"The Oprah Issue"
By Chuck "Jigsaw" Creekmur
Oprah Winfrey and Hip-Hop have peacefully co-existed for decades with little-to-no fanfare, but the inevitable happened - friction. The Oprah Winfrey Show debut in 1986, the same year Run DMC injected a heavy dose of Hip-Hop straight to America's commercial vein with "Walk This Way."
Since, rappers have continuously gained acclaim and notoriety, in a timeline that's runs concurrent with Oprah's ascension. They have penetrated nearly every level of popular culture. However, Hip-Hop's traction on America's most popular and longest-running talk show has been quite limited considering the manner in which much of the world fawns over the culture.
Oozing testosterone, Hip-Hop has maintained an ever-growing penchant for music of the misogynist sort, not unlike heavy metal of the '80s and '90s. Sexist, hateful lyrics towards women don't encompass the full scope of the music, but it has been a point of contention for one Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah, who turns 54 on January 29, 2007, has repeatedly insisted that she has no qualms with all Hip-Hop music, but loathes the sort that degrades women. No matter how the African American business woman states her case, Hip-Hop's many enthusiasts, conformists and artists like Ludacris, Ice Cube and 50 Cent can't seem to hear the logic in her words.
Why the Hip-Hop community remains upset with the billionaire media mogul is baffling to Gayle King, Winfrey's best friend and television personality in her own right.
"I really question the backlash, because Oprah's not trying to denigrate Hip-Hop, but she does make a valid point when she says the lyrics, calling women bitches and hoes, are not something she supports. She's hasn't painted Hip-Hop with one big brush," King tells AllHipHop.com. "She's just said that some of the lyrics have been problematic for her. That's all she's ever said. This has turned in to a big huge thing that isn't true. What she's against is lyrics that denigrate women and that's not a surprise."
However, various Hip-Hop artists have taken issue with Oprah and her perceived opinion of the music.
"I'm down here on the f**kin' bottom. I'm never going to sit on [Oprah's] f**kin' couch. It's never gonna happen," Atlanta rapper Killer Mike laments. "If Cube couldn't sit on there and Luda got attacked, what the f**k do I have to lose? Just tell the truth. She's never going to decide she likes me, [wants] to help me sell some f**king records."
On October 6, 2005, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show alongside cast members Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard to promote the thought-provoking movie Crash. He was taken aback when he found himself in a discussion about the N-word and raunchy rap lyrics, as opposed to conversation on the award-winning film about race relations. On the show, he appeared muted, but publicly stated later that his real responses were edited out of the televised version of The Oprah Winfrey Show.
"Oprah is Oprah. She ain't got to put n***as on the show if she don't want to. Look at all the f***ed up s**t that we're doing. If I was her, I'd only put John Legend and Kanye [West] on my show," says The Game, a Compton-based, platinum selling artist. "We got stories, but there are other shows that can tell our stories. She's made billions of dollars doing what she gotta do. I agree with."
These days, King and Winfrey both listen to Kanye West, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige and some 50 Cent and a few others within Hip-Hop's diverse culture. "I listen to some Hip-Hop. I've been accused of not liking Hip-Hop and that's just not true," Oprah said last year on New York City radio station Power 105.1. "I got a little 50 [Cent] in my iPod. I really do. I like 'In Da Club.' Have you heard the beat to 'In Da Club'? Love that, love Jay-Z, love Kanye, love Mary J. Mary J. is one of my friends."
Yet soon after, Ludacris openly condemned Oprah for her show's editing tactics and angst towards rappers. Ice Cube came out against the media mogul as well.
In the July 2006 issue of FHM, Cube said, "She's had damn rapists, child molesters and lying authors on her show. And if I'm not a rags-to-riches story for her, who is?"
But, does Oprah Winfrey owe anything to the Hip-Hop community?
"I have a problem with the fact that she has her audience and doesnt show the love to Hip-Hop that much," Nas says from Def Jam's offices, but also acknowledges that Oprah supporters have a point. "All respect to Luda, but how could she put him on the show if he's singing 'Move b***h get out the way,' [and] 'I got hoes in different area codes?' I don't understand that. But then Luda has a point too, he's got something to say. Ice Cube has something to say."
Oprah's supporters, regardless of the color, have asserted that the musical history of these rappers automatically causes friction. Both Cube and Ludacris have evolved into more mature individuals in their cinematic and civic accomplishments. Cube has starred in a number of popular, mainstream family films, while Luda regularly commits his time and money to charitable causes. Both artists have a duality wrought in negativity. Ice Cube, now a married family man, dubbed himself "the b***h killa" in the early '90s, and used the derogatory term to describe the women he encountered in South Central Los Angeles. Luda's lyrics have generally been more playful even if the content indulges in the sexually explicit. Both, topics are areas of discomfort for "O."
Oprah Winfrey is worth an estimated $1.5 billion and has gone forward to conquer nearly every frontier possible for a person in televised entertainment. Her show is transmitted in over 130 countries; she has the number one talk show in history, and is beloved by an estimated 26 million people who watch her show daily. She's won dozens of Emmy Awards, has honors as an actor and has extended her brand into plays, books, magazines, internet, and more. Additionally, the Chicago resident has been a consummate philanthropist, volunteer and unwavering women's rights advocate. And those credits don't even begin to quantify the range of her achievements. So why the backlash?
Despite her remarkable resume, her claims of liking some Hip-Hop music, and the explanations of her best friend and her supporters, Winfrey continues to come under fire by rappers like Killer Mike. The Georgia rapper has released a track called "That's Life," a contemptuous song about the presumed ignorance of upper class about the lower class' struggle. The Oprah issue is the cornerstone of the song.
"The fat b***h singing show[s] Oprah in opera, leader of the rap crack pack, I'm Sinatra, They say I dissed Oprah, I'm like so what /I'll never get to jump up and down on the sofa / Now, watch me as I "cruise" through the slums like Tom / Where the education's poor and the children [are] going dumb /In the section of the city where 'soditties [rich people] don't come / Where Mr. Cosby and Ms. Winfrey won't come / Unless its a hurricane and FEMA won't come / Coming live from the city where the dreamer [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] came from / Standing on the same city that he stood upon..."
The song not only chastises Winfrey, Bill Cosby and conservative talking head Bill O'Reilly, it conveys a poignant message - albeit abrasive - about the haves and the have-nots, the causes of negative behavior in the ghetto and why he's so infuriated. Like many rappers, the Kosciusko, Mississippi native grew up poor, survived abuse but also managed to defy the odds.
"I want people to understand, I ain't just going at Oprah," Killer Mike said en route to Houston after a speaking engagement in New York City. "I ain't sit in my house and just say, 'My wife won't cook for me. I'm gonna diss Oprah,'"
Mike contends that Winfrey does little to counterbalance many of the negatives that might be seen on her shows. He even charged that Oprah has unwittingly helped further the stereotypical notion of women in Hip-Hop. "By putting Superhead on your f**kin' show, you have told every single [person watching] that is what a Black women that listens to rap does."
Elon D. Johnson, TV producer and seasoned journalist, has chronicled the culture for the likes of VIBE, XXL and The Source argues rappers are missing the point as to why Hip-Hop hasn't been represented on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
In response to Killer Mike's comments, Johnson incredulously asks, "Why is he so mad at Oprah? Since when has she been branded with the 'save Hip-Hop or save your career' tattoo? Why is she even on his agenda? Why, all of a sudden, some rappers have bought this 'buying the Brooklyn Bridge' idea that Oprah owes them something is inane."
"Bottom line. Oprah is a women's lifestyle talk show. To so indignantly suggest that any rapper - never mind the ones intermittently spewing venomous misogynistic lyrics - is entitled to a place on a daytime women's talk show, well, that seems just over a tad bit foolish," Johnson continues. "It's not necessarily the format for the genre given the audience. That's what late night, MTV, BET, FUSE and a slew of other music networks are there for."
Atlanta-based artist Young Jeezy suggested that the gap between the street-wise sentiments of rap and Winfrey's largely female audience is too wide to bridge. However, should O deem it, she could analyze why rappers rap as they do.
"I don't think she understands. She don't understand our reality. Our reality is her nightmare and I can understand that. Sometimes you get to the point where you don't have to deal with the riff raff," Young Jeezy tells AllHipHop.com. "At the end of the day, she's Oprah. She's the gatekeeper and she can make the other people understand why we act the way we act. Supposedly, she came from that. Dealing with us is like dealing with shit you have left behind. She's doing Oprah and that's cool."
The reality is, the topic is bigger than Hip-Hop, as dead prez once rapped prophetically. Beneath the shallow surface lie issues that extend beyond mere music and television. There are matters of class, male/female relationships, money and societal validation that come with appearing on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Furthermore, the abuse women take in music on a commercial level is of concern to Hip-Hop devotees as well as Winfrey and King, but most of those voices go unheard.
Earlier in January, Oprah revealed her plan for South African girls, but she found that she was receiving criticism from a more mainstream place. She erected a $40 million all-female school in South Africa, a noble deed indeed, but in an interview with USA Today, the billionaire admitted she "failed" in her efforts to help American youth.
"I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going,'' she said in a separate Newsweek story: "If you ask the kids what they want or need, they say an iPod or some sneakers.''
If anything should change in America, people like Winfrey, Cosby and others are necessary, with their wealth of knowledge, financial strength and popular clout. As previously reported, the graduation rate for Detroit was 21.7%; Baltimore offered 38.5% in 2005. New York's graduation rate has plummeted to 32.8% in June of 2006. Within and outside of Hip-Hop, kids are bombarded with images of a sen nature, overt materialism, instant success and produces that defer that which is in their best interests. While some question those stats, its irrefutable that our youth need a patient, relatable source of help.
As for Killer Mike, Oprah's fiercest detractor, when he's not working on music, he's speaking to high school kids and acting as a motivational speaker for adults.
"I'm passionate about what I believe in. The knowledge I had, I paid for. I decided that I could take that and help other people," says Mike, a former student at the prestigious Morehouse College in Atlanta. "As far as somebody that speaks in front of people, I've been doing that since I was 15 [and being] the national spokesperson for and organization in high school."
Killer Mike and Oprah seek the same thing and Nas concurs the time has come for a balanced attack upon the ills that plague urban America.
"We have to play both sides because America is open for all of us to do what we have to do. Oprah is fighting her fight in her way, Nas fights his fight his way," Nas says. We shouldnt let the B.S. get in between it."
Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey has some mysterious plans for the Hip-Hop community, but insiders like King are tight-lipped about it. "She has some ideas...and I'm not going to tell," Gayle King concludes.
As for Oprah's plan for Hip-Hop, only the future holds whether or not those ideas will come to fruition.
Believe it or not, Oprah Winfrey and Hip-Hop have grown in strength and influence in ways that are quite parallel (and others that clearly are not).
If unity happens - for the betterment of disillusioned and disenfranchised American kids - it will be welcome.