EDITOR’S DESK: Hip-hop music: setting the civil rights movement backward?

Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 06:32 PM.

Musical lovers are in for a treat Feb. 28, when Crestview resident Mike Smith's production, "Generations: A Collection of Black American Music," opens.

Ten actors will explore black history using music from each decade of the 1900s when the show hits the Mattie Kelly Arts Center's Mainstage at Northwest Florida State College.

However, something Smith told reporter Brian Hughes — that the music was relevant to the time — struck me.

"In the 1960s, as the fire hoses were being turned on and the dogs were being released, you hear Aretha Franklin singing 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T," Smith said, adding there was a hidden meaning.

I thought about how we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday this week. Then I thought about the Rev. Edwin Stallworth, of 6th Avenue Baptist Church in Florala, Ala., who said Saturday that the African-American community has "digressed in many ways ... with the prison system, teenage pregnancies, high school drop-outs and black-on-black crime." There's hope, he said during Crestview's MLK observance, if people inspire others to continue King's legacy.

Then I looked up Billboard's Top 10 R&B and hip-hop songs for this week. What would be their relevance?

In a nutshell, here's what each song says...

No. 10: "Love More," Chris Brown featuring Nicki Minaj. The title sounds inspirational, but the song is devoid of love. The expletive-laden track's central message is that the couple's volatile relationship is headed nowhere so the answer is to have lots of sex until they get it right. Both partners are reduced to the value of their body parts.   

No. 9: "Talk Dirty, Jason Derulo featuring 2 Chainz. The singers wax poetic about their wealth, power, anatomy and why women who don't speak their language should give them sexual favors.

No. 8: "Blurred Lines," Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell. Three topless women without voices — literally and figuratively — parade around the music video's set while the singers repeatedly come onto them and say "I know you want it." The line caused critics to dub it "the rape song." And yes, they also bragged about their anatomy.

No. 7: "My Hitta," YG featuring Jeezy & Rich Home Quan. An anthem about dying with a "finger on the trigger," sharing a woman — but instead, calling her another name for a female dog — with friends as if she's a public utility; and numerous other anecdotes with profanity.

No. 6: "23," Mike Will Made-It, featuring Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J. It's about J's — Jordans — on their feet. In other words, a song that glorifies $200 shoes that people literally kill to own. In this alternate universe, you're "lame" if you're not "high on Purp" (a strain of marijuana), have no respect and generally don't care about anything. Cyrus, on her worldwide tour to prove she's no longer Hannah Montana, found the secret to success: act utterly disgraceful. That's where the real money is.

No. 5: "White Walls," Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, featuring Schoolboy Q & Hollis. The best thing in the world, apparently, is having an off-black Cadillac with promiscuous women snorting cocaine in the backseat — didn't you know?

No. 4: "Show Me," Kid Ink featuring Chris Brown. The best way to woo a woman? Call her another name for a female dog and justify the disrespect by saying it's "on the real."

No. 3, "Hold On, We're Going Home," Drake featuring Majid Jordan. This is actually a sweet song about a woman's indelible impression. The music video, on the other hand, features a kidnapping storyline, and the only way for the guy to save the woman — of course — is for him and his friends to suit up in protective gear, arm themselves with semiautomatic rifles and take the law into their own hands.

No. 2, "Drunk In Love," Beyonce featuring Jay Z. There's nothing really shocking or degrading here. The couple sing about how drunk they get from each other. Their descriptions of all-night sexcapades could seem voyeuristic and raise some people's eyebrows. But to each his or her own. Well, Beyonce also enjoys when he calls her a female dog.

No. 1, "The Monster," Eminem featuring Rihanna. Eminem just wants to make music without the fame, which has isolating consequences. Perhaps this song — which says the price of being a rap star isn't worth the tradeoff — brings the list full circle.

Plato is believed to have said, "I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning."

We say it's entertainment, but when listening to hip-hop, R&B, country and rock music, are we actually listening to what we are learning?

And more important, does the music we listen to capture King's dream, honoring everyone's equality and human dignity, or does it symbolically reverse his hard work, debase humanity and glorify objects over people?

I contemplate these questions while considering pop culture's heavy influence, along with responses from North Okaloosa residents who expressed concern that people don't realize the dream's significance, or even what it really meant.

What's your view? Write a letter to the editor or tweet News Bulletin Editor Thomas Boni @cnbeditor.

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