The Hiphop Soda Pop Shake-Up

Is Rap vs. Pepsi a New Step or 'Same Ole Two Step'?

HSAN's assertion that the cause of the soda pop face-off was disrespect rings true with New York Daily News critic-at-large, David Hinckley. "There's no doubt Hiphop is still incredibly disrespected and regarded with a mixture of ignorance and fear by much of the media world," says Hinckley. "I think a fair number of white kids and fans have some appreciation for Hiphop, because it's done a remarkable job of breaking down barriers—just as jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll did before. But that appreciation hasn't always trickled up to those who have access to print and broadcast media."

University of Southern California Professor Todd Boyd, the main academic advocating that Hiphop is the heir apparent of previous prehistorically black movements, says it's more than just misunderstanding. "It’s deeper than cultural insensitivity. It’s Pepsi responding to what they consider to be a strong constituency. Pepsi obviously feels that the audience for the O’Reilly show is a valuable audience and they don’t want to offend them, so they act in accordance with that. It’s market driven," says Boyd. "They ultimately decided that [O’ Reilly’s] audience was more important to them than the audience Ludacris represented. It’s market driven but at the same time there are some obvious racial connotations there that can’t be denied."

However, Boyd is uncertain if this action will become a major point along the timeline of Hiphop’s political development. "Let’s assume that they did boycott," says Boyd. "I don’t know how much ultimate difference it would make in the long run. What happened was something that needed to be addressed. First of all, O’Reilly shouldn’t have this much power. Secondly, Pepsi should either pay attention to what they do when they hire people to represent them or not cave in to what some asshole with a TV show has to say . . . I don’t know if the animosity that was suggested towards Pepsi indicates a new civil rights movement. It simply suggests that people in the Hiphop Generation have organized around an issue and were potentially ready to challenge that issue."

Activist Rosa Clemente of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement thinks that the whole debate is moot in the larger context of the socio-economic struggles of the Hiphop nation and in light of the basic implications of our government’s foreign and domestic policies. "Pepsi’s not the issue. Can we talk about domestic issues right in urban communities that affect the Hiphop generation?" asks Clemente. "We’re losing sight of that and our kids are suffering on the street. We’re under siege in our communities by the police. Brothers are getting shot and killed left and right and it's not making any type of news." Clemente thinks that if Hiphop is to boycott Pepsi, it should’ve been because the company hasn’t come out against the war, not because it dropped Ludacris.

Hinckley offers a similar observation. "I think there's some value in hip-hop activists asserting themselves and standing up for the art. It can't hurt to have them there. But the fact that a commercial endorsement lies at the heart of the particular controversy probably dilutes its impact," Hinckley speculates.

Simmons agrees that there are more important issues that challenge the Hiphop nation but asserts that in organizing a youth culture movement with limited resources, HSAN has not been able to tackle everything that it wants. "With young people you have to lead them with what you can get them to move on," says Simmons. "A campaign for respect is what [the confrontation] was about. It had nothing to do with Pepsi. It’s about respect and three more million dollars in the community was not bad. It’s payment for lack of respect."

Essentially most pundits assess the entire situation as ludicrous itself, especially O’Reilly’s demonizing Ludacris into the role of the Devil incarnate. "Ludacris to me is like a Mickey Mouse rapper," says Vibe magazine music editor Serena Kim, who is concerned that the action may not translate to anything meaningful on the grassroots level, which HSAN says it’s working to assure. "He’s not a danger or a menace to society." Simmons sees Ludacris as being about as harmful to society as the movie "Animal House."

"The whole context of hiphop, where it came from and the things it says, so far transcends the specific language of a line here or a song there," says Hinckley. "And an O'Reilly, of course, doesn't want to have the larger debate because he's experienced enough to know where his winning turf lies."

As for the where this dance is leading Hiphop, HSAN has moved on to joining the voices of opposition to war with Iraq and Simmons pledges that a portion of his gross revenues from his new beverage DEF CON 3 ("It’s a smart energy drink.") will fund the work of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network. In that respect Simmons has diverged from traditional empowerment models that seek to merge or influence existing power structures by creating his own. Even though the performance remains the same, political salvation lies in Hiphop gaining expertise in improvisation.

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