The question: “Who is the face of hip-hop today? Whoever says ‘Jay-Z’ is an idiot,” Prof Griff of the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy bluntly responded during a recent forum in Muskegon Heights. Griff was addressing more than 150 people who attended the event, which was held Saturday at the Muskegon Heights Boxing Club. The program, sponsored by local radio station 103.7 The Beat, is one of a series of culturally related workshops that the station is hosting this year. “The face of hip-hop today is white — white, corporate America,” added Griff.
Griff’s lecture was titled “Black Music: The Psycho Analytical Destruction of a Stolen Legacy,” and anyone thinking they could cruise through this class was quickly put on notice by “The Professor.” “You’re not going to agree with everything I’m going to say, I’m just going to tell you that from the beginning,” said Griff. “Those people who are going to get angry and red-faced with me, that’s fine too, because I have to move you out of your comfort zone. “If you listen to the local radio station and you’re digging what’s going on the station and you’re going down to the club and partying into that same madness, you’re going to have a problem with The Professor today,” he continued. “If you think — someone on the panel said Jay Z is the face of hip-hop — if you think he is, you’re definitely going to have a problem with Griff today.”
With that, Griff served up a music history lesson that highlighted the contributions of socially conscious singers and musicians such as Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield. He also pointed out that the roots of hip-hop stem not just from music, but also poetry. Some of the early rap and hip-hop pioneers include Gil Scott-Heron and Afrika Bambaataa, he said. Griff argued that the white music industry has profited from black music — including jazz, blues, R&B, rap and hip-hop — for years. The same music industry frequently rewards black performers who live up to negative stereotypes, such as the rap “gangsta,” he said.
Griff launched his most brutal salvos at black entertainers who, in his opinion, are nothing more than modern-day “minstrels,” portraying the most demeaning, stereotypical images that already exist about black people.They do that because they believe that is the only way they can find success, he said. Those name-checked by Griff included several well-known celebrities including Michael Jackson, Usher, Beyonce and his former band mate Flavor Flav. He also blasted rappers and hip-hop performers who glorify drugs and violence, and use derogatory lyrics to describe black women. Hip-hop was created to raise the consciousness of black people, not destroy it, Griff said. Black people must set higher standards for themselves and stop reinforcing those negative stereotypes, he said.
Griff also charged that those negative images are already consistently promoted in the media. For example, he referred to the newspaper USA Today, which recently published a pictorial homage to the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson. The portraits featured in the paper were of a “very bright, damn-near white Michael Jackson that looks like a white woman,” said Griff. “And this is who they are portraying to our young people as our “King.” “What’s the subtle, subconscious symbol that they send people? That you got to be like this in order to come in and make it in this world. We have to be defendents of our culture and defend our children from this kind of madness. Are you following me? We have to at least do that.”
Not all panelists at the forum agreed with Griff. Muskegon resident Joe Walker, who has written extensively about the hip-hop culture and is a community activist, said he doesn’t always agree with some of the derogatory remarks rappers and hip-hoppers make, but he supports their right to express those opinions. Female hip-hop performer and poet Naeink, of Muskegon, disagreed. She said the black community needs to hold accountable those performers who use words like bitches and ho’s in their song lyrics. “When you have a mic in your hand, it’s a responsibility,” said Naeink. “If you put a mic in the hands of someone who is ignorant, you’re going to get nasty messages.”