Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Hip-Hop: Art or Poison?

Aired February 21, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Here's a heads-up right off the top: We're dealing with a very provocative subject tonight, and you might be troubled by some of the words and images.
Hi, everyone. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us.

We are going in-depth on one of the most controversial forms of expression in America today. Hip-hop is huge. More than just rap music, it's a lifestyle, and just happens to be a multibillion-dollar industry. Tonight, we're going to explore the question: Is hip-hop art or poison?

We're bringing it all out in the open, the roots, the culture, and especially the controversies.


ZAHN (voice-over): Thirty years and counting, hip-hop, with its hard-driving beat, rhythmic, in-your-face lyrics, and streetwise attitudes, launched a look, an industry, and gave voice to people who didn't have one.

DANYEL SMITH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "VIBE": There was this idea that, finally, in rap music, we have the microphone, and we can speak.

MARY J. BLIGE, 2007 GRAMMY WINNER: The freedom to actually show people what it is that you have come from, how you have come through it, you know, and, if you're still in it, to share with people what you're living.

AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Hip-hop started with saying, fight the power, and you're going to deal with our real kind of defiant kind of urban street self-identity, self-definition.

ZAHN: It started in the '70s in New York's South Bronx and exposed what life was really like on the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the king of rock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES: There is none higher.

ZAHN: In the '80s, artists like Run DMC, the Beastie Boys and L.L. Cool J. exploded on to the music scene and soon crossed over on to the pop charts. In the '90s, Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and Jay-Z helped hip-hop go mainstream.

Hip-hop's impact is undeniable, infiltrating not just music, but pop culture.




ZAHN: It's a multibillion-dollar industry, accounting for one of every five records sold in America.

Eighty percent of buyers are white. And Latino and white hip-hop artists have consistently topped the charts.

EVE, HIP-HOP ARTIST: It was a fad when it first started. And here we are, and it's winning Grammys and winning American Music Awards, alongside country music stars. That, to me, is the most amazing thing.

ZAHN: Hip-hop today encompasses many styles, party rap, Gospel rap, socially conscious rap.

But the most explicit music is often what sells the best. And that's what gives hip-hop a bad rap. Some critics call it violent, materialistic, and exploitive of women. Others worry that it's lost its socially conscious message.

GRANDMASTER CAZ, RAP PIONEER D.J.: All these guys were out talking black nationalism. And then here's come gangsta rap, when we're shooting and talking about liquor and drugs and this and that. And the whole black movement went out the window.

BYRON HURT, DIRECTOR, "HIP-HOP: BEYOND BEATS & RHYMES": I'm concerned about the direction of it.

ZAHN: Byron Hurt grew up in the hip-hop generation. And his new documentary critiques the music he loves, especially its depiction of women.

HURT: What you're seeing mostly, though, is, you're seeing repetitive images of women as boy toy, as sex kitten, as sex objects. And I think that's a problem.

ZAHN: But hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons maintains that rap simply mirrors the problems in the real world.

RUSSELL SIMMONS, CHAIRMAN, HIP-HOP SUMMIT ACTION NETWORK: We're a violent and oversexed country. That's our sad truth. And rappers are reflections of -- sometimes reflections of our sad truth.

ZAHN: In spite of that, some hip-hop artists are trying to send a positive message with their music.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I know I can....

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): I know I can...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): ... be what I want to be.

SMITH: It's right up there with jazz. It's right up there with so many other great things that African-Americans have contributed to American culture. I say again, hip-hop is not a perfect art form, but I don't know what is.


ZAHN: Joining me now, someone from Atlanta whose career covers the history of hip-hop. Chuck D is one of rap's most outspoken voices, best known for political songs like "Fight the Power." He also happens to be the lead singer for Public Enemy, one of rap's most influential groups.

Here in New York with me, a man you just saw in that piece, Byron Hurt, who directed the brand-new documentary we mentioned, "Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes":

Great to have both of you with us tonight.

So, Chuck...


ZAHN: ... I'm a mom. There are tons of parents out there like me, who are very concerned about what our kids are listening to.

What kind of message are rappers sending them?

CHUCK D, RAP ARTIST: Well, they're saying a lot of different messages.

I think the point is, is like Byron Hurt points out in his beautiful documentary, is the fact that a slim margin of it is being promoted and endorsed by corporations. I think the most important thing to look at this is that, if you look at rap music and say that, hey, it makes a lot of money, it's making a lot of money for whom?

Already, statistics say 80 percent are white buyers, wherever that statistic comes from. But there's music executives, who don't live in the communities for which this music is made, that become unaccountable over the actions being promoted and placed into all of America, around the world.

ZAHN: So, Chuck, what is it you think they should be held accountable for, promoting the humiliation and degradation of women, inspiring violence, promoting violence against gays?

CHUCK D: All of the above.

I mean, these guys, no one seems to know their names, whether it's Jimmy Iovine or the Lyor Cohen, who I have worked with in the past. And these people have become unaccountable to the black community, which suffers the ills first.

But I also saw, at the beginning of your show, that you had -- you guys had a disclaimer. And we go through this every three or four years. And, if CNN has a disclaimer, look out for the -- beware the images, you have to wonder, like, how come BET and MTV, the Viacom networks, don't put out the same disclaimer?

And this is a serious concern of, who is watching our households from a higher order? Or who is basically putting it into the households or into the minds of a younger demographic that really kind of shouldn't be exposed to the lifestyles of adults?

ZAHN: Byron, you worked on your documentary for six years. You talked with the folks responsible for churning out this music, the guys that are promoting it, the guys that are making the recording of the stuff possible, the rappers themselves. Do they feel any sense of responsibility about the impact this music can potentially have on kids?

HURT: Well, I think it depends on who you talk to.

I think, if you go to a hip-hop event like Black August, which is a hip-hop concert that is held every year in New York City, you will see artists who are talking about very political and social issues, you know, in their music. And they're very powerful. They speak truth to power about poverty and the communities that they live in, but also the things that we need to do to sort of overcome the circumstances that we are living in.


ZAHN: But that stuff isn't selling like this lurid stuff, right?

HURT: Exactly. And that's a very good point. And I think that point should be made more often, that there is music out there that exists that does not get the airplay, that does not get the spins on the radio, that does not get the rotation on music television stations that it should or that it could.

I mean, there's a scene in my documentary where I interview a group of aspiring rappers, right?

ZAHN: Right.

HURT: And they're outside this hip-hop convention. And they're on camera, and they're rhyming about very consistent themes that you hear in mainstream hip-hop, violence, misogyny, homophobia, right?

And then I challenge them about what they're talking about. And then, immediately, they change their whole tune. They're like two completely different rappers. And then they start talking about social and political issues in their music, which reveals to me that they're making conscious choices based on what they think is going to get them access to a music industry that's going to give them material wealth, fame, status, women, jewelry, cars, all of those different things.

ZAHN: Sure, the sad reality of this business.

Byron Hurt, Chuck D, thank you, both, for your perspectives tonight.

CHUCK D: Thank you.

HURT: Thank you.

ZAHN: We would now like to know your opinion, too. Go to our Web site at, and tell us whether you think hip-hop is art or poison. We will have the results for you a little bit later on in this hour.

Out in the open next, we will explore the question of whether hip-hop glorifies crime.


OFFICER ANDY HARRIS, CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA, POLICE DEPARTMENT: There's no work ethic. It's the easy money of robbing, stealing, and selling cocaine.


ZAHN: In a minute, what urban kids think and what police see.

Then, a little bit later on: the skin, the language, and the attitude. Is hip-hop's treatment of women art or poison?

When our special hour continues. We will be right back. Please stay with us.


BLIGE: Hip-hop is something where people get to express what and who they are and where they came from.

When I was there, I spoke about where I came from and where I lived. So, being that, you know, I have overcome a lot, it's about who survives it. So, if you can't explain to people where you come from and what your mentality is, how can you inspire someone else, if you ever come through it?



ZAHN: Our special hour continues, "Hip-hop: Art or Poison?"

Hip-hop is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry rooted in music, clothing, jewelry, a whole lifestyle. It is a culture of extravagant and expensive consumption. And a lot of critics wonder whether envy of that lifestyle contributes to crime in America.

We asked Sumi Das to bring that question out into the open for us tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside the hip-hop joints in Charlotte, North Carolina, I learned it ain't easy being fly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I make sure I look good before I come outside and everything, you know? I just -- just make sure I'm fresh at all times and everything. It is very hard, because, you know, you have just got to stay on top of your game.

DAS: Unwittingly, I dis this clubber, asking if his diamonds are real. They are.

(on camera): I'm going to ask an even more insensitive question. How much did those earrings cost you?

DON, HIP-HOP CLUBBER: Three hundred.

DAS (voice-over): Don works for his bling. But many teens can't afford the hip-hop lifestyle: cash, jewelry, exotic cars.

(on camera): We have been hearing that some people feel like maybe people are resorting to illegal means.

DON: It's a fact. I mean, it's known that people do it to get whatever they need, or feel they need, but...

DAS: Steal?

DON: Steal, I mean, do whatever. It's known. Everybody knows it.

DAS (voice-over): Criminology professor Catherine Montsinger blames hip-hop.

CATHERINE MONTSINGER, CRIMINOLOGY PROFESSOR, JOHNSON C. SMITH UNIVERSITY: Watch a hip-hop video, and people aren't just wearing expensive items. They're literally flashing cash in their hands.

DAS: Montsinger says, to emulate their idols, some kids, too young and immature to make better decisions, break the law.

MONTSINGER: If you don't have legitimate access to that, it's only natural that you're going to do something that makes that accessible to you.

DAS: Police say, last year, the number of teens arrested for robbery in Charlotte jumped 34 percent. Some authorities fault some musicians for being bad role models. Hip-hop artists argue, their success is an incentive.

YOUNG BUCK, RAPPER: Some kids see this, and they get off into their books off a little bit stronger to make their education come out for them, to be able to provide and make things like this.

DAS: For a gritty look at Charlotte crime, I hit the bad side of the tracks with Officer Andy Harris of the special armed robbery unit. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Armed robbery (INAUDIBLE) 1094, two Hispanic males.

DAS: This victim asked that we hide her terror-stricken face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, he didn't say, "We will shoot you" or anything like that. But he just showed me the gun, and that was enough for me.

DAS (on camera): Did they look young?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, they were definitely young. They were like 16 and 17.

OFFICER ANDY HARRIS, CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA, POLICE DEPARTMENT: There's no work ethic. It's the easy money of robbing, stealing, and selling cocaine. Make a lot more money that way.

DAS (on camera): The clothing, shoes, and gold grills teens see in hip-hop and rap music videos are things they want, but don't necessarily want to work for.

When some of them go out on Friday nights, like tonight, and rob people for money and these status items, they call it getting paid.

(voice-over): By midnight, I started to feel I was in the midst of a crime wave.

(on camera): I'm adding it up here. We had one -- two armed robberies, one gun possession, one search warrant. Is that it?

HARRIS: That pretty much sums it up, in a fairly short time period, another Friday night.

DAS (voice-over): On this night, many of the suspects were teens. This 18-year-old arrested on marijuana and gun possession charges sported hip-hop hallmarks, a gold chain and silver rims. But it's impossible to say what landed him in these handcuffs.

Judge Philip Howerton's courtroom has become congested with young defendants. He tells me, the music industry that helped create the problem needs to help fix it.

PHILIP HOWERTON, CHARLOTTE DISTRICT JUDGE: These guys are fabulous at communicating messages. If they want to get on the message to help solve this problem, they can do it.

DAS: But history shows changing the course of a multibillion- dollar business can take a long time.

Sumi Das, CNN, Charlotte, North Carolina.


ZAHN: Let's put this to our "Out in the Open" panel, Michael Eric Dyson, a humanities professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "Debating Race." Tim Wise is an educator, activist, and author of the book "White Like Me" -- and John McWhorter of Manhattan Institute's Center for Race and Ethnicity.

Good to have you all with us.


ZAHN: Why are so many rappers obsessed with violence?

DYSON: Well, America is a violent place. The frontier of America is all about violence. The founding of America is all about violence.

We're in a war in Iraq right now. That's violence. So, when we look at hip-hop music, hip-hop is a reflection of and a reinforcement of prevailing values that are in a society where people have been denied access to economic security.

But, also, we live in a culture where the glorification of violence happens every day, with America saying the best way to handle difference and to squash difficulties with another nation is to resort to war.

So, to focus on hip-hop, to the exclusion of that, would be wrong. And, finally, Martin Luther King said this. The bombs in Vietnam explode back home. He said: I'm not going to speak out against the war in Vietnam unless I speak out against a war that is happening upon your poor young black people in America.

Hip-hop at least expresses and articulates a resistance to that, even as they capitulate to some of its worst features.

ZAHN: Is that, John McWhorter, what you see in this degradation of women that we just saw in that last scene, a gun coming out of a pair of very tiny, tiny panties?


And this has always been a violent country. And we have had a lot of wars. And there have always been very poor, very angry people. And the question, as always, is degree. We have never before, in this country, and never anywhere in the whole world during the 150,000 years of this species, ever had a music as mindlessly violent as a certain string of the music we are talking about.

And the misogyny -- again, degree -- it's the degree of it that needs to be conversed about, and can't be tied directly just to the fact that we, unfortunately, have poor people and that we're at a war. Those conditions aren't new.

ZAHN: So, why does it exist?

TIM WISE, AUTHOR, "WHITE LIKE ME": Well, look, and Mike said it well, that this is a country that has always been violent. And, more than that, this idea that a genre of music can somehow be causally linked to the violence we see on the streets makes no sense.


ZAHN: ... look at the statistics.

WISE: Well, let me -- let me give you one.

Between 1992 and, let's say, 2000, which was the eight-year period when gangsta rap really exploded in this country, crime dropped in this country every single year by 48 percent within urban communities among African-American males.

So, at the very time that this music, ostensibly, was encouraging violence, crime among those who we had been led to fear was declining. Now, I would never say that hip-hop was reducing crime, but it certainly suggests that hip-hop was not causing crime. And, so, we have to look at those actual numbers and recognize that the crime problem is much more linked to those structural conditions that Mike was talking about.

And, yet, if we say that, if we say poverty is what is correlated with crime, folks on the right will say, well, you're making excuses. But then they will blame hip-hop for crime, and that's somehow not making an excuse. That seems unfair and hypocritical to me.

ZAHN: But do you deny that the structural underpinnings he's talking about are proportionately represented in this kind of music that we hear?

MCWHORTER: Well, of course they are depicted. And I certainly don't think that somebody listens to this music and then goes out and shoots somebody.

But the fact of the matter is that we have always had grinding poverty and violence in this country. And, so, to say that, because of those particular conditions, this music is inevitable doesn't make sense, if you just roll the camera back and wonder why that kind of music didn't come out of Storyville, New Orleans, where Louis Armstrong grew up. That is to say that...


MCWHORTER: ... there's more to be said then that the ghettos are wrong and that music just explains it.


DYSON: The reality is this, that we can't blame the music.

If we do a correlation, statistically and empirically, of trying to say that, when hip-hop -- before hip-hop was born, 30 years ago, there was no crime. There was extraordinary crime. There were extraordinary escalation of crime in post-industrial urban centers.

(CROSSTALK) DYSON: So, the question is, are we going to correlate the rise of gangsta rap and hip-hop culture with the evidence that Tim just gave you that, during the height of gangsta rap, crime declined?

So, what it is, it's easier for black America and white America to pin the problem on poor young people, who are themselves the evidence of the neglect of poor black people, because these people were not being concerned about by either rich black people or rich white people.

But, now that they have got the voice, the wrong black people seized the microphone. That's the problem with hip-hop. The people that we had neglected now have spoken back to us, and we don't like what we hear.

ZAHN: Do you think Michael is refusing to take accountability for the...

WISE: No, no.

ZAHN: ... for the impact of this music?

WISE: Look, I think that blaming hip-hop for crime, or even trying to correlate it, it's like blaming your speedometer for getting a speeding ticket. The speedometer reflects the problem. It is not, in and of itself, the problem.

ZAHN: Quick final thought.

MCWHORTER: But it's also true that it's not the economics that we need to be talking about.

The culture changed. Previous American cultures wouldn't have tolerated the excesses of this music.

ZAHN: All right, gentlemen, please stay with me. We have a lot more to talk about tonight.

We also want your opinion out there. Go to our Web site at, and tell us whether you think hip-hop is art or poison.

Out in the open next: a father's concern when his daughter shoots a scene for a rap video.


JAY HENRY, FATHER OF CELESTINA: There's one scene in it that, you know, as a father, I don't necessarily need to see her in her lingerie, her underclothing. But, you know, it's a video.


ZAHN: Is hip-hop's treatment of women art or poison? That's coming up next.

And, then, a little bit later on: How did homophobia get into hip-hop? We will bring that out into the open, as our special continues.



EVE: A lot of these girls go home, and they're looking at these girls who are getting this attention from these men, but they're naked. And I don't know what that says, you know, but it can't -- it can't be that positive.


ZAHN: Well, it seems like a pretty good time to remind you we're dealing with some provocative material in this hour, with words and images that you might find offensive.

The billion-dollar business of hip-hop is out in the open tonight, as we look at whether hip-hop is art or poison.

Sex is front and center in hip-hop country. Just look at any video. They are packed with rapid-fire images of women wearing almost nothing, dancing like strippers.

Some African-American women aren't happy with the way their image is portrayed to a predominantly young white male audience, and they're fighting hip-hop for respect.

Here is Jason Carroll with more.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Since she was 5 years old, Celestina Henry dreamed of being a serious dancer. But her professional debut came in a hip-hop video with 50 Cent.

CELESTINA HENRY, ACTRESS: I never had aspirations to be in a video. I had aspirations to be a dancer, aspirations to be an actress. And I thought about different ways of getting exposure.

CARROLL: And exposure, she got.

Her own father was concerned, but supportive.

JAY HENRY, FATHER OF CELESTINA: There's one scene in it that, you know, as a father, I don't necessarily need to see her in her lingerie, her underclothing. But, you know, it's a video. I have seen the videos. And, compared to what I have seen, that was mild.

CARROLL: Celestina changed her name to Celestine Rae after her performance. The 50 Cent video was mild, though, compared to some that are out there.

Critics say these portray a negative image of black women, even calling it porn for beginners.

Asha Jennings was a fan of hip-hop. But, while she was a student at Spelman College two years ago, she saw a video by Nelly called "Tip Drill." Jennings was so offended, she started a movement to change the way black women are portrayed in hip-hop videos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is a ho? What -- what...


ASHA JENNINGS, ACTIVIST: Can you be a little louder? Come on.

I want people to start critically thinking about how these images affect black women today. We're telling people, they're bitches and hoes and sluts and not worthy of respect. And that's exactly how society is treating us.

CARROLL: In response to readers like Jennings, "Essence" magazine launched a campaign to take back the music.

ANGELA BURT-MURRAY, EDITOR, "ESSENCE": I think the current state of hip-hop is basically stuck on one note, the degradation of women, the glorification of a culture that seems centered around pimps and prison.

CARROLL: Some industry leaders say the videos are simply the artists' response to the needs of their fans.

JERMAINE DUPRI, RAPPER-PRODUCER: If people don't like it, and they think that it's -- you can always turn it off. You know what I mean? So, people act like they can't turn it off. And you -- you don't got to watch the booty videos. But the people that talk about it, they're so intrigued, they want to see it.

CARROLL: But, slowly, things are changing, as even some of the women in hip-hop are growing tired of the images they see.

EVE: And there are times when I have to say that I have been embarrassed. We have a responsibility.

CARROLL: As for Celestine Rae, she has no regrets. She wants to be watched and discovered.

C. HENRY: Women need to make sure they stay true to themselves. And that's the biggest thing.

CARROLL: And she remains true, she says, to her ultimate goal, becoming a serious actress.

Jason Carroll, New CNN, York.


ZAHN: Now on to another "Out in the Open" panel, Michael Eric Dyson, humanities professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

We welcome you back.

Defense attorney Lauren Lake, and Roland Martin, host of "The Roland S. Martin Show" on WVON Radio in Chicago.

Now, you guys have got to admit, these images of these women are disgusting. Who can defend degradation of women like we have just seen in the video?

ROLAND MARTIN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE CHICAGO DEFENDER": Hugh Hefner can, the publishers of "Maxim," of "Stuff," of "FHM." And, so, they're the ones who defend it.

It is indefensible, because the images are being beamed across the world. And, so, an impression of black women -- of black women is being presented across the world.

But we have an issue with the degrading of women in this country. You go to a boxing match, you see a woman in a bikini walking around with a ring card. That's not hip-hop. That's boxing.

ZAHN: All right.

MARTIN: And, so, we see it in our society.

ZAHN: But isn't there a degree of offensiveness we're talking about?

We just saw in that video this man swiping a credit card on this woman's behind.


LAUREN LAKE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That is so ridiculous and so degrading.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

LAKE: And, I think, at a certain point, we just have to keep it real. It's gone too far, in many ways.

And what I implore, and what I'm begging my brothers to do, and my white rappers, and my...

ZAHN: Hispanic rappers.

LAKE: ... Hispanic rappers, respect the women who have birthed you. OK?

We are your mothers. OK? Everybody -- all men love their mama, but they'll talk about a girl like a dog. That's got to change.

We are the women of this culture. For you to degrade us in that way, and for the women to accept that kind of treatment, I think is irresponsible. And quit playing naive. You know you're not going up in there to model. You know what you're modeling.

ZAHN: All right. But you talk about women accepting responsibility for this. How about the guys that are making these records? And we heard in one of the last segments that you're not going to make any money off these records that have a social conscience message.

DYSON: Of course. And that's a great point.

ZAHN: It's off this naked stuff.

DYSON: Exactly right. They're both making a great point.

That is, first of all, misogyny and sexism are big business in American culture. The degrading of women is from time and memorial. So the hip-hop visualizes it and vocalizes it in a very violent fashion.

I have no defense for that -- misogyny, which is the hatred of women; sexism, sentiments expressed against women because they're women; and patriarchy, which assumes that the man's life supplies the norms to everybody else. So there's no question about that.

But here's the problem -- that if you go to an average church, that many of these people are standing up to talk about the degradation of women, they're hearing a gospel that says women should be subordinate to men. Now, they're not as violent, as vicious, or as vocal as hip-hop, but they're saying the same thing. And at the end of the day, you are not equal to this man right here.

What hip-hop does is put that on steroids. That message is made lethal, it's made powerful.

MARTIN: And it's utterly reprehensible.

ZAHN: Can you hold that thought right there?

We've got to continue our conversation on the other side. Please stay with us.

We also want to hear from you, our viewers. Go to Tell us whether you think hip-hop is art or poison. We'll have the results at the end of the hour.

Coming up in the next half hour of our "Out in the Open" special, word that some rappers throw at gays.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't mean it as a direct thing against someone when I'm saying it. I'm just using the slang, like in the neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't know the power in the word.


ZAHN: Coming up, hip-hop and a six letter "F" word that gays call an offensive slur.

We'll be right back.



RUSSELL SIMMONS, ENTREPRENEUR: It's an honest depiction of what men think. It's a reflection of our truth. I'm just saying you can't blame the artists for the sexism that exists in our society.


ZAHN: In this hour-long special we're asking of hip-hop is art or poison. We're looking at the music, the culture, the money, and the controversy these create.

Before the break, our "Out in the Open" panel was discussing hip- hop's treatment of women, or mistreatment, as this panel decided.

With me once again, Michael Eric Dyson, Lauren Lake, and Roland Martin.

So we posed the question, just how disrespectful to women is it? Let's look at another example now from this video by -- you're going to be so proud of me -- 50 Cent.

Did I get that right?

MARTIN: You got it. You got it.

LAKE: Pretty good, Paula.


ZAHN: Do those lyrics make you sick?

LAKE: You know what? To be honest with you, you don't know how many times I'm right in my car and I'm singing that song. I have to call my nephew who's 13 and go, "What exactly are the lyrics?" Because you're so driven by the beat of it, and I think that's part of the problem.

As African-Americans, we are a rhythm-driven culture. You hear the beat, you start partying. The next thing you know, I'm like, I'm singing something I should not be singing.

That's my issue. If you are so creative as a rapper, if you really have that genius mind -- because there's some musical geniuses out there -- let's get a better message. Let's start talking about something that can empower us instead of constantly dividing us and degrading us.

MARTIN: Paula -- Paula...

DYSON: Do you think white record executives really want to hear about the deconstruction of white supremacy? They're not going to put that out.

LAKE: Oh, you're right about that. DYSON: They're going to talk about pimping. They're going to talk about ho'ing (ph). They're going to talk about playing around in the playground of pleasure and excess, but they're not going to talk about a vision or allow conscious rappers like Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def.

Mos Def said you can laugh and criticize Michael Jackson if you want to. Woody Allen molested and married his stepdaughter. The same press kicking dirt on Michael's name shows Woody and Soon-Yi and the playoff games.

So what I'm saying to you, those lyrics exist, but they will never get the radio play that they deserve. And white record executives and black ones...


ZAHN: Wait. Wait. He made a big deal about being white record executives. Aren't black record executives equally culpable?

MARTIN: No. No. Because, first of all...

ZAHN: There aren't many of them, I understand that. But...

MARTIN: No, because if you actually had a panel of record executives who make the decisions, the color of this panel would be flipped. You probably may have one black at the table and three whites.

Now, here's the problem. We have seen 50 cent, we have seen Jermaine Dupri, we have seen Russell Simmons, but let's talk about the shareholders who have shares in these publicly traded companies who are making money in their 401(k)s off of this music.

See, these are the same people who want to criticize it, but they're getting paid. The record executives are sitting there making $40 and $50 million a year off the music.

Now, I can hold the rapper accountable and say, here's the fundamental issue. I'm going to hold 50 accountable, but I'm going to hold that CEO accountable. But we don't do that.

Were they called here? Were they forced to have to answer the questions? Russell does not own Universal. He does not own these major companies.


ZAHN: But hang on a minute. Are you telling me this is a concerted effort in a capitalist society to -- to purposely degrade women?

MARTIN: No, no, no. This is about money.

LAKE: No, this is beyond -- no, it's all about money.


ZAHN: They don't care about the message?

MARTIN: If the rapper is trying to get paid, don't you think the CEO is trying to get paid or the shareholder wants to get paid?


DYSON: What somebody said in one of your bump pieces there is that, look, it reinforces prevailing stereotypes about black women. Black women are already seen as the dominant culture.

Hip-hop didn't even the degradation of black women. Black women were worth nothing less than shadow (ph) in this country. So I'm saying to you that the issue of slavery and Jim Crow and the entire system of white supremacy is built upon the denial of opportunity to black people, and the way in which black women's excessive sexuality is being portrayed.

I'm saying to you, what do you think? Of course record executives reinforce that consciously and unconsciously.

MARTIN: And I say you shut them down.

LAKE: We can change this by empowering ourselves to the same music. We have independent movements. We have sold crap out of our trunks. We can sell good music out of our trunks.

We can change.

MARTIN: But also shut them down.

DYSON: But it has to be great music.

MARTIN: Shut them down.

DYSON: The reason why you listen to 50 Cent, because the music is banging. Conscious rappers need to get some great beats so we can hear it and listen to it.

ZAHN: There you go.

All right. Michael Eric Dyson, Lauren Lake, Roland Martin, thanks.

We would like to know what all of you out there think. Go to Vote on the question: Is hip-hop art or poison?

We'll have results a little bit later on. So vote away.

Some big acts in hip-hop have one thing in common, a word that trashes gay people. "Out in the Open," is the message being received really the message that's intended?

We'll be right back.



AKON, HIP-HOP ARTIST: (INAUDIBLE), that's pretty much our entertainment.

NE-YO, HIP-HOP ARTIST: I think that certain elements of society are misogynistic and anti-gay. So, you know, to pigeonhole hip-hop as being that, you know, I don't think that's fair.


ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, hip-hop culture and whether it's art or poison.

We've already looked at how rap music treats women. That's instantly obvious any time you even look at a few seconds of a rap video. But you may not realize that a recurring theme in many songs happens to be gay bashing, lyrics filled with anti-gay slurs that reveal a disturbing strain of homophobia in hip-hop culture.

Ted Rowlands looks at that for us right now.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Since the early days of hip-hop, gay bashing has been a theme in the music of some of the industry's most successful artists.


KANYE WEST, HIP-HOP ARTIST: Everybody in hip-hop discriminates against gay people.

ROWLANDS: Kanye West is one artist who opposes hip-hop homophobia, but he told MTV it's rampant.

WEST: To me, like, that's one of the standards of hip-hop, is to be like, "You, you're a fag, you're gay." As a matter of fact, the exact opposite word of hip-hop I think is "gay".

ROWLANDS: Some experts believe hip-hop's celebration of violent and manliness is a reaction to historic African-American powerlessness, and its tough-guy masculinity doesn't allow for homosexuality.

50 Cent, who sold millions of hip-hop albums, uses anti-gay language but says he isn't homophobic.

50 CENT, HIP-HOP ARTIST: Absolutely. I'll say "faggot" all day. I'll say all "gay," all different comments. I put it in the music all day. You know what I'm saying?

But it's not a direct -- I don't mean it as a direct thing against someone when I'm saying it. I'm just using it as slang. Like, in the neighborhood, they're like, "Oh, man, you're a faggot." That don't mean it's bad.

ROWLANDS: Los Angeles hip-hop artist Deadlee disagrees.

DEADLEE, GAY HIP-HOP ARTIST: They don't know the power in the word. I mean, that word is thrown around. So on the playgrounds, little kids are being called "faggot". They're getting beat up because they might be -- you know, think they're a little sissy or whatever. And I don't think they really understand the power in those words.

ROWLANDS: Deadlee is gay and sings about it.

DEADLEE: It's so easy for people to say, "I hate gays." It's like it's the one -- one group of people that it's still OK to hate on.

ROWLANDS: Hip-hop artist Eminem used anti-gay lyrics on his 2001 Grammy-winning album, "Marshall Mathers." Protesters were outside the Grammys that year. Inside, Eminem accepted the award, saying that he thought people were taking the issue too seriously.

EMINEM, HIP-HOP ARTIST: I want to thank everybody who could look past the controversy, or whatever, and see the album for what it was. And also for what it isn't.

ROWLANDS: 50 Cent argues that the aggression and slang in his hip-hop songs should not be considered anti-gay, pointing out that he actually sings about his mother kissing another woman.

50 CENT: My mom did like women. You know what I mean? So how could I hate gay people? You know what I mean? It would be hating your mother.

ROWLANDS: While some artists like Kanye West want the music to change, others believe that homophobia will be in hip-hop as long as it's in society.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.


ZAHN: Now on to our "Out in the Open" panel.

Michael Eric Dyson back, a humanities professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Keith Boykin was a Clinton White House aide who now hosts the BET show "My Two Cents." He's written a lot about hip-hop and homophobia. And Tim Wise is an educator, activist and author of the book "White Like Me."

You've got to be an author to stand here with me tonight.

DYSON: Yes, no doubt.

ZAHN: We have talked a little bit about the history of hip-hop denigrating homosexuals. Let's listen to yet another example of that. This one from Eminem. (MUSIC)

ZAHN: Why the necessity to call a guy's manhood into question?

BOYKIN: It's about hypermasculinity. What we have done, unfortunately, is we have adopted the larger American homophobia and embraced it in our own culture, our own community, and exaggerated it to the point to where we have created false ideas of what masculinity is.

We think that masculinity is somehow in this culture is all about degrading women, degrading homosexuals, degrading gays and lesbians. And not about uplifting our people. And we have to redefine what that is all about. That's the challenge when we deal with hip-hop.

ZAHN: How pervasive is this?

WISE: Well, I mean, it's pervasive because it's pervasive in the culture. We have a society where it's perfectly legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people. So what is the bigger issue?

The issue is not hip-hop, per se, putting out homophobic messages, though it does. It is a culture which is institutionally homophobic and heterosexist.

We have a president who is affiliated with religious organizations and movements that believe that gay people are sick and need to be cured. I would suggest that is the bigger issue. And if that bleeds into hip-hop, we ought not be surprised. It doesn't excuse it, but we have to go back to the predicate of the problem.

ZAHN: But you heard 50 Cent saying that, hey, man, when I say this stuff, I don't mean it in a mean way.

DYSON: Yes. Well, that's utterly bizarre and a non sequitur. But here's what's interesting to me.

Hip-hop is rife with homoeroticism. You've got this buff body, hip -- and 50 Cent himself on the cover of magazines all oiled up. He might as well be a (INAUDIBLE) model.

And what's interesting is that they say they're homophobic, but they've got their pants down to the crack of their behinds, giving somewhat easy access to the bootiest emphasis on maximus. And in a culture where they fall down on each other and say, "MOB," money over Bs. So they would rather have their boys bonding in homoerotic intensity around common interests than their girlfriends.

I'm telling you, homophobia is an inverse proportion to homoeroticism, and hip-hop is not ready to deal with that. And black church has reinforced the homophobia, because the black church -- oh, I'm amazed at the prejudice against women, but it never mentions homophobia because the black church, in many ways, agrees with the intense homophobia that is expressed in hip-hop culture.

That's the hypocrisy.

ZAHN: What are black men so threatened by when you talk about this whole hypermasculinity syndrome?

BOYKIN: Well, the homophobia that Michael Eric Dyson just talked about is a reflection of the homoeroticism out there. In fact, I think the homophobia is meant to disguise the homoeroticism.

So we create this whole sort of -- this drag culture, basically, which is sort of macho drag to prove that we are more masculine than we really are because we want to create this idea of what masculinity is. It is not realistic. And it's based on this fear because black men have been so emasculated by society, by slavery and segregation and hundreds of years of oppression, we feel the need to figure out ways to strike out against that.

Unfortunately, we're doing it in the wrong way.

ZAHN: A quick final thought.

WISE: It's exaggerated visibility. When you are not visible to the dominant culture, you will act out in exaggerated ways to get people's attention. It doesn't make it right, but it means we have to go back to the root of the culture and find out what is creating that pathology.

ZAHN: Stay with me.

Oh, quick, quick.

DYSON: When your (INAUDIBLE) is always demonized, you are resistant to a person who steps outside of that normality, because you're already -- you're bringing attention to what is already messed up.

So we don't want to deal with the gays because our regular sexuality has already been beat up upon by dominant white culture. So we're less tolerant of other sexualities.

ZAHN: Thank you all. Stay with us. We're not done with business yet here tonight.

In a minute, the results of the "Quick Vote" survey on our Web site. Do you think hip-hop is art or poison?

Plus, more thoughts for our panelists when we come back.

Please stay with us.


ZAHN: Tonight we've been asking the question whether hip-hop is art or poison. Here's what you said on our "Quick Vote."

Forty-five percent say it's art, 55 percent say poison. It's not scientific, but it's certainly interesting. Let's go straight back to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel members -- John McWhorter, Michael Eric Dyson, Roland Martin, and Lauren Lake.

All right. We have been addressing all the controversies associated with hip-hop music tonight. But at the end of the day, do you think hip-hop is being scapegoated here?

DYSON: Absolutely. I think it's being scapegoated.

I think, look, are there reprehensible elements of hip-hop? Absolutely. Are there things that I would want to not see? Sure, misogyny, sexism, homophobia. But I don't want to see them in the larger culture.

Hip-hop is a form of music and a cultural expression that allows people who are vulnerable to vocalize and become visible about the issues that harm them. What we should focus on are the edifying and incredibly insightful comments that are made in hip-hop, as well as the undeniably reprehensible and violent ones.

ZAHN: And the artists have told us throughout this hour this reflects their truth.

Is that your truth? Is that the country's truth?

MCWHORTER: No, it isn't mine. And more to the point, OK, it's real. But it's also very real when a white teenager in Queens takes a baseball bat and hits a black guy over the head and says the N-word over and over again. That's real, too.

We need to choose what kind of real we disseminate and treat as something important. And that's what worries me about the aching reality of hip-hop music.

ZAHN: Is anything going to change that?

MCWHORTER: I don't think that there's anything...

DYSON: But they beat black people over the head with a bat long before hip-hop ever existed.


LAKE: Let's really keep it real.

Half of these rappers are in these videos lying and pretending. They don't own the car, they don't own the jewelry. They're renting it.

They spent up their advance and they're not getting any royalties because they were too dumb to really read their contract because they're too busy speaking silly lyrics on records instead of learning to read what's in their contracts. Let's really keep it real.

So all I'm saying is that it's time for us to be honest about who is being affected, mainly our young people who cannot deal with whether or not they should eternalize or subconsciously take in this information. These videos are on at 3:00 in the afternoon. It's time for that to be done.

MARTIN: Paula, a few years ago, Arista gave P. Diddy got a $50 million bonus. How much money you think Arista made?

Where is Universal? Where is -- in terms of -- Sony BMG, Warner Music Group? Those are the folks who are profiting from this. And so, we can hold the rapper accountable. I will certainly do that. Hold those CEOs accountable.

ZAHN: But what about the consumers?

MARTIN: No, no, no.


MARTIN: Not just the consumers, the shareholders. See, we love to sit here and criticize hip-hop, but everybody else wants to get paid off of those guys acting like buffoons. See, they don't mind money.

DYSON: Well, Ralph Waldo Emerson said if you build a better mousetrap, people will build a path to your door. They're making great music.

You hate it. You love it. The thing is, it's banging beats. It's powerful. It's ingenious.

MARTIN: And Paula, let me say this on the issue, hip-hop has created more minority millionaires via music than any other musical genre. And so the Temptations and the Supremes, they didn't make as much money as these cats are making now...


DYSON: That says it all. American express, Jay-Z.

ZAHN: All right.

DYSON: True. As well as in the White House.

ZAHN: John McWhorter, Michael Eric Dyson -- whoa, wait a minute. I didn't follow that one.

Roland Martin, Lauren Lake, thank you all.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us now. But you can watch our "Out in the Open" special: "Hip-Hop: Art or Poison?" again online and commercial-free. That's tomorrow morning at 8:00 Eastern on CNN Pipeline. Just go to That's where you'll find it.

Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate your dropping by.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.

Good night.


© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines