In April 2007, radio “shock jock” Don Imus called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “a bunch of nappy-headed hos.” It was ignorant and unnecessary, and, despite his many apologies and his commendable record of charity work on behalf of autistic children, Imus was fired. The mob came, and Imus was summarily canceled. But did the mob solve anything?
The incident sparked a broader conversation about race, black culture, and, especially, rap and hip-hop lyrics. Oprah Winfrey convened a two-part town hall meeting. Panelists included NAACP President Ben Chavis, rap mogul Russell Simmons, rapper Common, New York Daily News columnist and jazz critic Stanley Crouch, Warner Music Group Vice President Kevin Liles, and others. Via satellite appeared Harvard professor Henry “Skip” Gates and a group of women students at Spellman College with Gayle King.
A chicken-and-egg debate ensued over which came first: the filthy rap lyrics or the social conditions in the ’hood that inspire rappers to write about those conditions. There was blaming and accusing. There were excuses and rationalizations.
“This kind of dehumanizing content has been normalized,” Stanley Crouch said. “If you have black people calling people niggers, bitches, and hos for 20 years, you shouldn’t be surprised that some white guy is gonna come up and say, ‘Hey, I wanna say that, too.’”
Russell Simmons, who founded Def Jam Records and had a net worth of around $340 million in 2011, told the audience, “Those who know better need to do better.”
“There’s going to be an accountability now,” Al Sharpton predicted. “The accountability has to spread, whether it’s blacks saying it, whether it’s whites saying it, whether it’s Latinos saying it. We need to set a standard of what’s acceptable.”
In the end, they all agreed to take action. They pledged to meet, listen, and work together. To stop pointing fingers and blaming each other. To put forth solutions to inner city culture that create the conditions that rappers write about.
But Oprah asked, “Do we have to solve poverty before we can stop calling each other ‘bitch and ho’?” No. But everyone agreed the words “nigga, bitch, and ho” had to go.
That Was Then
The following year, in 2008, voters elected the first black president, Barack Obama. Did the election of an articulate black man to the highest office in the world change inner-city conditions that rappers rap about? Did it change perceptions about black identity, black culture, black uplift, education, and hope?
Obama did nothing for black neighborhoods or education. He openly praised rappers, invited them to the White House, and bragged about what he listens to on his iPod. The highest office in the world glorified, validated, and “normalized” hip hop.
And since then, it’s only gotten worse. Filthy and profane are inadequate to describe just how empty most rap songs are because so many of the lyrics are not about social conditions but empty rants about money, bling, sex, drugs, alcohol, cars, “niggas, bitches, and hos.”
While the Oprah panelists talked about misogyny, poverty, lack of jobs, education, and investment in the “black community,” the one issue they studiously avoided were the greatest root causes of them all: black fatherlessness and unwed motherhood.
Despite decades of data, books, columns, and speeches from academics, pundits, and politicians—including Obama—confirming the pathological effects of whole generations of black children growing up with unwed mothers, practically nothing has changed. The only people who talk about the disgraceful effects of over 70 percent of black babies born to single mothers are conservatives. And to what end? White conservatives are denounced as racists, and black conservatives are written off as Uncle Toms, race traitors, and sellouts.
The Oprah panelists did talk about education. The mid-to-late-’00s, remember, were the heyday of “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” The federal government poured billions of dollars into closing the black-white achievement gap. The result? Not much. The achievement gap is essentially the same as it’s been for decades, with blacks languishing at the bottom.
And what about the state of popular culture? In 2015, the socially liberal Geraldo Rivera said, “Hip-hop has done more damage to black youth than racism ever could.” He added: “You couldn’t invent a genre better suited to keep black kids down than hip-hop.” Hip-hop isn’t just a genre. It’s an identity, a lifestyle. It glorifies the worst in black culture: gangs, crime, drugs, misogyny, bad grammar, and filthy language. It glorifies prison culture by wearing pants down around the butt because they take your belt.
The Oprah panelists all agreed that “nigga, bitch, and ho” must go. Then they did precisely nothing. No popular movement emerged to drive those words out of hip-hop. If anything, the lyrics have become even more vulgar and debased. The filthy Cardi B had a huge hit in 2020 with “WAP,” which stands for “wet ass pussy.” She opened the 2021 Grammy Awards with “WAP,” performed under a huge spiked high heel. The lyrics are so filthy that most had to be bleeped out for the broadcast.
Nevertheless, Joe Biden in 2020 did a Zoom interview with Cardi B, asking her what she wanted from his administration. The Democratic Party openly glorifies everything in hip-hop. It validates and elevates the genre’s most vulgar performers.
So, 16 years after the Oprah panel agreed to end the use of “nigga, bitch, and ho” in hip-hop lyrics, the entire genre has gotten dirtier while rappers and record labels have gotten richer. Thus, the people “who know better,” as Russell Simmons put it, are most certainly not “doing better.”
No Good Reason for Failure
Black leaders have refused to address the root causes of black failure and perpetual dysfunction. It’s all lip service, blame-shifting, and virtue signaling.
Every single one of those panelists, including Oprah herself, is a Democrat. Every single one of them is “educated.” Every one of them should know better and should do better.
But the Democratic formula may be best summarized as “3xD=C.” Keeping blacks dumb, down, and dependent equals control. Control is the goal, and power is the prize.
So I ask anyone who’s been watching this race hustle play out over the past five decades: Do black lives really matter? Or is using black lives for power the only thing that matters?
The mob came. The mob canceled. The mob fixed nothing.
Black leaders—the paragons of the community—all vowed to take action. They took none.
Among other things, I’m an Uber driver in Chicago with more than two years of experience. I’ve racked up 30,000 riders of every age, race, ethnicity, and neighborhood at all hours. I’ve driven business people, and I’ve driven criminals. I have carried on thousands of hours of conversations, and I’ve overhead thousands more. I’ve heard just about every language. Black Africans from Nigeria, Kenya, and Cameroon speak beautifully.
But, without a doubt, the worst offenders of the English language are African Americans. Kids in high school and college, grown-up adults. Conversations lasting over 40 minutes where every single human being was called a “nigga” or a “bitch.”
The only reason I’m writing this is that I know what black potential looks like. I’ve driven and met many, many black people from all over who are kind, articulate, educated, talented, and productive. And it is because I know this that I care.
This is a cultural issue, not a racist judgment. With all the progress America has made over the past five decades, there is absolutely no reason for this level of black failure and dysfunction in the year 2023. None whatsoever.