Hip-Hop: These Foolish Things Remind Me of You

“Could you riddle me this—you pay for the Range but take the Isuzu?/

You do if the music you coppin’ is doo-doo/

I got a bridge out in Brooklyn to sell to you/

‘Cuz ya’ll cool with being bamboozled/”

—Marco Polo & Torae (Feat. Saukrates & S-Roc), “Crashing Down,” Double Barrel, 2009.

“We’re trapped, and moving round in circles, like it’s chap stick/

And that’s the same encircled way of thinking that we chat with/”

—Lupe Fiasco Feat. Matthew Santos, “Shining Down,” Lazers, 2009.  

 

To say much of what makes Hip-Hop headlines nowadays is distressing should constitute an understatement. Tales of stabbings, suicides, homicides, petty beefs, murder convictions, and other unremarkable incidents press out daily Hip-Hop news briefs. Rappers and their fans seem to care less about misrepresenting a culture that gave life to a generation, that redefined the worth of a people, that added a new note to musical history. In the name of keepin’ it real, foolishness goes unchallenged.

More pernicious, I think, are the news sites that present these stories ad infinitum, refusing to hold accountable those artists whose behaviors reflect poorly not only on other artists but the Hip-Hop community at-large. In a sense, the rappers are giving a free pass, giving more exposure, and granted more access to exhibit their lack of home training.

But rappers are hardly the culprits. Behind every one of them, are a set of corporations upon which they depend—for survival, publicity, recognition, etc. It’s worth noting that many of these corporations, which today take such great interest in Hip-Hop music, once derided it as uncouth and unfit—music-wise. Many of them only recently began to see the commercial value in Hip-Hop and, right on cue, set up shop in our communities to expunge as much revenue as possible from this multibillion dollar venture.

As such, surprise should be out last reaction when they disrespect and degrade our artists. Corresponding incidents are abundant, such as Cleveland Rapper Kid Cudi being tasered, earlier this year, reportedly for wearing Nike sneakers at a Reebok event, and DJ legend Jazzy Jeff being kicked offstage, earlier this month, for playing Hip-Hop music at a club gig.

Another sobering reminder of corporate America’s abusive relationship with Hip-Hop was highlighted when Detroit MC Invincible’s latest video single, “Ropes,” was accepted then rejected by MTV’s standards department. Why?

“Suicidal Undertones”

Any true Hip-Hop fan is aware of Invincible’s pedigree. She’s no lightweight. Very few Hip-Hop artists can manifest the ingenious degrees of wordplay and linguistic dexterity she so effortlessly wields. No doubt. Her debut classic, ShapeShifters, released last year, put to bed all cynics. In fact, none other than NY’s own Hip-Hop Queen, Jean Grae, described her in these elegant terms: “Invincible is a problem, always has been. Wonderfully humble, a humanitarian, an amazing and caring person just in general. All that and she’ll rip your mic to shreds and then set it on fire. …

She’s a true lyricist.”

Apparently, MTV thinks Jean Grae is wrong. Or maybe MTV simply sees Invincible—and her message—in accurate light—“a problem.”

“Ropes” is a song featured on ShapeShifters, but just now getting the light of day it long deserved. In true Invincible fashion, it confronts the crisis of mental health and its effects on the younger generation—head-on. No holds are barred. In March 2009, mtvU, the “College Music, Activism, Shows and Activities On Campus” channel, accepted Ropes to be shown on its network. Soon after, however, Invincible was contacted, notified that it was rejected because, “Unfortunately the Standards Department decided on passing on the video, citing how its suicidal undertones would be problematic on the channel it was accepted for.”

Invincible responded to the ice-melting logic of MTV in her special way. Speaking into a camera outside MTV’s headquarters, she said the following:

Now, in my eyes, what I see [as] problematic, is that nobody wants to talk about this issue of mental health in our community. I mean, I’ve been affected by it, my family [has been affected by it], even some of my favorite Hip-Hop artists [as well]. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for people our age in this country. So, everybody knows somebody that’s been affected by it, even if it’s secondhand. Now, on that note, everybody knows it exists, but nobody wants to touch it with a ten-foot pole. So, I wrote this song to open up the conversation; I made this video to open up this dialogue…. How are we ever going to solve this issue, if no one wants to talk about it?

Her minute-long homily would serve as the intro for “Ropes.”

If MTV’s “activism” channel refused to accept a single by an activist who is actively campaigning against the tragic consequences of mental health neglect in the college-age community, how much less interested are other mainstream networks like MTV2, VH1, and BET likely to be?

It’s hard to imagine that MTV has ever rejected a video for its “violent undertones,” or its “misogynistic undertones,” or its “materialistic undertones,” or its “homophobic undertones.” In truth, one need not imagine, for it’s never happened.

More appalling, of course, is that if “Ropes” was written and performed by a commercial artist, say a 50 cent, Lil’ Wayne, Jay-Z, Drake, Young Jeezy or T..I., MTV’s response, and consequently the public’s, would have been quite different. I can already see the Grammy nods, the media blitzkrieg, the speaking events, lined-up to celebrate Hip-Hop’s interest in an issue so afflictive of the younger demographic. After all, suicide is ranked the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old.

Better yet, this incident is further proof of a seismic shift in Hip-Hop consciousness within the last decade. It bespeaks of a generation engineered to respond more favorably to sneaker commercials than notions of agency, media literacy, and critical citizenship. MTV’s response is a microcosm of the terrible disaster media consolidation has wrought on Hip-Hop.

In Ropes Feat. Tiombe Lockhart, Invincible makes it personal, recounting an incident that almost ended her life:

“At seven, tied a plastic bag over my head/ Like, ‘What’s the point but getting older and dead?’/ So innocent, searching for missing links/ Surrounded by the carcasses of instruments/ Of dreams departed hardened by the sentiments/ Out of tune and sharpened by the artists/.”

I’m wondering if those were the lines that screamed “suicidal undertones” at the clearance agents. Or perhaps it was these:

“I heard the barrels cry, wishing they could spare ya lives/ Was feeling paralyzed, but no I wasn’t scared to die/ Feared not livin’ to the fullest, so i pulled it/ All or nothing/ Now somebody wanna call my bluff when/ I tried to flinch/ Told them that the suicide attempt was cause I’d rather die/ Than live and ride the bench/.”

Of course, they never cared to listen on. If they did, they might have found out that, unlike some other artists, Invincible is never one to state the problems without providing viable solutions:

“To all the unfazed and numb, hope that you hear/ What I’ve spoken is clear/ So you stop repressing, choking the tears/ We all walk the line between insanity and sanity/ And hope and despair/ Hope and despair/.”

I believe it would do MTV—not just mtvU—good to reconsider Invincible’s offer. The least they can do is explain, in more coherent terms, why they oppose exploring this crisis of mental health. I’m sure their P.R. department can do a better job.

Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic and a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com. He can be reached at Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.

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