Before greeting me, a progressive radio show host commented on my jacket. He informed me that it was manufactured by a company that exploited child labor. I’m sure that if you were to take an inventory of all of the products with which you came in contact during the day, from your morning cup of coffee to the pajamas you put on at night, you’d be cooperating with companies that use unscrupulous labor practices to get their goods to the market.
For an article I wrote for Alta magazine, published by William Hearst III, I interviewed two Hip Hop experts, Dave “Davey D” Cook, who hosts a Pacifica radio Hip Hop show, and Jeff Chang, co-authors of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop (Young Adult Edition): A Hip-Hop History.
Hip Hop is based on “toasts,” a form of signifying and boasting. It’s a form that favors rhymed couplets. It appeared around 1912 but possibly has West African roots. One can detect the origins of Hip Hop in the Yoruba story, Igbo Olodumare (“The Forest of God”), about hunters on a quest. During their journey, they drop proverbs of the kind that Ari is constantly quoting from Rappers, usually trite and fatuous. There is even singing. One character sings so beautifully that it is said in the text that his voice was touched by god (Olodumare = “owner of the heavens”) himself.
A modern version of “toasts,” Hip Hop began as Bronx house party entertainment. Hip Hop added a beat to the old form using sophisticated audio equipment. It started as a musical and storytelling method that united Black and Latino gangs in the Bronx. According to Cook and Chang, Afrika Bambaataa and others exported Hip Hop to the downtown arts scene, and from there, it went global.
It has served as an audio glue for youth worldwide, a way to express themselves. Davey D released a CD confirming Hip Hop’s role in stirring the “Arab Spring.”
But Hip Hop has a commercial side. A product to be promoted like other products, some of which are toxic. A musical form that entertained Bronx teenagers has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Some of it encourages violence and bigotry. And like the products relying on cheap labor, a few at the top thrive while those at the bottom engage in fierce competition over drug and music turfs. As a result of Spotify and other streaming services distributing music for free, even the rich Hip Hoppers have seen a decline in sales. With the pandemic, tours have been limited. Some have made millions of dollars selling software, others, like Kanye West, fashion.
Though Hip Hop has produced poetry as good as that one finds in anthologies–I printed Dead Prez lyrics in my poetry anthology From Totems To Hip Hop,–other vocals sound like gun manufacturers wrote them. Indeed some Hip Hop concerts resemble carnivals of death. When “Lil Wayne” performed in Oakland, two people were murdered at the after-parties.
For the Alta magazine assignment, I examined the list of Hip Hoppers who’d been murdered. The list was so lengthy that I found it shocking. It seems to be growing weekly.
So I’m wondering whether the middle-aged media and academic elite members realize that when they promote this product, quoting lyrics as though they were nuggets of wisdom, which Ari Melber embarrasses himself daily by quoting, they are endorsing music that can be positive but has a dark lethal side. One that is producing mayhem. A product that makes few Pepsi-Cola-sponsored stars.
Hip Hop legend Ice-T calls Rapping, a form of Hip Hop, “the most dangerous occupation.” The statistics bear him out.
Not to say that Hip Hop is incapable of producing talent, even genius, but Ari views the talented and the talentless as interchangeable. Can Ari Melber distinguish between the excellent artistry of Erykah Badu and the material that he is constantly quoting? Does Melber know that some of those he promotes leave a trail of carnage when they tour? Or does he care? He’s opposed to gun violence, but seldom mentions the gun violence connected with Hip Hop.
This list shows the extent of the mayhem.
Scott La Rock August 27, 1987 Age 25
New York City, New York, U.S. Shot and killed
Paul C, July 17, 1987, Age 24, New York City, New York, U.S. Shot and killed
D-Boy Rodriguez October 6, 1990 Age 22, Dallas, Texas, U.S. Shot and killed
Charizma December 16, 1993 Age 20, Milpitas, California, U.S. Shot and killed
Stretch November 30, 1995 Age 27, New York City, New York, U.S. Shot and killed
Seagram July 31, 1996 Age 26, Oakland, California, U.S. Shot and killed
Tupac Shakur September 13, 1996 Age 25, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. Shot and killed
Yaki Kadafi November 10, 1996 Age 19, Orange, New Jersey, U.S. Shot and killed
The Notorious B.I.G. March 9, 1997 Age 24, Los Angeles, California, U.S. Shot and killed
Fat Pat February 3, 1998 Age 27, Houston, Texas, U. S. Shot and killed
Big L February 15, 1999 Age 24, New York City, New York, U.S. Shot and killed
Freaky Tah March 28, 1999 27, New York City, New York, U.S. Shot and killed
Bugz May 21, 1999 Age 21 Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S. Shot and run over
D.J. Uncle Al September 10, 2001 Age 32, Miami, Florida, U.S. Shot and killed
Jam Master Jay October 30, 2002 Age 37, New York City, New York, U.S. Shot and killed
Sabotage January 24, 2003 Age 29, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil Shot and killed
Camouflage May 19, 2003 Age 21, Savannah, Georgia, U.S. Shot and killed
Half a Mill October 24, 2003 Age 30, New York City, New York, U.S. Shot and killed
Soulja Slim November 26, 2003 Age 26, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. Shot and killed
Mac Dre November 1, 2004 Age 34, Kansas City, Missouri, U.S. Shot and killed
Blade Icewood April 19, 2005 Age 28, Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Shot and killed
Proof April 11, 2006 Age 32, Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Shot and killed
Big Hawk May 1, 2006 Age 36, Houston, Texas, U.S. Shot and killed
VL Mike April 20, 2008 Age 32, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. Shot and killed
Dolla May 18, 2009 Age 21, Los Angeles, California, U.S. Shot and killed
Lele July 1, 2010 Age 23, Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico Shot and killed
Magnolia Shorty December 20, 2010 Age 28, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. Shot and killed
Bad News Brown February 11, 2011, Age 33 Montreal, Quebec, Canada Murdered
Adán Zapata June 1, 2012 Age 21, San Nicolás, Nuevo León, México, Shot and killed
Lil Phat June 7, 201 Age 19, Sandy Springs, Georgia, U.S. Shot and killed
MC Daleste July 7, 2013 Age 20, Paulínia, São Paulo, Brazil Shot and killed
Pavlos Fyssas September 18, 2013 Age 34. Keratsini, Athens, Greece Stabbed to death
Depzman September 21, 2013 Age 18, Birmingham, West Midlands, England, Stabbed to death
Doe B December 28, 2013 Age 22, Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. Shot and killed
The Jacka February 2, 2015 Age 37, Oakland, California, U.S. Shot and killed
Flabba March 9, 2015 Age 37, Alexandra, Gauteng, South Africa, Stabbed to death
Chinx Drugz May 17, 2015 Age 31, New York City, New York, U.S. Shot and killed
Bankroll Fresh March 4, 2016 Age 28, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Shot and killed
3-2 November 10, 2016 Age 44, Houston, Texas, U.S Shot and killed
XXX Tentacion June 18, 2018 Age 20, Deerfield Beach, Florida, U.S. Shot and killed
Jimmy Wopo June 18, 2018 Age 21, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Shot and killed
Smoke Dawg June 30, 2018 Age 21, Toronto, Ontario, Canada Shot and killed
Young Greatness October 29, 2018 Age 34, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. Shot and killed
Feis January 1, 2019 Age 32 Rotterdam, South Holland, Netherlands Shot and killed
Kevin Fret January 10, 2019 Age 25, Río Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico Shot and killed
Nipsey Hussle March 31, 2019, Age 33, Los Angeles, California, U.S. Shot and killed
Pop Smoke February 19, 2020, Age,20 Los Angeles, California, U.S. Shot and killed
Melber expresses his admiration for Lil Wayne. Maybe someone from the sales department told The Times and MSNBC that covering Hip Hop would woo readers and viewers from the Z generation. Ari’s Hip Hop guests know his knowledge of Black culture is thin, but they humor him. They want to sell their products and see an appearance on Ari’s show as an opportunity. Tiffany Cross knew Black culture, but she was fired without anybody from MSNBC sticking up for her, including Black ‘Splainer Ari.
Of course, the New York cognoscenti have been here before—admiring gangsters, whom they felt were leading edgy, exciting lives. In the 1960s, New York intellectuals admired Joey Gallo, a gangster. Ti-Grace Atkinson, the first president of the National Organization of Women, referred to Joseph A. Colombo Sr, an organized crime figure, as a “sister.”
So while Ari Melber lives dangerously, vicariously, the corpses pile up.
Reed’s play “ The Conductor,” about the Education wars, will open for a second run at the Theater for The New City. It will run from August 24-Sept 10. theaterforthenewcity.net