In a column (“Hip-hop culture is root of NFL violence”) published in The Kansas City Star on Feb. 3, writer Jason Whitlock asserts that there is a link between rap lyrics and the recent rash of violent offenses committed by NFL players. Whitlock theorizes that rap music causes criminal behavior, legitimizes drug dealing, and leads players to hang out in large entourages. Yo, playa, people of all cultures were doing these things long before hip-hop achieved global appeal.
It is no secret that Whitlock has built his career on being controversial and shocking. However, with this sucka move, he dangerously crosses the lines of integrity, accountability, and responsible journalism.
Journalists are taught never to buy into stereotypes, yet Whitlock went on a shopping spree. He generalizes that all young black male athletes listen to hip-hop music. How does he know what most athletes listen to? Has he conducted a survey? How does he know what Carolina Panther Rae Carruth and his buddies listened to when they allegedly planned his girlfriend’s killing?
Professional football is a violent sport. Perhaps the root of NFL violence is that players are being paid millions of dollars to hurt and maim their fellow man just to get a ball across a line. That must have a tremendous effect on the human psyche, both on and off the field. This, coupled with the fact that Americans have always glorified violence, is a toxic combination. Blaming art for society’s ills is not only wrong and stupid but also cowardly. Whitlock’s condemning hip-hop enrolls him in the school of thought that includes those who blamed Marilyn Manson’s music for the Columbine incident.
Violence has been around since the beginning of mankind. In the Bible, Cain killed Abel, committing what was supposedly the world’s first murder. What the hell was Cain listening to that made him commit this violent act: God humming in the clouds?
On the issue of urban violence, black-on-black crime has been around a lot longer than rap music. In 1975, Ebony magazine published a special issue stating that black-on-black violence was a critical problem in the black community. Following Whitlock’s flawed logic, I guess you can blame those violent times on Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Isaac Hayes — all of whom were at their musical peaks in that era.
Whitlock claims he is qualified to defame hip-hop by stating that he freelances for Vibe magazine. He is listed as a contributor, but according to their editorial and payroll departments, he has written only one article for the music rag — a sports profile on Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson. This hardly justifies boasting an extensive background in hip-hop.
I was raised on hip-hop, and I built my career on it. I began writing professionally as a teenager for The Kansas City Globe. Then I wrote for the newspaper at Morehouse College in Atlanta before transferring to UMKC and wrecking shop at the U-News, where I wrote the area’s first hip-hop column. I wrote my first music review for PitchWeekly on May 6, 1993. My initial cover story for the publication on March 10, 1994, was the first comprehensive examination of the local hip-hop scene.
I produced hip-hop shows in Kansas City for Black Expo USA during a time when almost every venue in town hung “No rappers allowed” signs. I’ve freelanced for The Source, the hip-hop bible, for the past two years, and I have moonlighted for other hip-hop magazines and Web sites. There was no way I could sit back and let such a hack attack this culturally rich lifestyle.
The most damaging element of Whitlock’s off-base remarks is that a large percentage of people outside the hip-hop movement already perceive rap music and hip-hop culture negatively. His remarks give them an excuse to justify their condemnation of the culture.
As critically acclaimed writer Nelson George writes in his award- winning book, Hip Hop America:, “Unlike so many other underground cultural expressions, hip-hop has managed to remain vital, abrasive, and edgy for two decades. The culture’s connection to the African-American working and underclass, people usually without a media voice, enables it to communicate dreams and emotions that make outsiders feel uncomfortable.”
Whitlock feeds into the fears many have of hip-hop, failing to explain that when you talk about the culture, you are talking about the original rappers: African griots (storytellers); poets, such as Langston Hughes; sports figures with the stature of Muhammad Ali; activists, such as The Watts Prophets; contemporary rappers, such as Mos Def; and a host of other influential artists who elevate the culture.
George writes, “While hip-hop’s values are by and large fixed — its spirit of rebellion, identification with street culture, materialism, and aggression — it is also an incredibly flexible tool of communication, quite adaptable to any number of messages.”
Not all rap music endorses the criminal lifestyle, as Whitlock suggested. “Gangsta” rap, which is a faux term created by folk outside the culture, represents only a small percentage of the hip-hop nation. The culture is vast and diverse, just like real life.
The mainstream media, who regularly attack black culture, never report on the positive aspects of the culture. Last year Jay-Z donated the proceeds from his Denver, Colo., concert to the families of students killed in the Columbine incident. Lauryn Hill regularly supports the African-American community with her Refugee Project, and bad boy Sean “Puffy” Combs hooks up young Harlem residents with college scholarships.
Rap is relevant to the youth culture today, and hip-hop is enjoying unprecedented international appeal. If it were the root of evil Whitlock claims it to be, then why haven’t widespread global mayhem and destruction erupted because of the music’s powerful influence?
Whitlock may admit that he is embarrassed by hip-hop, but as a fellow writer, I’m embarrassed by his asinine assumptions. Denouncing an entire culture based on the senseless acts of a few spoiled athletes who have problems deeper than any art form could have created is senseless.
This divisive column was an example of irresponsible writing, archaic ideology, and a columnist so desperate for attention that he is willing to fudge facts, sell his people out, and embarrass a culture that thrives in positivity the majority of the time. Whitlock’s comments have earned him a place in the Uncle Tom Hall of Fame with his “yes-a-massah” attitude.
But then again, how seriously can you take the comments of a man who held up signs while at work in the press box that called an opposing team’s quarterback a homosexual? Or a man who writes for a paper that ran a photo of serial killer John Wayne Gacy in support of National Clown Week? I wonder what kind of music Gacy preferred.
Contact Shawn Edwards at 816-218-6778 or firstname.lastname@example.org.