The night the United States began bombing Afghanistan, I was listening to a Bay Area
hip-hop/R&B station, KMEL. KMEL is owned by Clear Channel, one of the largest radio conglomerates in the country.
In between the usual 10 to 15 songs that get constant airplay, the voice of a young ethnic woman pitched this spot: "Osama's mama is so short, you can see her feet in her driver's license picture."
Then a young ethnic man's voice: "Osama's mama is so fat, if she cut herself, she would bleed fudge."
And on and on it went.
Clear Channel, the hip-hop music industry and its related ventures are helping deliver to President Bush a generation of young people of color ready to go to war. Their culture, hip-hop -- largely controlled by big money -- has made war cool. The decidedly black liberation, peacenik-slanted soundtrack to the '60s -- featuring James "I'm Black and I'm Proud" Brown, The Beatles' "Revolution #9," and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" -- is nowhere to be found.
Instead, this war features the voices of gangsta rap speaking for all of America's youth (many of whom refer to themselves as niggas no matter what their race) as they "ride" on Afghanistan. To "ride" on and "rival" in ghetto-speak literally means to go to war. To "ride" on the other "side" evokes the image of a masked shooter leaning outside the window of an SUV and spraying up a block with an AK-47 -- the drive-by.
The image of a cruise missile fired from a ship, sailing through mountains at super sonic speeds, isn't a big leap of imagination for gangsta rap listeners. To be a "soldjah" in the ethos of gangsta is one of the highest compliments you can get.
This younger generation understands the theology of retaliation and revenge. The last 10 years of hip-hop/gangsta rap music has helped prepare youths to choose sides, pick up arms and defend their turf. The turf is the American way of life, defended against the rivals: bin Ladin, Afghanistan, Muslims -- whomever.
Music giants like Dr. Dre, Jay Z. and P. Ditty are reported to be producing patriotic hip-hop that disses bin Ladin as only hip-hop can. KMEL had an alternative voice -- David "Davey D" Cook, a well-known local DJ, hip-hop scholar and youth advocate -- but fired him a few days before the bombing started. He would certainly have objected to the inflammatory "Osama Mama" spots.
Fortunately, not all young hip-hop fans are buying into the hype.
Recently, while waiting on a train platform in Oakland a young brotha asked me for a light. Underneath his brand new blue Sean Jean suit was a T-shirt that read, "Bin Ladin Wanted Dead or Alive," in big black letters. The graphic on the shirt had a picture of the bearded rebel leader with a turban on his head and crosshairs sitting right on top of his nose.
I asked the dreadlocked, starless night, dark-skinned, youngsta, "Are you ready to ride on bin Ladin, homeboy?"
"Oh, fa shizzel," he replied in classic East Bay ebonics. "Dey was way outta pocket fa rollin' up on New York like Gs. We can't let them get away with that. Right?"
"Are you sure, folks? You ready to die for America?"
"Ah naw playa," he said, dreadlocks shaking wildly. "I mean if dey ever came over here, to Ghost Town, threatened my fam, or what not, then it's on. But going there? It's a war going on right here. I don't need to go there, feel? I deal with war every day."
Days later, on the back of the 76 bus in Richmond, a group of youngstas are causing a lighthearted ruckus. Cussin', laughin', gossipin', basically passing time during an otherwise boring ride. One sista is singing the hook to R. Kelly's latest tribute to woman's posterior -- "Bootie" -- loud and clear enough for everyone to hear.
"Your bootie, your bo bo bo bo bo teeeee, your BBBBBBBBBooooootieeeee...Don't mind me," the sista says, to no one in particular. "People need to have fun, we are in war time, right cuz? People need to laugh because times is finna get hard. This might be good for black people."
A chorus of yep's and what-you-means? fills the buses cabin.
"Now, maybe we will get like we used to be. Showing more unity, folks taking care of each other. Hella people living together in one house and sharing, not being so selfish. Don't knock me for tryin' to stay positive.
"Your Bootie, your bo bo bo bo bo teeeee, your BoBoBoBooooootie..."
- 124 War & Disaster Profiteering