on America,

the civic leader offered a slightly different view on the culture that

seemed optimistic. (The following passage was published on AllHipHop in

2002) “When I look at the Hip-Hop generation I am disappointed, but

I also see promise. I see potential unrealized. I see tremendous power,” he wrote. “These young people have created a culture.”

Now, in the ashes of the Don Imus fiasco, his goal is focused. Now,

Sharpton, his National Action Network and others in the Black Community

join the likes of Bill O’Reilly in an offensive against the seedier

aspects of the music. From a historical point of view, Al

Sharpton’s contribution to society should paint him as an individual

that has dedicated his life to helping the Black Community and others

as well. Sharpton, a tireless activist, has been a foot solider for

change even though his own past has been peppered with its share of

controversy along the way. Some have regarded him a racial “ambulance

chaser” while others a Civil Rights champion. What will he be perceived

as by Hip-Hop? Read on. AllHipHop.com: Your march for

decency, what affect will this have since these things have gone on

before with the likes of Calvin Butts and C. Delores Tucker. For the

labels it has been business as usual. Al Sharpton: I commend

C. Delores Tucker and Calvin Butts for warning that this was going to

happen. I was one that didn’t know that it would get this bad, but it

did. I think the times have changed. First of all, this isn’t all of

the Hip-Hop community [we are marching against], it is just an element

that does this. What they don’t realize is that the corporate

entertainment industry has become corporate and what they could stand

up to 10 years ago, they can’t now. That’s what happened with Imus. By

going after the advertisers, and not the producers of Imus’ show of the

head of the [Don Imus show], but by going to the owners of the

[network] – those corporate guys have to deal differently.

Let me give you an example. Time Warner owns a piece of Warner Music.

Time Warner also has a cable franchise in New York that has a contract

with the city of New York. Councilwoman Darlene Mealy (D-Brooklyn) is

going to the city council saying, “We are going to pass a resolution

against the N-Word.” If Time Warner wants to continue investing in

Warner Music, using the N-Word, then I want to move that we cancel

their contract [with the city]. These companies are owned by major

publicly traded companies that cannot afford this. Ten years ago, a lot

of these companies were independent. [Hip-Hop] is only a fraction of

the business they do and they could lose much larger chunks of the

business, which is why NBC and CBS dropped Imus. Rappers cannot

distribute without [the companies’] big money. Then people say, “Well, it will just go underground.” Fine, well it won’t be mainstream.

AllHipHop.com: Once it goes underground, do you feel it will only

continue to fester? I mean, you are trying to eradicate real social

problems, not only clean up corporately funded rap. Al

Sharpton: I think we have to deal with that and there has to be a

strategy for that. First, you gotta get it out of the mainstream. As

long as it’s mainstream, it’s not even accepted. When it’s underground,

it was like listening to “light bulb” music when I was a kid. You

didn’t have those guys doing Chrysler commercials and Pepsi commercials

and going to the White House representing voters. It has gotten so bad

now that these guys are the symbol of Black culture.

AllHipHop.com: When is somebody going to address the social problems?

To me, rappers actually do represent the really the ugliest parts of

life that society wants to ignore. Al Sharpton: And my answer

to that is, I do not accept that at all. When are the rappers going to

address it? The [protesters] attacking them are the ones out here every

day. I am one of the guys out here every day fighting police brutality,

poverty every day. They have never showed up. That’s a pimp excuse they

use. When Sean Bell got shot in New York, one rapper didn’t show up.

[Sharpton would later correct himself and say that New York rapper

Papoose did protest the shooting.] When we fought about poverty, when

we fought about saving affirmative action, one rapper didn’t show up.

They exploit our pain, they’re not expressing our pain. They are

calling the people in pain with them “hoes” and “b****es.” If they were

expressing our pain, they would be rapping about the people causing the

pain. If they were guys that were involved in the struggle every day

like we are, they could say that. Why are you calling the “pain” hoes

and b****es. That ain’t nothing, but a bunch of hog wash.

AllHipHop.com: A lot of people feel they are being attacked. A lot of

the younger generation sees this as a direct assault on their way of

life and their generation. Across the board, there appears to be a

concerted attack on Hip-Hop. In fact, Hip-Hop is a full culture and a

lifestyle. Al Sharpton: First of all, the ones that are being

attacked are Black people, when we are being called n***ers and women,

who they call hoes and b****es. People can’t turn around to me,

brother, and say, “I feel like I am being attacked,” and I want the

right to call you a hoe and a b***h. We’re reacting to an attack. Two,

you have people like Papoose and others that stood up for Sean Bell,

who clearly have said this is now what we’re about. The reason I did

the march is because it was James Brown’s birthday. James Brown, who is

more sampled than any other artist, said to me in our last

conversation, “I don’t want my music used to be degrading our people. I

tired to make our people Black and proud.” Those that are not

doing that in Hip-Hop of that should [not be included in those] painted

with a broad stoke, but they should stand up and say this isn’t

representing us. Say, “That’s what we’re not about.”

AllHipHop.com: I happen to know a certain artist and he has a positive

song on his album. Well, his manager told me, before Imus, the rapper

wanted to release this as his next single, but the label shot it down

and gave him his next single. A lot of artists feel compelled to do

certain things to sell or get paid or even to just get a deal.

Al Sharpton: You are absolutely right and that’s why we are marching on

the record companies and not the rappers. I’m going to the companies

that make [rappers] do this. One of the reasons I don’t think it’s fair

for the artists to say, “Why is Sharpton jumping on me?”…I’m jumping

on the companies that are making them do this, won’t sign positive

artists – they are the source of this. It’s not up to the artists in

these cases. I’m not marching on the artists, because it’s not up to

the artists in most cases – it’s up to these companies. I know when the

artists’ release dates are, I know where their parties are, I know

where their clubs are, I know where they live. If they are smart, they

will say, “This will help me get some of the things I really want. This

might put me in a position to be more creative.” AllHipHop.com: How does this relate to what you did to Michael Jackson?

Al Sharpton: I have seen these record labels operate in what is almost

a plantation psychology – trying to take all the money and uses these

guys as pawns. The Michael Jackson struggle was about whether or not

Sony and them were misusing him, trying to take his catalog, trying to

take his money. They are using the artists as the pawns and desecrating

the women in our community. Again, you are not allowed to do that with

them. [The label heads] know they would not allow them to do that to

their families and all we’re saying is you’re not allowed to do it to

ours. AllHipHop.com: Do you actually talk to any of the rappers?

Al Sharpton: Look, this is not anything easy for me. Some of them like

me and I like them. I have to speak out on what the general community

needs. I mean, because of Universal’s association with [“negative

rap”], we didn’t give L.A. Reid his award. L.A. Reid is good brother, a

good friend; I love L.A. Reid. We just didn’t want to confuse the

issue. Sometimes you have to be committed to an issue even of some of

your friends can’t get down with you. You friends – you respect them,

they respect you. Sometimes you have to make choices in life.

AllHipHop.com: Some people that I have talked to have said that you are

somewhat of a hypocrite, because they feel your past isn’t so squeaky

clean. Al Sharpton: What is it? Tell them, what is it? That’s

all a cop out. Anything I’ve done is fight for the community. Tell them

to name what I have done that has disparaged and discredited our

community. AllHipHop.com: One person who is a Back Republican wanted to point out your association with Roger Stone. Al Sharpton: What about him? AllHipHop.com: Your association with him.

Al Sharpton: What about him? Roger Stone donated to my [2004

presidential] campaign. What is that supposed to mean? That is the most

insane thing I have ever heard. So, if a Black Republican or a White

Republican contributes to a campaign, that’s supposed to equate to

somebody calling somebody a hoe or b***h? AllHipHop.com: It’s not related in an overt manner, but…

Al Sharpton: When you are dealing in politics, people can give to

whatever reason. Roger Stone was doing business in New York against the

Rockefeller Drug Laws with Russell Simmons and all of us and gave some

money. if he wanted to give some more, I’d take that too as long as I

ain’t gotta change what I’m saying. What’s that mean? What they are

saying is a bunch of crap. If somebody could say Roger Stone gave some

money and therefore I took a different position, then that’s a charge.

If somebody gave somebody some money to help them do what they were

already doing in the community, my answer is, “So what.” Unless you are

saying people should only take money from saints, then nobody would

have any money. AllHipHop.com: [Laughs] I don’t know that the

association with him is something people would be comfortable with. I

mean, he’s even been accused of helping stop the Florida recount in the

Bush/Gore election. Al Sharpton: He donated to my campaign; I

didn’t donate to him. He supported what I was doing; I didn’t support

him. My position is that anybody that wants to give when I was running,

as long as they didn’t feel like they were going to get something for

it, let them come on and get it. For a Black Republican [to call me

out], who probably supported Bush – you talk about hypocritical –

that’s crazy. A lot of Democrats supported the War in Iraq that donated

to my campaign and I was against that. But, again, that has absolutely

nothing [to do] with me standing up against desecrating people. That is

insane. AllHipHop.com: Positive rap is something that people

want to hear more of. We are putting a lot of energy in one sort of

rapper, but maybe we should take that and uplift the positive rappers

too. Al Sharpton: I think we should do both. It’s directed at

the record labels, the cable/TV stations and the radio stations. You

create more space for [the positive rappers] when you let these

companies know you aren’t going to take up all this space with the

negative. And I think part of the problem is there are only 24 hours in

the day, you have to take some of that down to create the space that

you need to force a positive, energetic campaign behind it. AllHipHop.com: Are the any rappers you like?

Al Sharpton: Common, I love. But, I don’t even want to put people on

the spot like that. I don’t want it to seem that the rappers I like are

against the rappers I don’t like. There are a lot of positive rappers

and I wish they had more opportunity. Let me just put it that way. AllHipHop.com: How long will you continue this?

Al Sharpton: Until we get some answers. It took us a long time to deal

with the Sean Bell indictment [of three NYPD officers accused of

killing the unarmed Black man]. With Don Imus, it took eight days. I

went to jail for three months to close a navy base in Vieques, Puerto

Rico, but it’s closed. [In 2001, Sharpton and many others protested

Naval bombing exercises.] They need to know, what ever I’m gonna say

I’m gonna do it. If I gotta pay a price [like] go to jail, I’m gonna do

that. We stay on it till we win. I’m in it to win it. They got a

problem with me.

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