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Sunday, December 24, 2006

A limited conversation

Sally Ryan for The New York Times

James Marble, 17, center, watches “Beyond Beats
and Rhymes,” a documentary film by Byron Hurt,
at a screening in Chicago.

Fan Asks Hard Questions About Rap Music

Published: December 24, 2006

CHICAGO — Byron Hurt takes pains to say that he is a fan of hip-hop, but over time, says Mr. Hurt, a 36-year-old filmmaker, dreadlocks hanging below his shoulders, “I began to become very conflicted about the music I love.”

Byron Hurt is showing his film at high schools and colleges.

A new documentary by Mr. Hurt, “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes,” questions the violence, degradation of women and homophobia in much of rap music.

Scheduled to go on the air in February as part of the PBS series Independent Lens, the documentary is being shown now at high schools, colleges and Boy’s Clubs, and in other forums, as part of an unusual public campaign sponsored by the Independent Television Service, which is based in San Francisco and helped finance the film.

The intended audiences include young fans, hip-hop artists and music industry executives — black and white — who profit from music and videos that glorify swagger and luxury, portray women as sex objects, and imply, critics say, that education and hard work are for suckers and sissies.

What concerns Mr. Hurt and many black scholars is the domination of the hip-hop market by more violent and sexually demeaning songs and videos — an ascendancy, the critics say, that has coincided with the growth of the white audience for rap and the growing role of large corporations in marketing the music.

Ronald F. Ferguson, a black economist and education expert at Harvard, said that the global success of hip-hop had had positive influences on the self-esteem of black youths but that children who became obsessed with it “may unconsciously adopt the themes in this music as their lens for viewing the world.”

With the commercial success of gangsta rap and music videos, which portray men as extravagant thugs and women as sex toys, debate has simmered among black parents, community leaders and scholars about the impact of rap and the surrounding hip-hop culture.

“There’s a conversation going on now; a lot more people are trying to figure out a way to intervene that’s productive,” said Tricia Rose, a professor of Africana studies at Brown University.

At one extreme are critics, both black and white, who put primary blame for the failures and isolation of urban black youth on a self-destructive subculture, exemplified by the worst of hip-hop. But many of those critics, Dr. Rose said, fail to acknowledge the deeper roots of the problems. At the other extreme are people who reflexively defend any artistic expression by young blacks, saying the focus must remain on the economic and political structures that hem in minorities.

“That’s the real catch,” Dr. Rose said. “The public conversation about hip-hop is pinned by two responses, neither of them productive.”

If you stoppedf treating Diddy and Jay-Z like heroes and demanded some accountabilty, this might not be the case.

Someone needs to tell these kids this music is a fantasy, it isn't their lives, will never be their lives.

posted by Steve @ 1:08:00 PM

1:08:00 PM

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