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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Hip-hop may lose identity, audience at Owens is told

Hip-hop music has reached a critical crossroad in its growth, teetering between mainstream assimilation and its central-city roots, the executive director of the Making a Direct Difference Poets Society said yesterday.

David Bush, 39, who has studied the hip-hop culture for two decades, talked to about 50 people at Owens Community College during one of the school s Black History Month programs.

Mr. Bush said in many ways, hip-hop has reached the mainstream and now faces the tough choice of abandoning its roots to satisfy the masses or moving back to its foundation. He said rap music has moved away from its core in some ways.

He described gangsta rap, the form that today dominates many urban radio stations, as “self-hatred” because of its glorification of violence, drugs, and treatment of women.

On the flip side, Mr. Bush said many conservative groups have used gangsta rap to denounce the entire hip-hop culture.

“There s plenty of positive music and rap artists out there,” Mr. Bush said. “There are groups doing Christian rap music. You don t hear about them because some people don t want you to know about it. Remember, they said the blues, ragtime, and jazz music was unworthy and undisciplined as well. Those forms are now known as great American originals.”

He said gangsta rap is far from rap music s origins like the Sugar Hill Gang s “Rapper s Delight” and the thought-provoking, gritty images of “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five.

Mr. Bush described hip-hop as a culture defined by the south Bronx of New York City in the mid-1970s. Rap grew from the beginnings of hip-hop, which has gone from the central-city poor to multimillion-dollar clothing lines.

“The sagging [of men s pants] you see is part of the prison culture,” Mr. Bush said. “In prison, they take your belts away from you and pants sag. That s where it came from. These low riser [jeans] are just sagging [pants] for women. All you have to do is give [clothing] to a rapper and have him put it in a video and kids will want it.”

Mr. Bush said rap music and hip-hop no longer are the provinces of African-Americans. He said 70 percent of the music is bought by whites and clothing brands started by many in the Hip-hop community, such as Phat Farm, FUBU, and Sean John, sell in many of America s leading department stores.

He said, though, few outside the African-American community understand the music and the culture. Rapper Snoop Dog uses a term derogatory toward African-Americans that has been repeated by whites who didn t know the meaning, Mr. Bush said.

The Toledo Advertising Club used the phrase during a call for entries for its Addy Awards earlier this year. The group eventually sent out apology letters after receiving complaints.

“Examples like [Toledo Advertising Club] can be dangerous because you create situations where you re being disrespectful, but don t know because you don t know the meaning,” Mr. Bush said. “It can cause embarrassment. Once we find out the meaning of some of these words, we can go to the recording company and ask them why are they promoting this.”

He urged parents to listen to the words of rap songs and not be afraid to ask if they aren t sure what some of them mean.



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