Column after column, he rails against rappers in an unofficial second phase to the plan of Tipper Gore and the parental-advisory-sticker-happy Parents Music Resource Center. The conservative columnist and Fox News commentator says Eminem "sells degenerate behavior to kids," Ludacris is peddling "a life of guns, violence, drugs and disrespect of women," and Jay-Z just "wants to pimp."
As alternatives to rap music, O'Reilly offers up Elvis and the Beach Boys. While this is funny, it's not surprising. Hip-hop has a long history with simple-minded adults who've made names for themselves by attacking it.
It's been more than 10 years since Ice-T's band, Body Count, got pressured off Warner Bros. for singing "Cop Killer." That year, Clint Eastwood won two Academy Awards for offing some cops in Warner Bros.' "Unforgiven" and none of us seemed to notice the irony. But today, I'm hoping we've become a little smarter.
After O'Reilly threatened to boycott Pepsi for having a foul-mouthed, "immoral" spokesman a few months ago, they dropped rapper Ludacris and replaced him with the Osbournes? O'Reilly patted himself on the back, but I'm still scratching my head. I've never sold drugs to either of them, but I'd be willing to bet that Ozzy Osbourne has gotten high much more than Ludacris. And anyone who's ever watched MTV will tell you that ol' Sharon and her kids have mouths filthier than any rapper. Ozzy might be cursing. I'm can't tell.
Bill O'Reilly would lead us to believe that he's worried sick about the poor kids in the 'hood who have no one to look up to except musicians who "rhapsodize the glories of handguns and cocaine." That fiery phrase came from an Aug. 18, 2001, commentary cleverly called "The rap on rap." He claims, in the same commentary, that rappers are feeding children "cheap, destructive images that will hurt them in the long run."
But the truth of the matter is that none of this was an issue until Snoop Doggy Dogg, the Wu-Tang Clan and the Geto Boys walked into white America's living room and brought their gritty portrayals of street life with them.
Even the rappers themselves know this. "The problem is I speak to suburban kids who otherwise would've never knew the words exist," Eminem says on his new album. "Hip-hop was never a problem in Harlem, only in Boston."
So now, upper-class parents across the nation are shaking in their boots because their young daughters could be in the street right now with headphones on their ears and guns in their hands. O'Reilly amplifies this fear by asking, "Did you know that in 1999 alone, 81 million rap albums were sold?"4
Nothing like a good statistic to back up your argument.
But did you know that since 1993 the year that Snoop Dogg's "Doggystyle," Wu-Tang Clan's "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" and the Geto Boys' "Til Death Do Us Part" were released serious violent crime (the type of crime described on those albums) has declined?
Explain that, O'Reilly.
A much more plausible argument might be the one that comes from the MCs themselves the one about how if they weren't on the mic, they would be caught up in the very sort of life they rhyme about. It seems to me that even the most ignorant, unsympathetic, grumpy old man would have enough logic to realize, "Hey, Ludacris didn't rob my house last night. I sure am glad he got that gig over at Pepsi."
To use a term popularized by rappers, let's "keep it real" here for a second. Ludacris isn't robbing your house. Jay-Z's not pimping, and Snoop Doggy Dogg hasn't murdered anyone. He was accused, but acquitted. Eminem may rap like he's a tough guy who is going to kill his wife, but in real life he's such a softy he only lets his daughter listen to censored versions of his songs.6
On the other hand, Ozzy Osbourne actually did try to kill his wife. He also pissed on the Alamo, not that that really bothers me. And what about Brian Wilson? This Beach Boy became so psychotic he was actually scared of the ocean. He sang about his "Little Deuce Coupe," but was usually too drunk to drive in one. We all know about the drug-addicted, fat mess of a man we admiringly call the King.
In a eulogy for Elvis, which reads more like an eighth-grader's research paper, O'Reilly explains the King's drug use by telling his readers "fame got a hold of Presley and stalked him like a hound dog." O'Reilly actually blamed the fans, fame and a "manipulative manager" for Elvis' demise. But nowhere in the column does O'Reilly say the Memphis rocker was personally responsible. Seems a little odd to me, given the high level of accountability he holds rappers to.
This is the part of my commentary when you shake your head and say, "But Taylor, Ozzy is reformed and Brian Wilson had mental problems and Elvis never promoted drug use or overeating in his music. These rapper guys are glorifying negative lifestyles."
And this is the part of my commentary where I will indulge that line of thinking. It's true. There are many rappers who make me sick. Misogyny and murder aren't things that should be glorified.
But please have enough sense to ask yourself, "What is it that this rapper has seen in his life that would cause him to say these things?" Rap lyrics are often reflections of the world around the person writing them, and until you answer that question and you fix that problem, negativity is going to continue to be a theme in rap music.
Unfortunately, Bill O'Reilly will probably never understand that.
I just hope you do. S
Taylor Loyal is a staff reporter for the Daily News in Bowling Green, Ky. He has written for Mother Jones magazine, blackathlete.com and Style Weekly.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.
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