Hip-Hop & Oprah's High-Horse

I have been observing the recent hoopla over Oprah interviewing Jay-Z and I’m looking at her a little bit sideways, personally.  A lot of people are excited about the interview and considering it a big accomplishment (for who I am not sure), but I’m not really drinking the Kool-Aid, so to speak.  So finally a rapper is famous enough and ratings-worthy enough to get a seat at Oprah’s figurative table?  Though I’m sure some Oprah disciple will try to rip me a new one via e-mail or the comments section because people read what they want to, let me clarify beforehand that I’m not taking away from Oprah’s success.  I don’t watch the show or support her personally, but her story is very important and inspiring to many.  However, for lack of a better (i.e. not from a comic book movie) quote, with great power comes great responsibility.  While some would take her public denouncing of hip-hop as using her power responsibly, my thought is exactly the opposite.

The problems in our community that hip-hop often tends to mirror are not going to be resolved if those in Oprah’s generation and those of her stature (the closest thing today to DuBois’ Talented Tenth) continue to distance themselves from the youth and what’s important to them. You’ll never get through to anyone unless you lower yourself to their level and start speaking their language.  It definitely doesn’t help when the majority of your audience is white and you use your forum to make blanket judgments about hip-hop, something you have obviously not taken the proper steps to understand.  However, it seems to me that the Jay-Z interview is a start (or a stunt).

To be honest, the interview in O Magazine was actually good.  It was a simple conversation where Jay-Z, who’s probably the best person to do this, did his best to explain things like the allure of drug-dealing, violence in hip-hop, and the use of the N-word (which Oprah had to “agree to disagree” with him on).  This week, he appeared on Oprah and taught her how to rap, strangely having to explain to her that “the Chi” is a nickname for Chicago (*dubious face*…come on, Sofie).

My feelings toward Oprah have been mixed for a while.  The whole Ludacris debacle, where she (during an interview with the actors of Crash) threw a jab at Ludacris’ lyrical content and then edited out his rebuttal by airtime, was disgusting.  Even Bill O’Reilly has sat down to speak with Dame Dash and Cam’ron, despite his criticism of hip-hop being much sharper than Winfrey’s and his usual penchant for d*baggery.  To O’Reilly’s credit, at least he was giving the artists a chance to speak for themselves, though I don’t know how effective these appearances were one way or another.  Regardless, I’ve got to give the man G points just for sitting across from Dame and Cam and having it out.  Oprah wanted to make her point to Ludacris (which was totally unrelated to the show’s topic) and just move on without allowing him to defend himself and his work.

I look at Oprah distancing herself from hip-hop the same way I looked at her opening the school in Africa.  While of course it’s awesome of her to open a school anywhere, there were kids in need right in her backyard.  She complained at the time that when asked what they needed, American kids would ask for money, iPods or sneakers, while the African kids asked for school uniforms.  So what…there is a reason for those differences and it lies within American society’s general materialism.  Books are provided in the American public school system and not all schools even require uniforms, so the circumstances differ but that doesn’t make kids here less worthy or less deserving of help.  This is your backyard.  You don’t even have to leave Chicago.  You are an African-American before anything else.  Perhaps if it were opened in Chicago, the school would have been better run, being closer to Oprah herself.

Again, I’m hoping the Jay-Z interview was a step toward creating understanding and bridging the gap between the hip-hop generation and older people who may not “get it”, regardless of race.  If we put the responsibility on rappers to be more responsible with their message to the kids consuming hip-hop culture, shouldn’t we also put the responsibility on people in Oprah’s case who serve as default ambassadors for Black people, to educate their audience…or at least humanize hip-hop by allowing it to speak for itself?  Jay-Z addressed it in the interview, but I think it deserves some real discussion in front of the same audience she denigrated Ludacris and his music (our music) in front of.

Read the O Magazine interview for yourself.

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