Is Corporate America Forcing Rappers to Clean Up Their Acts?

May 1st, 2013

(Photo: David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)

By Gee King

Some of hip hop’s biggest stars are feeling the after effects of last month’s controversy over Rick Ross’ lyrics on the Rocko hit “U.O.E.N.O.” It seems the precedent that Reebok set when they dropped Rozay for refusing to apologize for lyrics that many believed promoted rape kicked off what could be a slow and ugly divorce between mainstream rappers and corporate sponsors. Rap has never been rated PG, and as the corporate music industry co-opted the culture in the 1990s, mainstream content grew increasingly violent and vulgar. Now, with almost every rapper on the airwaves guilty of dropping potentially offensive lyrics at some point in their careers, no rapper is safe to collect mainstream corporate dollars without the possibility of being protested.

PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew brand came under fire this week for recent campaigns featuring Lil Wayne and Tyler, the Creator. Pepsi, whom famously fired Ludacris in 2002 after Fox News host Bill O’Reilly led a boycott, now has the Black civil rights community condemning the brand for its partnership with the controversial stars. Lil Wayne finally released a public apology to the estate of Emmett Till for his bars on Future’s “Karate Chop (Remix)” — “Beat that p—y up like Emmett Till”) — which was removed from the Internet and retail outlets by Future’s label Epic after the fallen civil rights figure’s family spoke out. AllHipHop.com reported that Till’s family was prepared to relentlessly pursue boycotts and possible legal action against Mountain Dew. Wayne promptly released a written statement, which he closed by saying, “My ultimate intention is to uplift rather than degrade our community.”

Notoriously lewd Odd Future MC Tyler, the Creator had one of the “Felicia the Goat” commercials he directed for Mountain Dew pulled after Dr. Boyce Watkins penned a blog post calling it “arguably the most racist commercial in history.” Featuring Tyler’s Odd Future homies dressed as what he described as “ratchety negroes” and posing for a police line-up,  the commercial struck a chord with Watkins and his followers who believed it promoted the most offensive racial stereotypes that haunt Black men in America each day. Watkins goes on to cite lyrics from Tyler’s song “Tron Cat,” claiming the 22-year-old “celebrates the sexual assaults of pregnant women” because of the lyric, “Rape a pregnant b—h and tell my friends I had a threesome.”

Whether you find Wayne and Tyler’s lyrics offensive or not, their artistic freedom of expression is being painted into a corner by a corporate structure that can overlook morality as long as it doesn’t affect the bottom line. So there’s not even a point in asking why corporations didn’t mind capitalizing off of the thousands of violent and degrading lyrics Wayne and Tyler have spit over the years until the word “boycott” was uttered. Or why political correctness hardly governs the film industry as harshly as it does hip hop. If protestors can lean on any corporate entity and take money out of rappers pockets this easily, rappers need to start thinking outside of the box and finding hustles that don’t end with them being forced to write letters of apology like they’re in middle school detention. The line between artistic responsibility and free speech has been skewed and if hip hop can’t collectively define it soon, mainstream rappers will be pushed even further down the totem pole of our global economy. I’m just waiting for the day a group of husbands who’ve been cheated on band together and go after Wiz Khalifa’s endorsement with Converse because of his constant references to f—–g other people’s b——s.

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