Bigger than Hip-Hop?
by Mel Bertoldi (Journalism/Italian), published June 9th 2010
Are random celebs failing or furthering the cause of ‘hip-hop advocacy’?
‘Sure it’s a good cause, but I don’t think it will be selling any records. You need to do more than just affect the music. Yes, the music may be causing some of the bad social attitudes, but at the same time you need to work on everything. You can’t blame it on rap music. You can’t blame it on gangsta rap.’
Such is the attitude of freshman communication major Harrison Brown toward Bill Cosby’s second venture into the world of hip-hop records. That’s right — Bill Cosby.
Brown is a native New Yorker who lives for underground hip-hop and has expressed his utter dismay at the notion of legendary emcee Ced Gee co-producing Cosby’s latest ‘socially-conscious’ rap record.
When creating music that’s meant to direct the ears of its listeners to a greater cause (aka ‘hip-hop advocacy’), does it really matter who’s behind the project? To gain some perspective on the matter, enter Bakari Kitwana. Former editor-in-chief of The Source magazine, Kitwana currently oversees Rap Sessions: Dialogues on Hip-Hop, a national tour aimed to debate issues of concern to members of the hip-hop generation. ‘I think it’s been an interesting chapter in the history of hip-hop as it relates to people outside of the culture having a strong reaction to it enough to get national attention,’ he stated.
While Cosby doesn’t feature himself in his second hip-hop album, titled, ‘Bill Cosby Presents The Consnarati: State of Emergency,’ he brings renowned talent to the table. Besides Cee Gee, who is best known for his hand in producing ‘Criminal Minded,’ Boogie Down Production’s uber-influential premier release back in 1987, the album includes other underground rap superstars. William ‘Spaceman’ Patterson was its head producer, and he incorporated Alicia Keys, LL Cool J, Eric Clapton, and oh yeah, ‘The Cosby Show’ in its tracks. The record supplements ‘Come On People,’ a 2007 book co-authored by Cosby and Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint.
All of the aforementioned artists eagerly contributed their part to target key issues in the so-called ‘hip-hop generation’ — i.e. misogyny, incarceration, and frustration. In an interview with Billboard.com, rapper and activist Supa Nova Slom explained his role in the project. “Dr. Cosby offered his elder wisdom, then we brought our young swag and interpreted it into hip-hop. Our generation and society at large are at a real crossroads for survival; the times demand that we reopen this chapter of hip-hop.”
‘Here’s the thing about hip-hop: If you’re standing on the side throwing stones, there’s a lot of things you can throw stones at. If you’re really committed and concerned about the community, which I think Bill Cosby is, eventually it’s going to come into your consciousness that there’s something substantive here, which is why young people are gravitating toward it in the first place,’ Kitwana said, noting Cosby’s longstanding activism in the black community.
‘I don’t like referring to the music as clean,’ Cosby told Boombox. ‘What I like is what you’re not going to do. You’re not going to curse. You’re not going to put women down. You’re not going to put the glory of the gun somewhere. And you’re not going to put a whole lot of violence up front like that’s the thing that will cleanse you and make you feel better.’
Although he hasn’t heard ‘The Consnarati’ yet, Kitwana likened Cosby’s efforts to the cornerstone of Rap Sessions. The tour produces dialogue among activists both within and outside of the hip-hop game. ‘I think it’s important for people who are outside of the generation to engage people in the generation in the conversation and to engage their peers in the conversation’¦Anytime you have an opportunity for two generations to come together to talk about these issues, I think it’s not a bad thing,’ he said.
Still some, like Brown, can’t get past the history of the man peddling this pseudo-panacea, regardless of his good intentions: ‘Bill Cosby!? C’mon, ‘puddin’ pops’! That’s the issue here.’
‘The Cosnarati’ will be released physically and digitally on November 24.