February 28, 2003

Hip Hop VS. Pepsi – New Movement Must Go Beyond Old-Style Politics

By Shani Jackson
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

Last week, hip hop scored a moral victory when Pepsi caved into a boycott threat from the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). The threat started after the soda maker pulled a commercial featuring the rapper Ludacris, and dropped after Pepsi promised to partner with the Ludacris Foundation and the Simmons Rush Arts Foundation to support creative inner-city communities.

Pepsi pulled Ludacris from their ads in response to TV pundit Bill O’Reilly’s on-air threat to boycott Pepsi for featuring such a vulgar rapper as a Pepsi spokesperson. But Pepsi replaced Ludacris with smut-mouth rocker and former bat-eater Ozzie Osbourne. HSAN and Russell Simmons’ foundation riled the troops and threatened a boycott, terming the “boycott to be” a “Campaign for Respect” and claiming Pepsi’s decision to pull Ludacris signaled disrespect for hip-hop culture.

Personally, as a young black woman, I wasn’t planning to stop getting my daily dose of Diet Pepsi because of HSAN’s request. I think before we call on Pepsi to respect our hip-hop culture and artists, we must show that we respect ourselves.

HSAN seems to me a lot like the NAACP, the organization that HSAN’s current president, Minister Benjamin (Chavis) Muhammed, used to head. And that would make hip-hop politics as irrelevant as civil-rights politics are to a majority of Black people today.

The NAACP has not addressed issues of housing, education and the criminal justice system. Its most recent campaigns involved getting more Black actors in Hollywood and removing the Confederate flag from Southern capitals. The organization pays scant attention to youth culture.

The HSAN boycott campaign sounded to me like an old-school, civil-rights style money-grab, not a real campaign for respect.

As a Black woman, disrespect greets me on the radio every day, especially now, when I hear songs like “Ignition-Remix” bumping out of every speaker. That’s the latest hit from R. Kelly, whose new album “Chocolate Factory” hit stores in mid-February.

As a reminder, R. Kelly is on parole, on trial, and still getting arrested on charges of child pornography. Yet in “Ignition,” Kelly is crooning — rather infectiously — all about sex. “Girl, please let me stick my key in your ignition, babe, so I can get this thing started and get rollin’, babe. See, I’ll be doin’ about 80 on your freeway; girl, I won’t stop until I drive you crazy.”

Hip-hop culture seems to be OK with this. I am not concerned, for now, with R. Kelly’s guilt or innocence. It’s the stupidity and disrespect that would allow a man who is on trial for sex-related charges to release a song so sexually charged.

Is this happening because Universal Records, the biggest music company in the world and Kelly’s employer, needs to get paid in this down economy? Or is it the lure of celebrity, even infamy, which out-weighs the risks of jeopardizing one’s own trial?

Another campaign with the right intention, but getting less attention, is the “Turn Off The Radio” effort by politically conscious rappers such as Chuck D of Public Enemy. Turn Off The Radio, in an open letter to the Black community, describes the airwaves that young people listen to as “filled with music and comments that express only negative, violent and denigrating ideas, creating a destructive emotional climate in the Black community.” The campaign targets the stations most youths listen to, and was set to start the day R. Kelly’s new CD came out, Feb 18.

So HSAN and Russell Simmons, I appreciate the attempt to bridge hip hop and politics. And I congratulate you on your “win.” But if commercially driven radio stations play only violent and sexually charged hip hop, and disregard hip hop with positive messages, I wonder if hip hop as a community got respect — or if it went only to Russell Simmons, Ludacris, and Ludacris’ label (Def Jam, under the Universal label and founded by Simmons).

If the Hip Hop Movement is going to be different from current civil rights organizations and leadership, it isn’t getting off to a good start.

Jackson, 26, is a contributing editor to YO! Youth Outlook (www.youthoutlook.org).

Return to the Frontpage