Gangsta Rap, Dying in the Street

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

If I were a gangsta rapper, I'd be changing my tune.

Not because congressional hearings on misogynous rap lyrics are slated for next week. And certainly not because a group of church folk held a protest last week at the home of a Black Entertainment Television executive who lives in the District.

No, what would concern me is the money. The hustle and flow are getting too slow. Rap album sales have fallen far faster than those for the music industry as a whole, plummeting 43.6 percent since 2000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It's getting hard out here for a pimp.

Here's my rap on why: Gangsta rap is contemptible, the lyrics indefensible. The rapper isn't credible, just plain old irresponsible. And the public stopped being gullible.

Check out the results of a recent national survey of black, white and Hispanic youths by the University of Chicago. Among the findings:

72 percent of black youths agree that rap videos contain too many sexual references.

41 percent of black youths say rap music videos should be more political.

Majorities of all young people agree that rap music videos portray both black women and black men "in bad and offensive ways."

About 58 percent of black youths (ages 15 to 25) say they listen to rap music daily and watch rap music videos several times a week, compared with 45 percent of Hispanic youths and 23 percent of white youths. That's still a lot of youths. But interest in the genre is clearly waning. In 2006, rap sales were down 21 percent from 2005 and 27 percent from 2004.

This steady decline in demand has been all but obscured by anti-rap protests and misguided calls for censorship.

"We want media and music companies to develop universal creative standards for the music and videos they produce, market and distribute," says the Rev. Delman L. Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton and leader of an anti-rap group called Enough Is Enough.

On Saturday, Coates and about 500 others, mostly church members, staged a protest in front of the home of Debra Lee, chief executive of Black Entertainment Television. They want BET to ban any show that "objectifies, degrades or promotes violence against women" and "portrays black and Latino men as gangsters, pimps, thugs and players."

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