Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Nihilism of Russell Simmons

He's been called the CEO of hip-hop. He is certainly a shrewd businessman. Simmons never stands still. He's what they call a mogul. He's got his hands into everything. He's diversified. He's a pox on our society.

He doesn't have to be, and many of his charitable works are worthy in and of their own right. But as evidence mounts that the content of gangsta rap in particular does developing minds no favors, Simmons fiddles with pet causes while the ghetto burns. I suppose that as a black person is seven times more likely to be incarcerated in this country than a white one, we ought to take some solace in the fact that Russell Simmons follows a vegan diet. Suffer the little chickens.

For years the man has rolled out the same, tired excuse every time he's been challenged about the ABOMINABLE message his industry reinforces again and again. Well, he says, if not for these artists illustrating their struggle, young inner-city folks would have no voice at all. Please excuse me for saying that even if that were true, in that case they might be better off. Instead, a model for success is put forward promising that if you can sell enough crack, do a bit of time, and spit rhymes into a microphone about it, then you too can be ghettofabulous. Eric Deggans, over at the Huffington Post, puts it well:
Sooner or later, rap artists must learn how to preserve their creativity and vital spirit while chilling out on the more harmful messages. Once upon a time. gangsta rap opened the world's eyes to the desperae rhythms of impoverished neighborhoods the mainstream had forgotten; now it's a marketing tool that clocks millions for companies and artists which drench their product in violence and antisocial images.
Wherever Deggans expects this enlightenment to come from, it doesn't appear forthcoming from Simmons himself, who rather wraps himself up in a cloak of righteousness and keeps collecting stacks of money. Russell Simmons is fifty-two years old. A black man is President of the United States, for corn's sake. Maybe it's time to stop churning out this life-destroying poison and try being hip hop's Jiminy Cricket for a change.

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