“D-Block-What up!” “Thoughts of a Predicate Felon.” D.J. Kay Slay’s Papoose’s “Law Library” Thursday night prison shoutouts on New York’s Hot 97. Hip Hop artists show tremendous love to the people behind bars. Whether it’s 16 bars or an entire song like Akon’s, “I’m Locked up,” rappers definitely speak to (and sometimes for) the 2,000,000+ people in prisons throughout the US. Their ability to inspire relevance into the hearts of society’s discarded is necessary because according to Dostoevsky, “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
Many rappers have been interviewed regarding their views on the state of hip hop and a few have been interviewed during their incarceration. Their opinions, however, are compromised because they have a monetary interest in the music industry. When their opinions are voiced it is assumed that they speak in unison with the millions of other people behind bars—the average infamous incarcerated person.
Thus, the question remains, what does the average prisoner think about the state of hip hop in 2007? I interviewed eight other inmates at the Otisville Correctional Facility in upstate New York and this is what they had to say.
The Incarcerated Scarfaces
Shai: 27, 9-years down. Loves a debate. DJ Stone: Thirtyish, 15-years down, co-facilitates program that prepares men for re-entry into society. Be-Bo: 39, 10-years up; copyrighted several economics-based board games. Wise: 34, 17-years down, Ving Rhames look-a-like. Had one of his own hip hop tapes played on Hot 97. Talent: 29, up 10-years, b-ball fanatic. Serious businessman and fluent in ASL. Boogie Down: 41, 6-years up. Subscribes to several hip hop magazines, and is an R&B enthusiast. Gee: 23, 3-yars down. We call him Young G; potential not yet realized. Al Almighty 26, four years up. Claims he once played ball with Channing Frye of the Portland Trailblazers. Extremely articulate, but you have to dig deep to find that out.
“What is your definition of hip hop?”
Al Almighty- Hip hop is a culture of music, fashion, and awareness of the inner city.
Wise- the music of rebellion, the language of America’s forgotten. In essence, tits the last voice of black folk.
Boogie Down- Black culture, black expression.
Gee- Hip hop is reality, what you feel is what you express.
DJ Stone- The stories of many life spans and life times. It gives the listener a brief history on one’s troublesome past. I define hip hop as a collaborated effort in seeking love, truth, peace, freedom and justice for all humanity.
“Is your definition of hip hop different from hip hop in 2006?”
Gee- Hip hop today is different, there’s so much violence with hardcore rappers. The question is, will it change.
Al Almighty- Today it sends a message that it’s cool to be a thug or a gangster.
DJ Stone- Hip hop is about me, myself , and I.
Shai- today a person will say or do whatever to make money. Beefing with another rapper is the latest thing.
Wise- Today hip hop is a billion dollar industry that pop culture has found a way to pimp. Hip hop is America’s promotional whore!
“At this stage in the game do you think rap music encourages negative lifestyles seen in the hood or is it still only narrating what happens?”
Wise- I think its all still about narration. I view it more as an act of defiance. “Look at what I’ve come fro. I’ve defied the odds by making what’s bad good. I did it my way, now you’re forced to acknowledge me.
Talent- Hip hop doesn’t encourage the selling of drugs or the use of guns. It’s still a big magnifying glass with rhythm, and music as its soundtrack.
Al Almighty- Hip hop, the music and the industry both support negative lifestyles. Tupac was telling a story about a harsh reality in “Brenda’s Got a Baby”. Jay-Z painted a picture of the urban struggle in “Where I’m From”. Songs like these are the exception. I challenge you to find a platinum selling hip hop album that doesn’t have songs glorifying murder, extortion, armed robbery, drug possession, sale, use, or misogyny.
DJ Stone- Hip hop music is only an expression. With proper guidance and understanding of this expression one will grasp it as such.
Shai- Rap music doesn’t promote negativity. People just blame everything on it, but it’s not the game it’s just the people trying to live up to the rap game.
“Artists like T.I., Lil’ Kim, and 50 cent---have they used their prison experiences to catapult their careers?”
Stone- Without a doubt.
Be-Bo- T.I. and Lil’ Kim, no but 50 cent certainly used his earlier misfortunes to become successful. Americans are intrigued by shock value. Fifty and his marketing team have exploited the shot nine times scenario. They rode the trails to riches, which propelled him to rapper icon—Mr. Invincible.
Does hip hop music and culture have a corrosive effect on our youth?”
Talent- Nah, children hear vile speech in their homes first. They are mentally abused in the houses first. Hip hop just exploits what’s in the house and in the streets for the world to see. Hip hop is no different from what Rock ‘’ roll and blues was to earlier generations.
D Stone- No. To say yes, in my opinion , would condone genocide.
Al Almighty- I would say yes because almost all of today’s artists claim to have been killers, drug dealers, the ultimate playboy, or pimp.
Be-Bo- Definitely corrosive because our youth believe it speaks to them due to how they have been marginalized by the popular culture. The music is so corrosive that youths take rappers words as gospel over a church minister or politician.
Wise- Yes and no. In many ways the music teacher us to live life void of responsibility. On the other end of the spectrum, the culture has produced more entrepreneurs and successful businessmen and women than any other genre of music.
“Hip hop police—is it warranted?”
Boogie Down- No, it limits their imagination to tell their stories.
Be-Bo- no. We can look back at the COINTEL program orchestrated by J. Edgar Hoover. The government monitored activists, celebrities, radio hosts, and athletes. Anyone they believed could say the masses to a united coalition they spied on, and they are aware that hip hop has that potential. Trust me, Kanye West has an FBI file on him for his comments about Bush and Hurricane Katrina.
DJ Stone- In this age and time, yes it can be warranted. It’s very sad that gatherings such as the concerts of today are plagued with mishaps and such. Still added security is better than no security at all.
Talent- Hip hop police is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Wise- Definitely a waste of taxpayers’ money. The only purpose they serve is to further criminalize the art form.
Al Almighty- the creation of a task force to police these individuals is a waste of government funds and manpower. If these artists did half of the things they claimed to do, they would have been buried in the deepest darkest pit in the most remote federal penitentiary long ago. This is the fate of our inner city youths who grow up believing their stories and act them out in real life. The creation of this task force shows that the powers that be are no wiser than the misguided youths who perpetuate the crimes their rap idols praise in their lyrics. Scary though!
The Incarcerated Scarfaces have spoken!