“You may remember a couple years ago that Pepsi hired gansta (sic) rapper Ludacris as a commercial pitchman. [I] objected, saying major American corporations have an obligation not to reward people who harmed society…Unlike Ozzy Osbourne, who curses, or Britney Spears, who’s an immature exhibitionist, Ludacris is hard-core. He glorifies criminal conduct, and kids hear this stuff.”—Bill O’Reilly, 2004.
It didn’t matter that Ludacris had mostly been known to hip-hop and cross-over pop audiences as a comic rapper, an exaggeration of a cartoon character. It didn’t matter that Ozzy Osbourne had fucked up kids, two of whom went to rehab (Jack in 2003, Kelly in 2004), and that Britney Spears brought trucker hats and bald vaginas into style. No, it was Ludacris who was the villain.
For years, Fox News and its compatriots have waged war against both Urban America and Black America, using the term ‘hip-hop’ as an automatic condemnation, a scare tactic on a television network that manufactures fear between commercials. Forget the system of police pat-downs and profiling, of living without hope; it’s the hip-hop music that supposedly inspires crime. Any thinking person realizes that almost all rappers are caricatured; Rick Ross is the embodiment—that being said, Fox News commentators speak as if they have rocks for heads. By their logic (what it is), being a rapper is synonymous with gangster, making ‘gangster rapper’ redundant. (That Fox News and the New York Post tend to call every black male singer a “rapper”—Akon, Sean Kingston, Chris Brown—which further speaks to their racial politics.)
Oh so recently, Common was the talk of the talking heads, being billed as “controversial”—something that Common has decidedly not been, at least for the past ten years—because he had performed at the White House and at one time had written about guns. Two weeks ago, President Obama’s birthday party was referred to as a “Hip-Hop BBQ,” despite it being overwhelmingly attended by black non-rappers and many more rich white people.
It’s nothing new. As O’Reilly has repeatedly opened his mouth, rappers’ names—50 Cent, Nas, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco—have somehow made their way in. He called Young Jeezy’s “My President is Black” offensive; Eminem, “vile.” O’Reilly has tried to get rappers kicked off of college campuses and corporate gigs and suggested that Snoop be deported. (This was after Snoop had posted a video to the Internet in which he put a lit blunt next to a picture of Obama.) The most transparent rendition of Bill O’Reilly’s philosophy is within his conversation (ha) with Rev Run, in which he says (while speaking of Nelly—Nelly!—in 2003), “What I have to do is what I think is right, and I think gangsta rap is wrong.”
(This is a good as spot as any to point out that national violent-crime and property-crime statistics are at their lowest point in quite some time, and that hip-hop has never been more mainstream than it is right now.)
There’s far more nuance to hip-hop than just cold-blooded warfare, but I suppose it’s easy to explain away a culture in one line. If Bill O’Reilly and his ilk want to condense hip-hop down to black and white terms, in which it’s all guns and drugs and bitches and hoes and no regret, then I’d love to hear what they all have to say about Fox News’ own Mike Huckabee’s performance at this weekend’s Iowa Straw Poll.
At the 7:00 mark of this video, Mike Huckabee, the former governor and current Bible-toting dinosaur apologist, picked up a bass and joined the band Nada under Tim Pawlenty’s tent. While standing in front of a crowd of Republican voters, at a family-friendly carnival that kids were dragged to, Mike Huckabee and Nada covered Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”—the classic country song that includes the line, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”
Mike Huckabee pays no mind to the unbelievably casual gun violence that Cash drawls. He bobs his head, driving along the bassline, no stop, no pause, no extended Bill O’Reilly harangue.
Johnny Cash was a drinker and a drug user, with several misdemeanors under his belt. One of his car crashes started a large-scale forest fire and he was subsequently sued by the federal government. (He was unapologetic.) He cheated on his wife. He sang about guns, he sang about violence. (He also sang about love, about loss, about faith.) Johnny Cash performed at the White House, numerous times, without a problem.
It’s amazing how selectively Fox News and its followers pick their battles. They can drum up war in foreign lands, they can excuse deaths of other skin colors. They can sign up everyone for the NRA and chain themselves to the Second Amendment fences. They can sing Johnny Cash and Ted Nugent, play Call of Duty 4. But as soon as a black man talks about holding a gun, then it’s something scary, something entirely different.
I never—never—want to hear Fox News complain about how hip-hop is too violent, ever again. It is coded racism, and it is not right.