I founded Hip Hop Is Not the Enemy two years ago in response to the media backlash against Hip Hop following the Don Imus controversy: an attention-seeking shock jock had made a racist and sexist comment about a female basketball team, and somehow it was our fault. That wasn’t to say criticisms against potentially inflammatory lyrics or symbolism on our part weren’t valid, but to act as though our culture was solely responsible for the existence of society’s ills was as irresponsible as it was disingenuous. In the literature for the initiative, I wrote: “[Our lyrics] are merely a reflection of the world we live in. It is therefore the world at large that needs to be examined.” Instead of advocating censorship or “cleaning up the lyrics” to sweep problems under the rug, I supported focusing on the problems themselves. To prove that the Hip Hop community was a part of the solution, I aimed for us to come together to raise money and awareness to fight domestic violence.
Why domestic violence?
For one, Hip Hop was being accused of fostering the environment that purportedly made the whole world — including out of touch old white men in cowboy hats, apparently — believe it to be socially acceptable to mistreat women in real life. This was, however, only one of the problems I envisioned Hip Hop Is Not the Enemy addressing (for instance, we later additionally set up relief funds for hurricane victims). The principal reason I wanted to start with domestic violence was because I had an emotional attachment to the issue. I made it no secret that a woman I loved was allegedly being abused. The single to my album was about the situation. Though not many people were discussing the topic in general, I did not consider it to be particularly erratic or inaccessible: one in four women will be abused by a partner in her lifetime. As someone who was feeling helpless from afar as a person I cared about was being violated, it positively boiled my blood to know that people were blaming it all on me.
Since its inception, Hip Hop Is Not the Enemy has accrued 200 members on Facebook, about 1,500 supporters on MySpace, and a few hundred dollars in donations to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That may not sound like much, but it’s a start. I’m still committed to the cause and have long-term plans to turn the initiative into a full-fledged nonprofit organization. I worked closely with a few such organizations outside of DC over the last few years to better understand how they operate. I’m currently looking for people to get involved in a more serious capacity to take this cause to the next level.
With all that said, some may wonder why I have yet to officially comment on the situation that transpired before the Grammys that everyone is still talking about. I assure you that it has nothing to do with the fact that Chris Brown has sung my lyrics, or that I had a crush on Rihanna before she cut her hair. Above all, I’ve been witnessing all the gossip and felt I had nothing meaningful to add to the conversation. My efforts are about Hip Hop’s role in society, and neither of the artists in question are a part of Hip Hop — though they do have loose ties and one might expect the masses to associate them with our culture, perhaps due to their ages most seem to be correctly identifying them as proponents of pop culture instead. I am guilty of making inappropriate jokes amongst friends about rumors surrounding the cirumstances behind the dispute, but obviously hold the position that domestic violence itself is no laughing matter. That doesn’t change whether or not it involves singers, people we know in person, or whether or not it actually happened.
An important fact to keep in mind is that we don’t know what happened, and should not be making judgments against anyone until the case has been decided in a court of law. One of my core values is that everyone should be afforded due process and presumed innocent until proven guilty. I personally believe it should be illegal for newspapers to print stories about suspected criminals prior to their trials, because that affects the public perception. The jury pool is now tainted after the TMZ picture leaked, and a fair trial in this case may now be impossible.
Of course, the TMZ picture is the elephant in the room that I’ve been avoiding. Seeing that brought me back to the time when I was going through my personal situation, which was quite possibly the scariest time of my life. I literally felt my blood pressure rise when I saw that picture. It would not be unreasonable to assume that I’ve mostly been quiet about this situation because I did not want to relive that nightmare. Maybe that’s why people are usually quiet about domestic violence. Maybe it’s a good thing people are talking about it now that it involves figures so disconnected from their realities, but I have to admit: it bothered me that it took this happening to celebrities for people to start caring.
In any case, I know it’s easier to preach the importance of staying rational than it is to practice when emotions are involved. I wasn’t trying to hear about presumption of innocence when I was told someone was being abusive to the person I loved. I was trying to bypass the judge and the jury and kill him myself. But then, something happened. I saw his picture and realized he was human like me. He wasn’t the horned monster I was picturing. Somehow, I forgave him. I think people tend to put those we love and admire on a pedestal, and we view those who do things we don’t like as beneath us. The truth is that in the grand scheme of things we’re all so close to being on the same level that it’s probably insignificant. In no way am I trying to justify or excuse foul behavior, but I do know from experience that it’s best to at least try to let cooler heads prevail. Acting on impulse is what causes abusive situations to begin with.
So, no, I don’t think we should be rushing to crucify anyone.
There was talk on the radio here in New York about whether Chris Brown’s music should be banned from rotation. Let’s be very clear: The answer to that question is a resounding no. If TI could be convicted of buying machine guns and still have his music played all day, the radio station should frankly be embarrassed that they’d even bring up the possibility of banning someone for being accused of being involved in a domestic dispute.
This is a very serious issue, and I’m glad that people are expressing concern. Let’s just try to approach these situations with maturity and not let emotions get the best of us.