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Controversial rapper lyrics prompts experts to say not all hip-hop is offensive

by Jillian Singh
Jun 4, 2013

rev. julian

 Image courtesy Adam Jabari Jefferson

Pastor Julian “J. Kwest” DeShazier

Related Links

First video from Verbal Kwest's album, Batman & Batman, published on YouTube Oct. 7, 2011Lupe Fiasco's music video for "Bitch Bad," published on YouTube Aug. 23, 2012

William Roberts (a.k.a "Rick Ross”) official statement a day after being dropped by Reebok:

"Before I am an artist, I am a father, a son, and a brother to some of the most cherished women in the world. So for me to suggest in any way that harm and violation be brought to a woman is one of my biggest mistakes and regrets. As an artist, one of the most liberating things is being able to paint pictures with my words. But with that comes a great responsibility.

And most recently, my choice of words was not only offensive, it does not reflect my true heart. And for this, I apologize. To every woman that has felt the sting of abuse, I apologize. I recognize that as an artist I have a voice and with that, the power of influence. To the young men who listen to my music, please know that using a substance to rob a woman of her right to make a choice is not only a crime, it's wrong and I do not encourage it. To my fans, I also apologize if I have disappointed you. I can only hope that this sparks a healthy dialogue and that I can contribute to it."

In the wake of rapper Rick Ross removing his controversial lyrics referring to date rape from Rocko’s song “U.O.E.N.O.,” a Chicago-based hip-hop artist and reverend would like to remind the public that not all hip-hop promotes themes of degradation and violence.

The Rev. Julian “J. Kwest” DeShazier, by night a hip-hop artist, said rap often gets a bad reputation because the most vulgar material gets the most publicity.

“The bottom line is money,” said DeShazier who, by day, is senior pastor of University Church in Hyde Park. “Some rappers will create whatever content they can to move towards that. I don’t think it comments on the character of the artists so much as how willing they are to end their principles to make money.”

In “U.O.E.N.O.,” released Feb. 16, Ross referred to the drug MDMA in powder or crystalline form that is also known as Molly. He rapped, “Put Molly all in her champagne, she ain't even know it, I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain't even know it.”

Reebok terminated its relationship with spokesman Ross on April 11 after opposition from a number of organizations, including anti-sexism collective UltraViolet, which garnered nearly 100,000 signatures.

DeShazier, 29, said while there are hip-hop artists willing to compromise their artistic and personal integrity, with the more outrageous content being the most talked about, this same content will be more likely to occur.

Rickerby Hinds, associate professor of playwriting at University of California, Riverside, said “educational and respectful hip-hop is pushed to the wayside by companies whose bottom line is to be played on the radio.

“Presently, the means are to keep the n-word front and center, to portray black men as gangsters, pimps and killers and to turn women into prostitutes, baby-mamas or opportunists,” said Hinds, who is the creator of the Califest Hip-Hop Theatre Festival. “Lupe Fiasco's ‘Little Weapon’ is an amazingly educational, respectful, profound record that never has, and probably never will receive an airplay. Why?”

DeShazier, who has released albums as a solo artist as well as a member of the rap duo Verbal Kwest, said: “There are a slew of hip-hop artists who don’t compromise their values. But they aren’t publicized as much because the current state of the industry doesn’t have much room for that.”

“Rap is the evolution of street language given form and those messages, often of murder, drug abuse, and misogyny of the inner-city and minority groups, have not been well received by the wider society,” said Eric Montgomery, who specializes in hip-hop culture and aesthetics.

“There is an uncomfortable feeling when wider society is confronted with the things, people and places that are often ignored,” Montgomery said. “Rap brought these issues into the bedrooms of small town and upper class America.”

Liz Marcus, 23, a resident of Watsonville, Calif., said the topic of women and rap is especially touchy.

“On the one hand, women are definitely objectified in many rap songs,” said Marcus, who is a hip-hop enthusiast. “This is not something to stay quiet about or sweep under the rug, but when people write about hip hop, there are usually undertones of racism, classism and personal bias. Rap has always been an easy target for upper middle class white people to point a finger and say ‘they are so crude, or they are so sexist, materialistic, etc.’ ”

Montgomery said rap can be respectful by paying homage and being proactive. Rap gives a voice to the voiceless and there are artists, like Murs and Frank Ocean, who have made space to discuss things such as homosexuality and biracial dating.

“On one hand by its nature rap is meant to be disrespectful,” Montgomery said. “It feeds on the angst of a generation that was marginalized and does everything in its nature to rebel. I believe this is why a lot of the rap music that's produced embraces stereotypes.”

Marcus said that just like any genre, there are “many homophobes, racists, sexists and all around idiots in hip-hop.”

“I think some exceptions to this stereotype are Lupe Fiasco, who is an amazing lyricist and always respects women, Talib Kweli, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, who is a devout Muslim and feminist, Lauryn Hill and Zion I,” Marcus said.

Montgomery said because the hip-hop market has so much crass music, it makes it difficult for the public to decipher what’s worth its attention.

“I think the easiest thing to do is find out what's trending in the social media,” Montgomery said. “The Internet has become a viable place for rap artists to be experimental and push the boundaries. It's important that we support good rap music because much of what we hear on the radio is based on our listening habits.”