Hip Hop: Poetry or Pitiful?

Geraldo Rivera rips Kendrick Lamar's BET Award

Jyontae Jordan

“This is why I say Hip Hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years,” says Geraldo Rivera of Fox News. These comments are a direct response to a performance by Kendrick Lamar, dating all the way back to the BET awards in 2015. Performing popular single, “Alright,” a song seemingly intent on bringing hope to a damaged community, Geraldo has described the performance as “damaging” and “irresponsible.” Kendrick appears on stage on the hood of a damaged police car flocked by a crew of backup performers, loudly reciting that no matter what he, and the rest of the audience, will be “alright.” So why is a song seemingly so inspirational and uplifting such a bother to FOX News?

In a bit of context, “Alright” is the lead single for Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed 2015 album, To Pimp A Butterfly. The song revolves around topics of faith, religion and hope. The popular rapper frantically reminds the audience of his past struggles, including police brutality and gang violence, as well as the simple struggle of growing up in the city of Compton, CA. He goes on to say that despite his hardships, with his faith in God, he and anyone listening will make it through. The song, as well as the performance on BET, has been praised and lauded by critics and fans alike.

FOX News, specifically Geraldo, however, feel differently than most. Playing a clip of the performance live on national television they react to a line in the song where Lamar states, “and we hate po-po (police), wanna kill us dead in the streets for sure.” The entire team then paused the clip, and audibly sneered in derision at the line. Geraldo goes on to state the song, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, ignore the “central reality.” In his words, fueled by Hip-Hop music itself, young black Americans true problem is internal, violently conflicting among themselves and the police. “How about finishing high school, how about going to college?” He continues to rip into the black community, and Lamar’s controversial lyrics.

Days after the FOX News criticism, Lamar took to Twitter to post a video response. He states Geraldo is the one avoiding reality, which is that African Americans are mistreated, and that he simply has the confidence to be honest about it. He disregards Geraldo’s comments on his lyrics being “irresponsible” and claims his music is the brutal honesty this county ignores, yet desperately needs. “How can you take a message of hope and turn it into hate,” asks Kendrick Lamar towards the FOX News anchor. Lamar feels it is strange that Geraldo seemed to focus in and critique a single line from the song, instead of judging the song as a whole.

The conflict seemingly vanished moving forward into the remainder of 2015 and 2016. That changed earlier last month, as the struggle has been reignited. Sampling Geraldo’s comments on Hip Hop being self destructive several times throughout his new album, titled DAMN, he clearly has an issue to address. This all comes to a head on the album’s third track, “YAH” where Lamar name drops both Fox News and Geraldo directly. Stating that “Fox News wanna use my name for percentage,” which seems to suggest creating conflict with the rapper simply for commercial gains. He then takes a step forward, this time calling out Geraldo by name, saying “somebody tell Geraldo this n**** got some ambition.” The rest of the album contains subtle shots at the newscast team, as well. Unapologetic and bold, Lamar is relentless in his assault on FOX.

In a response to these jabs, Geraldo posted a 17-minute FaceBook video, stating he has “no beef with Kendrick Lamar.” He goes on to state he finds him to be very talented as an artist. In fact, he goes on to state that, alongside Drake (Aubrey Graham), he is the best hip-hop artist in today’s music world. He simply feels that Lamar’s lyrics, as well as Hip Hop as a whole, is “culturally destructive.” “Hip Hop is the worst role model. It’s the worst example. It’s the most negative message possible,” Geraldo boldly states. His views on what he considers to be “culture” for African Americans have baffled many, considering he himself seems to have no direct affiliation with the race or its culture. Some have gone as far as to label his comments as “ignorant” or just simply racist altogether.

The struggles between Hip Hop and the media, as well as the police, is nothing new whatsoever. In fact, these socially-conscious albums have been present for decades, becoming especially prevalent in the 80s. This came about due to the 1988 debut of legendary rap stable, NWA, and their album titled “Straight Outta Compton.” This album focused on several of community issues for blacks, such as police brutality. This helped to launch social commentary in Hip Hop to a larger, more mainstream scale, a trend followed by rappers such as Kendrick Lamar himself. It was extremely straightforward, unforgiving, and even borderline violent. Geraldo credited rap like this for created an “us against them” mentality between black youth and police.

The issues don’t end there. Since then, there have plenty of hip hop artists who have taken shots at the media, as well as police, topics which have been a staple of the genre. Take example, Kanye West, another hugely influential hip hop artist, and one of the most notable examples. During an interview on NBC in 2005, Kanye gives a long speech on the way the media twists images in order to make African Americans come off as less human than others, despite Louisiana being an area largely dominated by the aforementioned race. He then goes a step further, going entirely off script, says then-president George Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” It caused a massive amount of controversy, in a moment that is still discussed today. In addition to Kanye and Kendrick, several Hip Hop artists have expressed displeasure with media and police, such as Tupac Shakur, Lupe Fiasco, J. Cole, etc. The list goes on.

So the question is, how much truth is there to Geraldo’s claims? Is Hip Hop truly the wrong message for black youth? And if so, where would this leave hip hop artists such as Lamar, who has been labeled by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2016? He clearly has a huge fan following, as well as an impact on the community he speaks of so frequently. Is a celebrity of his platform and status damaging to the black community? Or is Lamar simply doing right by trying to prepare his audience for an imperfect justice system?

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