By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 3, 2007
A free concert organized to lift the spirits of the shaken Virginia Tech community is instead angering some parents of the victims, who say the decision to feature a New York rapper known for his violent lyrics shows a blatant lack of respect for the people killed in the April 16 shooting rampage.
Vincent J. Bove, who said he is a spokesman for seven of the victims' families, said yesterday that the parents are outraged that the Sept. 6 concert at the university would include the rapper Nas, who in one 1999 track chants, "Shoot 'em up, just shoot 'em up, what?" followed by whispers of "Kill, kill, kill, murder, murder, murder."
The lyrics "are indicative of the moral decay in our society that contributes to acts of violence," said Bove, a New Jersey security expert who has volunteered to speak for the families. "For a university official to condone it or to be clueless of what this person's track record is, it's unconscionable beyond belief."
University officials, however, said they have received an overwhelmingly positive response since they announced the concert Wednesday and have no plans to revise the lineup.
The program was assembled by members of the Dave Matthews Band, who are from Charlottesville and wanted to demonstrate their support for Virginia Tech by organizing the show, which would be free for students, faculty and recent graduates, said Chris Clough, a spokesman for the university. In addition to Nas, the band recruited pop singer John Mayer and country singer Phil Vassar to headline with them.
"Literally within minutes of the announcement, we received a tremendous positive response," Clough said. "Among those who have responded have been families who thought it was a tremendously positive note to start the academic year."
Publicists for Nas and the Dave Matthews Band did not return phone calls yesterday.
Nas, born Nasir Jones, is the son of jazz musician Olu Dara, whom Nas has featured on his records. Although entrenched in bloody New York hip-hop scene in the 1990s, Nas has also been praised for his unflinching, sometimes poetic descriptions of life in New York's grittiest corners.
In the title track of his latest release, 2006's "Hip Hop Is Dead," he raps, "What influenced my raps? Stickups and killings. Kidnappings, project buildings, drug dealings. Criticize that, why is that?" He continues, "Most intellectuals will only half listen. So you can't blame jazz musicians."
Alicia Farrell, whose brother, Jarrett Lane, was one of the students killed by gunman Seung Hui Cho, said she believes there is a time and place for such music -- but not at a concert meant to commemorate the victims and comfort the survivors of the worst shooting in U.S. history. Cho, a senior from Fairfax County, killed 32 students and faculty members and himself.
"My issue is not with Nas or his lyrics in any other place, but this is an opportunity for healing in the community," Farrell, 26, said from her home in Richmond. "It's the most inappropriate thing I could imagine hearing at such an event."
Bove said the decision reflects an insensitivity that has been endemic in the state's and the university's treatment of the victims' families.
Earlier this summer, several families criticized the panel investigating the shootings because Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) did not include any relatives of victims.
Some family members have asked the state for financial settlements similar to what victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks received to pay for funeral costs for the dead and health care for the wounded. Others blasted the university for using their dead children's photos without the families' permission to collect money for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund.
The whole notion of a concert with such big names "smacks of commercialism," Bove said.
But Farrell, who grew up near Virginia Tech and harbors a deep fondness for the university, was more forgiving.
"I have loved that community for my whole life, so I want to be patient and understanding with them," she said.
Also yesterday, another attorney representing some of the Virginia Tech families said school officials have decided to keep open indefinitely the $7 million Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which the university created to receive donations from the public in the days after the shootings.
University officials had planned to close the fund Wednesday, but in response to the families' concerns decided to extend it. As a result, Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington lawyer appointed to administer the fund, will negotiate with university officials on how to distribute the money.
Feinberg has drawn up a proposal to pay $150,000 to the families of those killed. Wounded students could receive $25,000 to $75,000. Several families have said the needs of the victims and families would exceed the $7 million in the fund.