Russell Simmons recently fired back at controversial and ignorant journalist Geraldo Rivera. This isn’t the first time the “friends” have been at odds, as the Fox correspondent infamously said that Trayvon Martin’s hoodie was his cause of death, which led to backlash from the Def Jam founder. Now, Rivera is back with another outrageous comment that validates he’s just as disconnected from minority communities as ever.
“Hip-hop has done more damage to black and brown people than racism in the last 10 years. When you find the youngster, a Puerto Rican from the South Bronx or a black kid from Harlem, who has succeeded in life other than being the one-tenth of one-tenth of one percent that make it in the music business, that’s been a success in life walking around with his pants around his ass or with visible tattoos. Rivera also invoked Simmons’ name in the interview. “This whole ethos, and I love Russell Simmons he’s a dear friend of mine, I admire his business acumen at some point though, those guys need to cop to the fact that by encouraging this distinctive culture that is removed from the mainstream they have encouraged people to be so different from the mainstream that they can’t participate other than the racks in the garment center and those entry level jobs.” Geraldo Rivera
Let that sink in. You would think that a former Young Lords member, who rightfully caused ruckus all over NYC, would be sympathetic to the music that was born from the same oppression he fought against decades ago. Jay Z made headlines when he went to Oprah earlier this year and claimed that hip-hop has done more for racial relations than it’s given credit for. Ever since its creation, hip-hop has been a direct representation and the most brutally honest form genre of music. Since the late 70s, the tattoo filled image he criticizes has mirrored the same neighborhoods dealing with class and racial inequalities. Hip-hop, like any art form, is filled with hyper fantasies but reminds consumers to stay true to themselves. On the contrary, what message is Geraldo Rivera, a minority due to his descent (Hispanic) and religion (Jewish) giving to other minorities to be someone different than who they are?
In support of his argument, hip-hop culture is misogynistic and homophobic and does promote violence but these artists are telling their stories of witnessing and dealing with oppression their whole lives. Can we do better as a culture and community? Yes. But so can every other culture and genre of music you can make the same comparisons to rap and pop. For every Migos there’s a Mos Def, similar to how for every Miley Cyrus there’s a Taylor Swift. Each artist is a product of their environment, bringing their stories to life. If Miley Cyrus and Ke$ha can sing songs about their alcohol and drug filled Friday nights why can’t Migos and Chief Keef keep it real with their music too?
Look at successful financially stable hip-hop pioneers such as Jay Z and Dr. Dre, two artists who can act as motivation and inspiration for the youth that are a mirror image of themselves in the early 90s. Hip-hop isn’t more damaging than racism to minority communities, instead they tell the stories of the already damaged communities from racism. Instead of saying hip-hop is promoting the distinctive culture, maybe he should point the finger at himself for failing to understand their coming from communities that art short on hope and deal with decades of damages stemming from social, racial, and financial inequalities.
We can’t be mad at Geraldo Rivera but what we can remind him is his roots. Maybe the problem isn’t hip-hop being damaging to minority communities, but instead it’s just that minority communities are just damaged as a whole because rap music comes from the same place he came from.
Do you think hip-hop is more damaging than racism to minorities? What’s your take on the subject?
Editor’s Note: I wrote this with Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry” on repeat.