Hip Hop: Who’s Pimpin’ Who?

Grace Christiansen

The Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted “Hip Hop: Who’s Pimpin’ Who?” Tuesday, May 20. The event included both a screening of the documentary “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes” and a discussion, led by veteran filmmaker Rubin Whitmore II.
The film begins with its creator, Byron Hurt, telling the story of how his project began. Hurt talks about how he loves hip-hop, but several years ago he was hired to lecture at schools about masculinity and abuse. The more aware he became the more he was torn about hip-hop.
Hurt includes lots of big names in hip-hop and a wide range of perspectives in his documentary, but the most stunning interviews are those with young unknown artists, trying to be heard.
Hurt shows group after group who only rhyme about gun-play, being tough, and the feminization of other men and says it is “true of almost every young man I ask to spit for me.”
The first issue that the film addresses is the violent man as a symbol of manhood. Kevin Powell, a hip-hop historian, claims that this need to create a violent image of self was originally a response to systematic violence and has grown and been marketed since then.
Mos Def, who was interviewed in the film, put it succinctly when he said, “Every man wants respect and being tough’s how you get it.” However, the filmmaker stresses the importance of not simply accepting this frame of mind. As he puts it, “We have to challenge the notion that it’s OK for black men to die early.”
Hurt then turns to sexism in hip-hop culture, stressing that the negative portrayal of women in hip hop lyrics and videos is not terribly different from that of 19th-century slave owners.
Said Hurt, “It’s amazing how desensitized we’ve become to the sexism and misogyny in hip-hop culture.”
However, the filmmaker also points out that in this regard hip-hop culture is not separate from the rest of American popular culture — he claims that women are portrayed this way all over the media.
The last part of the film, as well as the discussion afterward, stressed the corporate aspect of hip-hop culture.
Said one young man in the video, “They don’t give us deals when we spit about righteous things — and we’re gonna do what we can to get there.”
Another interviewee talked about how there used to be diversity and how “There used to be different camps you could choose from. You had A Tribe Called Quest and if you didn’t like them you had Quannum and if not Quannum you had LL Cool J. But the media doesn’t want to see that … they don’t want ‘Self-Destruction’ anymore.”
Perhaps the most enlightening description of this chain of events came from Whitmore after the viewing when he said, “Your goal, fundamentally, as an artist, is to make great art. But you’d like to make money too … so you put out what’s already been put out so you can continue to eat. It sounds like you’re doing it for money — you’re not really — but if 50 Cent will sell, are you really going to be the one to take a chance on Immortal Technique?